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Leadership needs wisdom

Leadership needs wisdom

The challenges CIOs face require imagination before analysis, story before spreadsheets, brilliance before process, and conversation before solutions.

Writing in Forbes, Bob Evans, Oracle senior vice president, underlined 10 strategic issues for CIOs.

In short, how to (1) simplify IT, (2) lead the social-embedded enterprise, (3) unleash intelligence, (4) embrace engagement, (5) future proof IT architecture, (6) upgrade cloud strategy to business transformation, (7) transform big data into big insights, big vision and big opportunities, (8) marry systems of record and engagement, (9) lead with speed, and (10) find value more in innovation than integration.

Each is a leadership challenge before it is ever a technical challenge — to help people create new intellectual, social, and organisational realities.

As a historian of ideas, I’m fascinated with how ideas shape society and vice versa. As a CEO, I know ideas alone won’t bring change. From both perspectives, I see inherited ways of thinking and being that work against everything on Evans’ list.

Skill in abstract thinking has enabled medicine, science and the binary logic that underpins the world of the CIO. We have learned to break things down, strip away what seems irrelevant, and apply a relentless logic to what is left. This has delivered a boon. Yet abstraction can also blind us to the human context.

When Aristotle codified logic, it was a huge step forward. But Aristotle put a caveat on logic. Logic, he said, worked for “things that cannot be other than they are”. Things that DON’T change.

We need a richer palette of thinking for what DOES change: for anything to do with people. And that’s everything on Evans’ list. Those challenges require imagination before analysis, story before spreadsheets, brilliance before process, and conversation before solutions.

I wrote Lead with Wisdom to make practical this richer palette of thinking, such as: how to subvert unhelpful abstraction, how to find and ask powerfully grounded questions, how to find and lead the conversations that bring deep change, how to name and leverage the brilliance of individuals and teams, how to shape vision as a story, and strategy as an argument.

The strategic challenges of the CIO are to design ways to new worlds that people will welcome

Mark Strom

Try this exercise. Get some colleagues around a whiteboard and ask three questions:

1. What are our two best stories of insight and innovation? Story lies at the heart of identity, culture, and purpose. Stories hold the clues to our brilliance.

2. What’s the conversation at the core of what we do? Name it without using words like management, leadership, excellence, system, performance, strategic, process, quality, business, or information.

3. How do we breathe life into this conversation? Real conversation is not a talkfest; it is where we create meaning. Find a question that can only be answered with a story, not bullet points.

The strategic challenges of the CIO are to design ways to new worlds that people will welcome. That takes wisdom.

Dr Mark Strom is a historian of ideas, speaker, consultant, and former CEO. His latest book is Lead with Wisdom (Wiley). Reach him at mark@markstrom.co.

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