Successful CIOs Have Machiavellian Tendencies, Says New E-Book
October 21, 2013 Jenny Thomas
Cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics or advancing one’s career. These aren’t the skills you’d expect to see listed on the average resume, but if you’re looking to rise to the top, especially if you’re gunning for a CIO spot, maybe they should be.
A new e-book from Gartner vice president and fellow, Tina Nunno, takes a look at some new leadership styles for CIOs and IT leaders that can help ensure their own success and that of their teams.
The Wolf in CIO’s Clothing: A Machiavellian Strategy for Successful IT Leadership examines the role of CIOs, who are often under attack due to IT system failures or other circumstances that are beyond their control. The e-book is based on Nunno’s research and experience with hundreds of CIOs and her admiration for Niccolo Machiavelli, a 15th century Italian political philosopher whose name has become synonymous with describing someone who will take action for gain without regard for right or wrong. Machiavelli’s reputation is the result of his book, The Prince, which he originally penned in 1513, and was released in book form posthumously in 1532. In it, Machiavelli outlined his vision of an ideal leader: an amoral, calculating tyrant for whom the end justifies the means.
According to Nunno, if the CIO cannot prevent and fight off attacks successfully, they can face serious repercussions.
“Business is a hotbed for conflict, and CIOs often find themselves at the center. As Machiavelli implied, you’re either predator or prey, and the animal you most resemble determines your position on the food chain,” says Nunno. She suggests that when a colleague is using dark-side tactics, normal management techniques will not work, and successful CIOs must consider using dark-side Machiavellian tactics to defend themselves and survive the day.
In her e-book, Nunno examines seven animal types and the leadership attributes of each. She comes to the wolf as the animal that CIOs should strive to resemble because wolves are social animals with strong predatory instincts, which she says is an ideal example of how a CIO, or any leader, can adapt and thrive.
“The career of a CIO has many analogies to the life of Machiavelli. CIOs are often in favor with senior leadership, and at other times they are not. While falling out of favor is, at times, deserved due to failure to deliver IT solutions, at other times CIOs are falsely accused of failure or targeted for other reasons,” explains Nunno.
Nunno boils down Machiavelli’s lessons into three disciplines: power, manipulation, and warfare. She says CIOs must get comfortable with the idea of power, gathering it, and using it wisely. Based on her research, Nunno believes CIOs are regularly confronted with opponents more powerful than they, or those who they would consider less than completely honest or rational. As a result, when CIOs follow traditional IT management advice and best practices, they often become more vulnerable to the manipulation of others. Nunno’s e-book advises effective CIOs must anticipate manipulative behavior and take appropriate steps to evade or defend against it. Ideally, leading CIOs should consider manipulation techniques to help advance the IT agenda and increase their contribution to the enterprise.
Once CIOs have mastered power, manipulation, the final discipline should be a snap. Nunno says warfare, which she describes as the ability to take power and manipulation and scale them up to mass proportions, is directly related to the CIO’s chance of success. Nunno says many CIO initiatives resemble warfare, including centralization initiatives, business process changes, cost reduction programs, and mergers and acquisitions, and the successful CIO must have the ability to get large groups of people to go in the same direction at the same time in conflict-ridden situations.
“I tend to think it is always a good time for Machiavelli, but now is a particularly good time considering the tremendous pressure on CIOs, with opportunities and threats coming from so many different parts of the organization,” says Nunno. “Machiavellians know there is no safe middle ground in leadership. By going to extremes, a wolf CIO can help bring a dark enterprise to the light side.”
It looks like the old saying might be true: Nice guys or gals finish last. If you’re looking to get ahead, you better be ready to get ruthless.