Career advice: When the CIO doesn't act like part of the team

Premier 100 IT Leader David O'Berry also answers questions about following a mentor, differentiating yourself at work and more.

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David O'Berry

O'Berry is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about the need for the CIO to be part of the team, following a mentor and more. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com.

Our CIO is always stressing how important it is that we, his direct reports, work together as a team, but he doesn't act like he's part of the team himself. There are a lot of us, but he doesn't even know all our names, and he seems more interested in hobnobbing with other C-level officers. I see the value of those relationships, but am I wrong to expect him to display a bit more solidarity with his direct reports? I can see right out the gate that your question is not going to have me making friends with the C suite. The unfortunate truth is that leaders are often born, not made. I would tend to believe your current CIO falls into the "tried to make a leader and did not succeed" category. The team comes first, period. If you truly care as a leader, then it shows, and it directly shows in the accomplishments of your team. Otherwise, you are just looked at as someone using others to get to the next rung in the ladder. "Do as I say, not as I do" is a hypocritical recipe for disaster, especially when "teamwork" concepts are thrown around. Trust matters, and he needs to earn it, or he will never be anything but a placeholder for the next person. I always say, "I will be led; I will not be herded." If I feel that way, why would I ever expect anyone who worked for me to feel differently? Your CIO needs to wake up or change careers to something that he can do by himself instead of with a team.

I was laid off from my job as a project manager about five months ago. I've had a few interviews, but I haven't been enthusiastic about the jobs. They seem to offer only more of what I've already done. My wife says this is no time to be fussy, and I understand her point, but I want to give this more time and try to find something with broader horizons. Would I be better off accepting a job now and closing off this gap on my résumé, or should I hold out a bit longer? Tough call. It is going to depend on the length of time the gap is and what you are doing to fill it. For instance, if you have legitimate work, even for a nonprofit or as an independent consultant, then you can maybe wait a bit longer. At the same time, perfection is the enemy of progress, and though your age and financial state are factors, it is probably better to close the gap. At the same time, use your known skills and abilities to add more to whatever organization you join. Don't go in assuming a dead end, and maybe the path will open up to something you never considered.

I graduated from college a year ago and have been working on the help desk of a large company. What's the best way to differentiate myself so I can move into new things? You did not mention what your degree was in and that might matter longer term to what course you choose. What I would do in the interim is to really just rock it out in what you are doing. Go the extra 10 miles with every call. That does not mean you can blow your service-level agreements or burden your co-workers because you are talking about the NBA Finals for an hour, but it does mean to make sure people know they are not just some help desk ticket number. Know your job, do your job exceptionally well, remember names, show personality, volunteer to take on new products, take an appropriate amount of training during work (lay off maxing out on that) and on your own keep pushing your skill sets, including potential certifications relevant to what you want to do with your career. Last but not least, get involved in the industry, either from the business side or from the technical side, because most really good positions are not filled by random applicants, and in the end the market is certainly based on supply and demand.

After a disruptive network outage a couple of months ago, higher-ups at my company started looking for scapegoats. I don't see how that is helpful in addressing the root of the problem, but I'm not in a position of influence. What, if anything, should I do? Unfortunately, all you can do is to lay low, document your role in the situation (if any), do your job, don't gossip, be ready to answer questions matter of factly without getting wrapped around the emotional axle, remember that anyone you think is a friend may not be and, above all else, never gripe about the management out loud. It would not be a bad idea to update your résumé and very quietly be on the lookout in case things devolve rapidly.

I know this type of advice coming from someone is the last thing you want to hear but the reality is that what you are talking about is a culture thing as much as it is a situational thing. Changing the culture of a C-level suite only happens a few ways: A bigger C comes in, and/or regulators/law enforcement etc. get involved. Grassroots change is a great concept and one I fully support, but in today's corporate culture it is the exception and not the rule.

A former boss that I have always admired has asked me to work for him in a position of some authority. It's tempting, but I have his old job now and have set myself several goals that will take time to achieve. Which is the better path? This answer is not simple and will depend on your age, your relationship with the boss, the level of trust in him or her, the stability of both companies, etc. It also depends on whether or not you have an ego issue that you need to satisfy by being in the old boss's job and whether or not you have a team at either place with which you are more comfortable. Personally, I have been in your previous boss's shoes a couple of times, and I always took care of the people around me. If I wanted you to come with me, then it was because that type of bond cannot be faked or rapidly created. Look at both paths and see which one fulfills you longer term. If it's the one with your previous boss, then there is nothing wrong with taking a path where you two are able to continue to foster what sounds like a really interesting relationship. If it is with the current position, and if the respect you share is mutual, he will understand and you can revisit the situation once you have accomplished your current agenda.

David O'Berry calls himself a "reformed CxO/CIO currently working for 'The Dark Side' as a strategic systems engineer for McAfee." He spent 19 years on the enterprise side as a network manager, director of ITSS and, most recently, director of strategic development and IT in the public sector.

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