The Transparent CIO
Updated: May 2, 2022
Years ago, when I was a CIO, I would have conversations with folks about transparency in government leadership. It seemed this was one of those terms everyone tossed around with little shared understanding of what that truly meant. True transparency, I believe, comes with some amount of risk. So, I think I will push the envelope a bit and make myself a little more transparent.
One of my favorite books is A Leadership Moment by Michael Useem. It’s an inspiring and tragic account of several well-known leaders and how they prepared and performed during their leadership moments.
That caused me to wonder if I was ready for my leadership moment? Was I “saving” my talents for something perhaps less risky?—something perhaps safer?
Some may be familiar with a parable about The Unprofitable Servant. In summary, the story tells of a certain master who gives each of his servants 5, 2, and 1 talents, respectively. After returning, he found that he got a pretty good ROI from two of the three who doubled their original investment. However, the servant with only 1 talent saved his and hid it to keep it safe from harm or loss. The Unprofitable Servant – I was sure glad that was not me … or was it?
I had a leadership moment years ago where I was trying really, really hard to hide my talents inside a data center. I had a boss that would call on me as his little organizational problem solver. I could always tell when he was about to ask me. He gave me this “look.” I’ll never forget one “look” he gave me. I just started cleaning my office and waiting for my boss to call. That call was to work on establishing a Web service. I went kicking and screaming and shed many tears over that gig. The tears were shed from using talents I wanted to hide. Yet, I used them anyway in what ended up being a defining leadership moment in my career.
I find it no coincidence that as I stood at that point of inflection that, I was kicking and screaming and shedding tears about the push to use particular talents that I preferred to hide and not even admit I had. But, like the heroes that Useem wrote about, I needed to invest all my talents to be prepared for that leadership moment, and that I would not know when that moment would come. The uncertainty was what made me feel afraid.
As there are boundaries and limitations to all this transparency stuff, I will not disclose the particular talents I used, but I will say without question that a CIO gig is a leadership gig. Somehow, some way, any leader, including a CIO leader, will have to be prepared for their leadership moment. The self-aware leader will have to be prepared to utilize all their talents when those moments come.