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Making a Better World - moving from the outside

October 16, 2008
by Joe Bormel
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"Making a Better World" - how to move from being an outsider

A friend reached out to me this week, frustrated because he wanted/deserved the CIO title, and not the Director of IS. He was already doing much of the CIO role (visionary leadership and operational management), had a decade of relevant experience and accomplishments, and had the best relationships he felt able to build. The organization didn't have anyone in a CIO role. The senior-most management team didn't want to change things.

I'm sure that scenario is very familiar to readers. Most of us have faced this kind of a challenge.

We kicked around and I'm sharing some ideas that I've found very clear and helpful. They come from Art Kleiner, whose distinguished career includes work with Peter Senge, Booz Allen (where he is Editor-In-Chief of strategy+business), and lots of great writing, including the book I'm drawing from here.

The Outside

Open conversations about any senior-most management team is off-limits for very legitimate reasons that are pretty self-evident. Our jobs, at any level of a company, are two-fold:

1) succinctly and constructively tell our superiors what we think, and,


2) do what we're told (with or without explanation of the why, at the superiors discretion).

Built into the second step is to faithfully (honestly) support our superiors, which includes not eroding the necessary power structure. The deeply emotional feelings about privilege, power and rank need to be put aside to focus on the work at hand. They do need to be understood, however, and they're critical to navigating the problem at hand.

Kleiner outlines, therefore, what not to do, i.e. dont follow your intuition, which, for all of us, is driven by those emotions: (This is excerpted from page 190 of his

linked book; go there for proper elaboration.)

what not to do: (common, sincere and wrong moves!)


Don’t try to bully the organization’s senior-most management team into improvement. For example, don’t angrily go to your bosses and say “Aren’t you ashamed of the way this organization excludes some people?” “Why haven’t you done anything about this?” … They’ll make a note to never let you into their office again.


Do not adopt a passive-aggressive campaign.


Do not put yourself down as a way to curry favor.


Do not put your hopes on a “Skunk Works” or other innovative operation buried within the organization


Don’t start a revolution. [it wont change the structure of the organization.]

what to do:

0. Introspect on why you want to change things.

1. Move deliberately to widen your group … done well, they’ll choose you.

2. Understand how the core individuals really define success and frame your project as a method or milestone for accomplishing their success.

3. Wait for the right moment before you ask for formal certification. … don’t rush that moment.

4. Learn how to hold high-quality conversations.

5. Get the whole system in the room.

6. “Amplify” positive deviance.

7. Articulate misperceptions.

8. Practice … all this takes time and skill. (page 197, middle of page)

The work that Kleiner describes demands that we bring positive emotions to work and stay positive. Absolutely essential.

I'm interested in the guidance that others might provide to managing this kind of a glass ceiling, being an outsider?

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