Monthly Archives: September 2011

My Information Technology Ministry

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I recently became the Co-chair of the Federal CIO Council’s Architecture and Infrastructure Committee.  Though I’m new to the gig, I can see similarities between this role and leadership roles I’ve had at church.   Sure, some enterprise architects are zealots about what they do and what they believe in, but the real similarity comes in leading volunteers when you have no direct control or authority over them.  For this reason, when people ask me what’s the best way to get experience as a CIO, I always suggest that they volunteer for leadership in the Information Technology programs at their church or community. 

 

The true mark of successful leadership shows when people are able to gain followers over whom they have no leverage.  CIOs often find themselves responsible and accountable for things over which they have no control.  This is why there is often so much talk about what CIOs have “control” over.  But, this isn’t unusual in technical and professional jobs.  John Kotter confirms in Power and Influence that:

 

“Most of the power gap one finds in professional and technical jobs is associated with relationships outside the formal chain of command.”

 

The skills that one acquires to get results outside of their direct authority or chain of command are critical for getting desired business outcomes.  John C. Maxwell in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, he advises CEO’s to look for the best leaders in those that have successfully led volunteer organizations for at least six months.  He tells us that:

 

Followers in voluntary organizations cannot be forced to get on board. If the leader has no influence with them, then they won’t follow

 

While serving in my church’s IT Ministry, I found that if you can get a bunch of set-in-their-ways Baptist deacons and trustees to migrate to a new church membership system, you can implement an enterprise resource planning system.  In this case, I had to convince them that it would be Divine Will that we upgrade to a more modern system else we burn in the eternal hell of non-Y2K compliance.  It worked and we modernized our old church membership system. 

 

Another similar aspect is the need for a Ten Commandments or enterprise architecture.  The importance of enterprise architecture is that in its most useful form, it defines a clear, unambiguous set of principles that guide IT decisions in an organization.  Architecture you can use is not reams and volumes of useless dogma.  It looks something like this:

 

·         Thou shall consider cloud computing solutions first before buying a dedicated infrastructure for your application.

·         Thou shall not bare false witness to other IT investments and demonstrate value producing desired outcomes consistent with your business case else you risk termination and eternal damnation.

·         Thou shall run securely and not make wrongful use of any data entrusted to you so that thy days may be long.

 

And finally, people want to have hope for tomorrow and vision for a better future. My grandmother used to say that everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.  That means that we often want benefits without making a commensurate sacrifice.  In IT speak, that means we want to reduce the cost of what we spend on IT, but we don’t want to sacrifice value of the services and capabilities we get.  But in order to get to IT heaven, we need to die to duplicative infrastructures and “one-off” spending and believe in economies of scale and shared services. 

 

Of course an enterprise resource planning system is much more complex than a church membership product and an agency Web portal has more multifaceted considerations compared to a homeowner’s association newsletter, but the foundational leadership skills are the same.   These skills allow leaders to bring people together over whom they have no authority and align them along a common set of principles or beliefs by building a sense of community.  Leaders at all levels have to have these capabilities in order to turn vision, hope, and dreams into reality. 

 

Linda Cureton, NASA CIO

The Leadership of the Horse Holder

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We can learna lot about leadership from horse holders.   They show us the importance of leading frombehind.  Many associate leadershipsuccess with fame, fortune recognition, and scores of admiring followers.  But, we need to remember the inspirationalinstruction from these vital leaders who are often alone and nearlyundetectable. 

Horseholders perform essential duties in a battlefield.  During combat, the noise from cannons andguns would spook the hoofed infantry causing them to run away from their ridersto safety.  These loyal horsemen wouldstand in the rear dutifully clutching the reins preserving this most valuablebattle commodity. 

Leading frombehind describes a leadership style that puts others first.  It understands the value of nurturing andtaking care of followers.  Itaccomplishes much while taking credit for very little.  These leaders are dependable, trustworthy,and extremely competent.  They performlike the quarterback who throws the winning touchdown pass but acts like acheerleader encouraging and praising the victorious receiver. 

The poem The General’s Mount: a Poem on GeneralForrest’s Horse describes a civil war general’s horse and in it we see thehorse holder’s bittersweet perspective of service and duty:

 


Stunned and trembling

From the shock andpain.

Jaded. Limping to theholders in the rear.


No bugles and nodrumbeats here,

Only fading soundsacross the field.

THE HOLDERS slipped thebridle


From his lowered head,

Wiped the sweat marks fromhis cheeks and neck.

Bathed the blood-redfoam from mouth and nostrils,

Sponged his wounds,


Applied a stingingointment.

They washed his knees andhocks and pasterns.

 

Ancient philosopherLao Tzu describes them as the besttype of leader who people do not notice and “… When the best leader’s work isdone, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’ To lead the people, walk behindthem.” Maybe what the world and the workplace need now are more horse holders –these unsung heroes who are critical in every victorious battle and standing inthe rear. 

 

Linda Y.Cureton, NASA CIO