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Mar 6, 201408:33 AMVan Lines

with Joe Vanden Plas

Fusion 2014: IT managers wolf down management advice

(page 1 of 2)

Whenever someone is described as a Machiavellian genius, it can be a compliment, a sign of grudging respect, or a five-alarm warning.

In the IT workforce, personality profiles run the gamut. Some CIOs end up in positions where they don’t have much power, they take punches each day, and they are the very definition of lambs. Others are a bit like Eddie Haskell — they’re wolf-like bullies to their staff underlings but put on a polite façade when dealing with the chief executive.

During this week’s Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium produced by WTN Media, Gartner’s Tina Nunno spoke of workforce personality profiles and how they impact management strategies. The “Machiavellian CIO” and the extreme office politics they sometimes must practice were the focus of her keynote.

When CIOs find themselves in extreme political situations, and they are the target of manipulative tactics and power plays, they could be at professional risk. Nunno, author of The Wolf in CIO Clothing, explained how to apply the cunning wisdom of Niccolo Machiavelli to tilt the office in the CIO’s direction.

Nunno, a Gartner vice president and fellow, focuses on three major areas of research: board and executive presentations, IT governance, and IT organizational politics. The latter is where Machiavelli and his book The Prince come in. The Prince, which Nunno described as a guidebook on how to be a dictator, is the most commonly read work of Machiavelli.

Nunno has done some work of her own. In her research, Nunno asks CIOs to rate the level of politics in their organizations from 1 to 10. The average score is 7, indicating a fairly high level of organizational politics, while the lowest score ever given is 3. Others asked, what do you have that’s larger than 10?

Often, organizational politics goes unrecognized, but leaving it unaddressed is a mistake because managers are then less capable of improving the skill sets necessary to deal with it. “Politics is normal in an organization,” Nunno says, “especially as we’re going through a lot of change. My research is based on the premise that sometimes you are in extreme situations. In these situations, normal management practices often don’t work.”

Machiavellian nature

One of Machiavelli’s dominant principles is: Above all else, be armed. He might have added: Be armed in case you need to be because there is a light side and a dark side to effective management of human capital. The light side’s leadership tactics include openness, honesty, and transparency, while dark side leadership tactics include force and coercion. The tactics you most employ often depend on the type of organization you’re in.

Nunno’s favorite Machiavellian quote is: “Men generally decide upon a middle course, which is most hazardous; for they know neither how to be entirely good or entirely bad.” Translation: Be really good or, as a leader, you become unremarkable, forgettable, and malleable because “others know the more they push you, the more you give,” she said.

She used the example of whether a basic automation project is good or bad. If you’re a CEO and you must deliver profits and shareholder value, it’s a good thing. If you’re a union official and worried about the impact on jobs, it’s a bad thing.

“Machiavelli believes you’re often in position to make a bad or worse decisions,” Nunno said. “His view was always make the bad decision because it’s the job of the leader to make difficult decisions. Let’s face it, we don’t admire leaders who are not willing to make the tough decisions.”

She advised embracing conflict not as inherently negative, but as a natural element of change. A normal CIO tends to believe that within the organization, he has a certain number of supporters who’ll work well with IT, a smaller number of detractors who don’t support IT, and a larger group, about 50%, who are potential friends.

In contrast, Machiavelli believed you have a tiny sliver of friends, many more enemies, and a lot more potential enemies. It was his way of preparing for the worst.

Machiavelli wanted to think like an animal, and he looked to animals for inspiration. Nunno said the best animal for IT leaders is the wolf because the wolf is a pack animal and very social. It can lead a large group in an organized fashion and command a large territory. The wolf inspires loyalty, but for those who are not loyal to the wolf, the so-called “leader of the pack” becomes a predator.

Nunno advised IT managers to strike a balance between the dark side (represented by animals like the lion, the snake, and the shark) and the light side (represented by the lamb, the dove, and the dolphin). That’s why the wolf is ideal because it can strike an adaptable balance, depending on the workplace situation encountered.

Spend too much time on light side and “you end up looking like lunch,” Nunno stated. Spend too much time on the dark side and you’ll handle some situations the wrong way, even in a so-called “dark side” organization.

Tactical decisions

There are also different disciplinary tactics to consider: power, manipulation, and warfare.

With regard to exercising power, Machiavelli famously said, “If you’re going to assassinate someone, do it in the public square.” That means you have to make an example out of them, or you will have to assassinate too many. The modern-day equivalent might go something like this: An underling refused to do the work the CIO asked him to do, so the underling was either fired or transferred to an equivalent position in another division. Be forewarned about power because one of challenges of having to do tough things is that it “takes a piece out of you,” Nunno cautioned.


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