How does one become an effective CIO?
The very fact that Gita talks of three paths means it does not consider one path superior to others. It should not be any different in practical life
Who is a great CIO? Someone with an inordinate ability to deliver flawless execution, project after project? Or someone who can do some abstract thinking, can connect dots and foresee what is coming? Or one who can collaborate effectively with his team, external partners and other business managers to achieve the goals?
Ideally, all of the above. Except that the world is not an ideal place.
Be honest. Don’t you know an extremely effective CIO who would mostly fit the first description? And another who is more of the second kind? And the guy who is everyone’s favorite in the company—the partnership guy, not particularly great at ideas and articulations, but a great performer nevertheless?
Yes, they all exist in reality. And you have good number of examples of successful—and unsuccessful—CIOs of each type.
Just as there are different types of people (in this case CIOs), there are companies with different types of cultures where some individuals fit more naturally than others; there are different industries which demands different qualities; there are different phases in an organizations where different abilities are needed and so on.
It, therefore, makes sense to acknowledge that all these different abilities have their utilities at different times and different circumstances. Instead of going after that elusive “one quality” that makes for a great CIO, it is better to get sensitized to what roles can these qualities play and how a judicious mix of those qualities can be cultivated over time, even if one is naturally of one type.
Gita to the Rescue
How does one become an effective CIO? By mastering project management and being up to date with technology? Or by understanding business needs and suggesting solutions by connecting dots? Or by making those ordinary looking solutions do wonders by getting everyone on board? Or by some other means?
And are these approaches mutually exclusive?
The Bhagvad Gita, the sacred philosophical text of India, provides some answers. Gita’s famous three yogas or paths can be useful in finding answer to this question.
[To the uninitiated, Yoga, meaning addition or joining is the union of atman (the spark of divinity present in all individuals) with Brahman (the Supreme divinity). The three yogas or alternate paths that Gita identifies are jnana yoga (path of knowledge), karma yoga (path of action), and bhakti yoga (path of devotion). These have found resonance with the thinking of modern management.]
How does the three-paths approach help the CIO? A CIO’s job is to derive business value for his organization by choosing and implementing the right IT. He can achieve that by doing efficient execution of projects or by having a great vision of the future and understanding of the business even as some good IT managers in his team get the projects delivered. Or he can get the desired results by ensuring that his C-suite counterparts collaborate with him well by building strong relationships.
The first is the path of action; the second path of knowledge and the last, path of devotion. While the first two translate well into English (jnana for knowledge and karma for action), the third needs some explanation. Devotion can have two interpretations in the modern context. First is devotion to the goal (as devotion to the God). The second is what modern management calls emotional intelligence, which is the ability to forge bonds with human beings by appealing to their emotion and not reason. In the above example, it is in this second context that devotion is used.
As all of us know, no CIO—or for that matter, no human being—is fully in one path. It is a mix. It is based on situations and contexts that one is supposed to follow one particular path, though most individuals have one or two of these qualities that are dominant. They naturally seem to do well in certain situations.
The very fact that Gita talks of these three paths means it does not consider one path superior to others. That should not be any different in practical life.
A mature CIO is not one who is good at all three—that is an extreme rarity—but one who is well sensitized about the applicability of all approaches and well aware of his own strengths and limitations; one who tries to reach the goal by forging effective partnership with individuals with complementary strengths or turning the situation to his advantage.
All the roads lead to the same destination. One should choose them based on one's own ability and as the situation demands. A GM-IT of an SMB may have to quickly roll out a project for his business to even survive; a group CIO of a large diversified group cannot run after the dates of each project.
Having said that, most of the corporate jobs—including that of the CIO—require that the individuals deliver on his assigned tasks. A CIO’s performance on which his remuneration and respect are based is primarily determined by what he achieves through his action. So, the prime role is that of action; knowledge and emotion just make it better, if one measures purely from the point of view of performance.
Believe it or not, Gita too acknowledges that. When a confused Arjuna asks why, after describing all the virtues of knowledge, Krishna was still asking him to indulge in action, the Lord unambiguously replies: jnana-yogena sankhyanam karma-yogena yoginam. The path of knowledge for the Sankhyas and the path of action for the Yogis. Those who pursue salvation through philosophical knowledge are the snakhyas; those who live in the society must indulge in action to get things done and keep it moving. They are the yogis.