Simple solutions for complex equations

Simple solutions for complex equations

Did you ever hear someone boast that their job was so difficult, complex and important that they couldn’t possibly explain it? I often wonder about this. I mean really, if you can’t explain what you do how can you do it?

There is a superb poem by Robert Fulghum about life called
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It is a very simple and common-sense approach to life. Once you have read it you wonder why life is so complex. We seem to get some form of satisfaction and sense of self esteem by making things complex. Did you ever hear someone boast that their job was so difficult, complex and important that they couldn’t possibly explain it? I often wonder about this. I mean really, if you can’t explain what you do how can you do it?

Now here’s the rub. I find it really hard to explain what I do as an “IT leader” to people who live outside of the corporate environment, especially my family. If I explain what an information systems department does, my mother and brother will ask me to fix their PC. After I have checked the power and done the standard reboot I’m lost. On the other hand, if I explain to them what I do from a task perspective then it’s: I go to meetings (talk and listen), prepare for meetings and send and receive email. They just look at me as if I’m stupid and go, “Yeah, but what do you do?”

Another approach I have taken is to say I lead or manage an information systems department. This is more accurate, but often all I get is, “well, what does that mean?” It’s a good question, what does it mean? There are libraries full of books on leadership and management, but does anyone really know? Surely libraries full of books make leadership far more complex than it needs to be. So in the interests of simplification, and as a show of admiration for Robert Fulghum, here is my version of leadership from the perspective of a parent:

“All I Really Needed to Know about Leadership I Learnt as a Parent”.

  • Love is the most important thing.
  • Be respectful. Children might be short, but they are people.
  • Your job as a parent is to help your children to learn right from wrong and become independent. That’s all. (Which is to say, it’s their life, let them live it.)
  • As the parent you set the tone and the rules.
  • Actions have consequences. Be consistent, always.
  • Do not have rules you do not want to enforce.
  • It might not look like they’re listening, but they are.
  • It might not look like they’re watching, but they are.
  • Yes, sometimes you do have to repeat yourself 1000 times before they get it.
  • What you said and what they heard may not be the same thing!
  • Accidents happen. They know they screwed up, you don’t need to tell them, but they do need to clean up and put it right.
  • Making mistakes and the bumps and bruises that result are part of learning, and children should not be protected from them.
  • Sometimes there is real danger. They actually don’t know better and they do need to be protected until they learn (see above).
  • True forgiveness is healing. If you want to understand true forgiveness, then observe your child after you have screwed up.
  • If you always resolve the arguments and always make the decisions, then you will always have to resolve the arguments and make the decisions.
  • Always end the day with a cuddle and talk about the day. (Topics of choice: What was great? What was not so good? What would you do different? Do you have any questions?).
  • Finally, have fun together. You learn a lot, it builds great relationships and it’s, well, fun.

There are two more points that I would like to add to the list. I didn’t learn these as a parent. I learnt them from my parents, specifically my father. They are more to do with the relationship between the parents, than they are about being a parent. Think of them as rules for “executive relationships” and they belong here because of their impact on the children:

  • Never go to bed on an argument.

  • The most important thing that a father can do for his children is to love their mother.

So there you have it, leadership from the perspective of a parent (to four amazing children) and a CIO.

Owen McCall is CIO of the Warehouse. You can reach him at and through his blog

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