This shift created a new set of challenges. Many of my IT colleagues observed that I had "gone native." I had spent almost fifteen years building my credibility as an IT professional, and now I found myself back outside the IT circle. I responded by trying to strike a balance between the business and IT worlds. When I was with the business, I acted one way; with IT, I acted another.Not surprisingly, I continued to struggle. I had become inauthentic. No one knew the real me.
I eventually learned that the solution was not balancing two worlds--it was integrating the many worlds that I was a part of. Success required broadening and shifting my perspective. The business leaders I respected most led by integrating the various parts of their businesses. They did not try to become expert in each area, but they knew how they all fit together. Like my Montana guide, they saw the strengths, opportunities, risks and problems. I began to realize that I had to think and act the same way. I had to elevate and broaden my thinking--to think like a CEO.
This approach offered its own set of challenges. It meant making difficult and sometimes selfless decisions. One of my first acts after making this shift was to cancel a project that represented 80 percent of my team's work for the coming year. Successfully implemented, this high-profile project could have helped my career.
Unfortunately, the idea behind the project was defective and it could have been disastrous for the business. I looked at the project from the broadest perspective. I integrated what I knew about our resources, capabilities and the business needs. I saw the flaws and made the case to kill it. I was the guide integrating multiple worlds.
I knew that my shift was working by the nature of the conversations I was having. One incident convinced me that I had succeeded. During a contentious budget conversation, my division president was pushing hard to find cuts. Someone suggested that we start with all of the staff groups: IT, finance, HR and so on. The division president concurred with one exception: "IT isn't staff," he said. "It's a core business function."
We spend our lives crossing boundaries from one world to the next. Every group speaks its own language and has its own culture. How we choose to think and act determines our outcomes.
We can feel like outsiders, or we can choose to understand and integrate the various perspectives. In the process, we can become guides. We will be welcomed when we seek to understand. We will be respected when we demonstrate our knowledge, skills and abilities. We will be truly valued when we combine them to deliver integrated solutions to the problems we face.
As guides, we understand both the environment and those who will be using it. Our success and long-term relevance lies in our ability to understand and integrate the needs of all of our stakeholders.
CIOs must become effective guides. More importantly, we must teach this skill to everyone in our organizations.
Doug Moran is the author of the forthcoming book, If You Will Lead: Enduring Wisdom for 21st-Century Leaders, and founder of the consultancy If You Will Lead, LLC. He was previously a CIO with Capital One and served in a number of roles in the Commonwealth of Virginia, including deputy secretary of health and human resources, COO of the department of social services and telecommunications director.