CIO Careers: Why IT Gets No Respect

What does a CIO need to be successful? We each have our
own answers. Some may say that technical excellence and knowledge counts most,
others might place the emphasis on business awareness, relationships or just
hard-core ambition. Certainly, all of these are necessary to reach a certain
level in an organization. But to take the final step and be accepted as someone
who is truly a member of the C-suite, you need one more thing: influence. This
is the second in a series of articles on how to position yourself as an
influential leader in your organization. The first installment was CIO Career
Killer: Lack of Influence

“IT doesn’t get enough respect.”

Talk about an overused phrase. Seems like it’s around us
everywhere we look. Although it may be a nearly ubiquitous problem, practical
and real solutions are few and far between. Case in point: InfoWorld recently published an easy-to-agree with
piece titled: “10 hard truths IT must learn to accept.” Number 10 on the list:
“You will never get the respect you deserve.”

Bad enough that lack of respect is a top 10 item, but
when it comes to providing advice on how to address this challenge, we get the
same old refrain, “The best way to finally get some respect? Earn it every day…
focus on providing extraordinary value to the company.”  Puhleez. As if without this deep
insight we’d all go to work thinking that providing minimal value is the
pathway to the respect we deserve.

It’s obvious that IT as a whole, and every professional,
manager and leader in the IT value chain, needs to deliver superior value every
day. But the fact of the matter is that we see many highly qualified IT
leaders, and their teams, who deliver value yet still suffer from a lack of
respect. Clearly, something isn’t working. There has to be something else at play here.

A closer look

This “lack of respect” issue has bugged me for some time.
So, in the hope of getting to the bottom of it, I commissioned a primary market
research study. The aim of the study: To uncover the most significant
management and leadership problems of IT leaders and how they experience them.

As expected, a substantial number of respondents
identified “lack of respect” as a major issue. Some of the more frequently
cited experiences by respondents to back up their “lack of respect” included:

  • IT is not included in most business strategy
    discussions; colloquially stated, the CIO doesn’t have a seat at the table.
  • IT is not brought into discussions about new
    initiatives early enough to influence how the initiative is implemented or to
    plan properly for the IT component.
  • IT struggles to get sufficient budget to do the
    projects the business wants done and even more so for infrastructure upgrades.
  • The business doesn’t appreciate how long it takes to
    get an IT project done properly. They’ll accept a plan and timeline in the end because they have no
    choice, but then they’ll ask again in six months why it can’t be done faster.
  • Business leaders don’t properly support IT projects.
    There isn’t enough attention from senior business sponsors and they don’t
    assign the right people for enough hours to the projects.
    The actions of the business undermine the effectiveness
    of IT.

Still think it’s about respect?

From the above experiences, I’m sure you can see that the
“lack of respect” issue so often reported by IT leaders isn’t about being
“dissed” in the traditional sense of the word.  Rather, it’s about not being influential enough–not on the
corporate level to be heard on strategic topics; and not on the tactical level
to garner the appropriate support required for IT to be successful.
Nevertheless, the result is still the same. IT professionals and managers are
left feeling that they are not respected. Their rationale: if they were
respected they wouldn’t be treated this way.

Reframing the question

Now, with a better understanding of what’s really going
on, let’s ask the question that started us off with a little more clarity.
Rather than asking why IT doesn’t get the respect it deserves, let’s ask the
real question: Why, given the importance of IT, aren’t IT leaders more

The heart of the issue

After much formal and informal research, it seems that
there are three basic causes for this situation:

  1. The natural tendencies and interests of IT professionals: It’s an obvious truism
    that the majority of IT folks are highly oriented towards numbers, toward
    seeing things in black and white, toward linear thinking. Earning the influence
    to secure a seat at the leadership table and to be listened to requires people
    skills, seeing greys, emotional intelligence, and non-linear thinking — the
    very skills which IT people don’t tend to be naturally good at.
  2. The professional development gap:  There isn’t a graduate program I know
    of in computer science that even hints to these skills and how critical they
    are. It’s all about tech, tech and more tech. But, even for those of us who do
    recognize that we need to develop influence-building skills and who want to
    work to learn how to build the right kind of interpersonal relationships, there
    aren’t a lot of good resources to help. Sure, there are lots of seminars and self-help books out there. But they tend to focus on sales skills
    or on personal influence development. They don’t address the unique needs of IT professionals in the
    workplace, i.e., how to develop and adapt relationship-building skills to the
    IT environment and its built-in challenges in interacting with the business
  3. An aversion to influence development as generally
    : Let’s assume that you
    can get past the first two issues. For most of us, we still face the biggest stumbling block towards
    developing the influence skills that we need to be successful. IT professionals believe that influence
    and respect should grow from deliverables. After all, either a system works or
    not. It’s not about talk it’s about deliverables. (Hence the typical answer we
    find of just deliver value.)

The very notion of influence development — especially in
the way it is portrayed in the popular press — triggers an emotional aversion
to the topic by IT professionals. Dirty politics, underhanded manipulations, back-room deals, yuck. It
smells of self-serving intentions and getting your way with people. And we
don’t want any part of it.

There is another way

If IT professionals and managers are going to get the
influence (and respect) they need (and deserve), the journey begins with an
attitude adjustment.

In place of thinking about influence as “what’s in it for
me?” and “how can I manipulate someone else to do what I want?,” start thinking
about “how can I be an influence for good?” Think about pursuing influence in
order to ensure that your organization makes considered and intelligent choices
about its IT investments. Think about how important influence is for you to do
a good job.

Bottom line

The first and most important step towards getting the
respect you deserve is making the attitudinal shift to believing that the
pursuit of influence is a good thing. That it’s not only okay to pursue
influence, it’s the good and ethical thing to do for your professional success,
for the success of IT at your company, and for the reputation of the larger
community of IT professionals.

About the author

Marc J. Schiller, author of “The 11 Secrets of Highly
Influential IT Leaders,” is a sought-after speaker, IT strategist and analytics
expert who is committed to transforming IT leaders into influential executives.
Download a free excerpt of the book at

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