When I’m working with new CIOs I often run into the buddy / boss problem. It’s perfectly understandable that any person newly placed into a CIO position would like to establish a positive relationship with the people in the IT department that they are managing. This is all well and good, but it’s all too easy for a CIO to go too far – you can be a boss, but you can’t be a buddy.
Pick One: Buddy Or Boss
How did you ever learn to be a boss? There is no real definition of information technology management that you can look up in order to get management tips. I’m going to go so far as to guess that you never took any courses on the subject. Rather, you went to work and you had bosses. You watched what they did and saw what kind of results they got. When you got promoted, you did your level best to be like the bosses that you had that got things done.
This is all well and good; however, the world moves on. The new management philosophy tells us that as bosses we need to “connect” with our staff in part to keep them from leaving. Exactly what this means or how best to do it is not terribly well defined.
All too often what I see new CIOs doing is starting out small and going out to happy hours and such events with their IT team. This then leads to other activities and eventually real friendships can develop with some of your staff. This is when problems start to pop up.
As the head of the IT department, your staff works for you. What this means is that at work you have a very clearly defined relationship. When you start to develop personal friendships outside of work, these relationships can start to blur the work relationships.
What happens is that your new friends stop taking what you say at work with the proper amount of seriousness. They forget that indeed they do need to do what you tell them to do – it’s not a request from a friend that they are receiving, but rather a command from their boss. The difference may be subtle, but it’s very, very important that they understand it.
Too Much Information
Along the same lines, the issue of how much of your personal life you should share with your staff is another difficult issue that we all need to deal with. You don’t want to be seen as being cold and aloof, but how much is too much?
One of the key realizations that I’ve seen CIOs struggle with is the simple fact that any personal information that you share with any of your staff will undoubtedly end up getting repeated. Before you share it, you need to determine what the long term cost of making that information public will be.
Trivial things like the fact that you own a dog are probably ok to share with staff. The fact that you got arrested as a youth for drunken driving is probably not. The litmus test that seems to work the best in these situations is to ask yourself if you saw that the front-page story in the New York Times was the information that you are about to share with a staff member, how would your mother feel? If there is any doubt on your part, then keep your mouth shut!
What All Of This Means For You
CIOs get way too much contradictory information when it come how best to manage a team of IT professionals. Gone are the days of aloof, remote bosses. CIOs are expected to connect with their IT department and to bond with their employees. The importance of information technology is such that CIOs do need to find ways to connect with their staff.
However, it’s all too easy for a CIO to take this employee bonding stuff too far. You won’t be able to effectively manage your staff if you become their “buddy”. Instead you need to maintain a professional distance between yourself and everyone else. This idea means that you shouldn’t end up sharing too much of your personal information with the people who work for you.
Nobody ever said that in the IT sector that this leadership thing was going to be easy. CIOs need to keep in mind the role that they play in the company that they work for and what this means for the relationships that they will establish. Remember, be a boss, not a buddy!
Question For You: If you make a mistake and become too friendly with one of your employees, what’s the best way to correct the situation?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
It’s time for that IT worker to go. As CIO, one of the most painful decisions that you are ever going to have to make is the decision to terminate an employee. Not only is this a tough call for you to make, if you have any sensitivity at all then you realize that it’s going to rough on them no matter how you go about doing this. Considering how important this is the IT department and to both of you, perhaps we should spend a few moments talking about the right way to go about doing this part of your job…