Are You Brave Enough to be an Intimate Leader?
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When you understand a customer, their business and their challenges on a deep level, you are able to identify emerging opportunities and risks and how you can respond to them before the customer may even be aware of them.
By Charles Araujo
If there is one thing that I hear more than anything else when talking to non-IT people it is this: "IT does not understand what I do."
A funny thing happened after the publication of my book, The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. As I would talk to friends or family—people that had nothing to do with IT—they would always be curious about the book. I would explain the core premise to them and, invariably, I got some version of the same response. While I expected The Quantum Age of IT would be meaningless to anyone outside of the world of IT, I was wrong. Everyone, it seemed, had a story to tell me about how their IT organization was out of touch. Almost without fail, my non-IT friends and family asked if they could give a copy of my book to their IT department in the hope that maybe, just maybe, it would wake IT up and help them see just how bad thing were from their perspective.
One evening, my wife and I had dinner with some dear friends of ours. Neither of them worked in IT. In fact, Hew was about as far from IT as you could get—or so I thought. He was the executive chef for a chain of convenience stores that carried a wide range of fresh foods. He had been trained in a Michelin-starred restaurant and was launching a cooking web channel. Surely, my book would have no interest to him. So when he asked me about it, I gave him the 30-second summary and prepared to talk about the chicken that he was cooking. Instead, Hew got very animated.
"Oh, my gosh, Charlie," he said as he stopped cooking to turn and look me square in the eye. "That is exactly the problem I’m having at my company. I have all of these things I'm trying to do to open the U.S. market, to introduce new and interesting food products, and I need support from IT to do it. But they are locked in their own world back at the home office and I'm sure they have absolutely no idea what I do. I just wish one of them would spend a day in my shoes. Then maybe they'd understand how important they are to what I'm doing and could actually help me. As it is, they are just working against me."
To be honest, I was taken aback. Even with my belief that technology is now impacting everything, I didn't expect this kind of reaction. It really drove home for me how pervasive technology is in every aspect of business—even in places that we may not realize. It also solidified in my mind why the fourth organizational trait in my book—being Intimate—will be vital to the future success of every IT leader.
The Intimacy Line
When I was writing The Quantum Age of IT, I had the opportunity to interview an amazing executive. At the time, Bill Wray was the CIO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island (he is now the COO). Wray gave me a line that I have borrowed shamelessly. When we were talking about the necessity of understanding the true needs of your customers, he described what he called "the Intimacy Line." He said that he told his team that they could not meet their customers in the middle. He explained that it was not enough to go 50 percent of the way toward the customer and expect them to come 50 percent back toward them. Instead, he told them that they needed to go 80 percent of the way toward the customer so that they needed to come only 20 percent toward IT. He said that he demanded that his team live their lives within their customer’s lives and that they had to know their customers' business almost as well as they did. It was powerful in its simplicity.