At one point, I became the Co-chair of the Federal CIO Council’s Architecture and Infrastructure Committee. Though I was new to the gig, I could see similarities between that role and the leadership roles I’ve had at church. Some enterprise architects are zealots about what they do and believe in. Still, the fundamental similarity comes in leading volunteers when you have no direct control or authority over them. For this reason, when people ask me the best way to get experience as a CIO, I always suggest that they volunteer for leadership in the Information Technology programs at their church or community.
The true mark of successful leadership is when people can gain followers over whom they have no leverage. CIOs often find themselves responsible and accountable for things they have no control over. This is why there is often so much talk about what CIOs have “control” over. But this isn’t unusual in technical and professional jobs. John Kotter confirms in Power and Influence that:
“Most of the power gap one finds in professional and technical jobs is associated with relationships outside the formal chain of command.”
The skills one acquires to get results outside their direct authority or chain of command are critical for achieving desired business outcomes. John C. Maxwell in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, advises CEOs to look for the best leaders in those who have successfully led volunteer organizations for at least six months. He tells us that:
Followers in voluntary organizations cannot be forced to get on board. If the leader has no influence with them, then they won’t follow
While serving in my church’s IT Ministry, I found that if you can get a bunch of set-in-their-ways Baptist deacons and trustees to migrate to a new church membership system, you can implement an enterprise resource planning system. In this case, I convinced them it would be Divine Will to upgrade to a more modern system or burn in the eternal hell of non-Y2K compliance. It worked, and we modernized our old church membership system.
Another similar aspect was the need for a Ten Commandments or enterprise architecture. The importance of enterprise architecture is that, in its most practical form, it defines a clear, unambiguous set of principles that guide IT decisions in an organization. Architecture you can use is not reams and volumes of useless dogma. It looks something like this:
· Thou shall consider cloud computing solutions first before buying a dedicated infrastructure for your application.
· Thou shall not bear false witness to other IT investments and demonstrate value producing desired outcomes consistent with your business case, else you risk termination and eternal damnation.
· Thou shall run securely and not make wrongful use of any data entrusted to you so that thy days may be long.
And finally, people want to have hope for tomorrow and a vision for a better future. My grandmother used to say everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die. That means that we often want benefits without making a commensurate sacrifice. In IT speak, that means we want to reduce the cost of what we spend on IT, but we don’t want to sacrifice the value of the services and capabilities we get. But to get to IT heaven, we must die to duplicative infrastructures and “one-off” spending and believe in economies of scale and shared services.
Of course, an enterprise resource planning system is much more complex than a church membership product, and an agency Web portal has more multifaceted considerations than a homeowner’s association newsletter. Still, the foundational leadership skills are the same. These skills allow leaders to unite people over whom they have no authority and align them with a common set of principles or beliefs by building a sense of community. Leaders must have these capabilities to turn vision, hope, and dreams into reality.