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CIO Unplugged 5/21/14

May 21, 2014 Ed Marx 7 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Marching to the Syncopated Beat

Syncopate – to place the accents on beats that are normally unaccented.

At our last quarter IT leadership team offsite, we invited our Business Technology Leadership Academy cohort to join us. As part of the icebreaker, I asked everyone to describe a leadership paradox — philosophies that don’t seem particularly logical on the surface, yet are quit profound and effective. Since the paradoxes are not mainstream, we may overlook some of these leadership gems in search of the quick fix.

Here is what the team came up with. As you read these, ask yourself: do you operate in each of these areas? If not, what if you did? I know I can read lists and say to myself, “Well of course I do all these things.” But when I am intellectually honest with myself, I begin to see my gaps more clearly, which in turn motivate me to action. I don’t want to toil in vain; I want my work to count for something. I know you do as well. Embrace the gaps and work to close them.


  • Serve, not be served. The day we left the assembly line making widgets is the day we stopped adding direct production value to our organization. Therefore, focus on those who do the actual work and seek to serve them instead of seeking to be served.
  • Patients come second. Heresy? Nope. This book, co-written by one of our hospital presidents, speaks about employee engagement as the key factor to higher quality of care and services. When you focus on people first, everything falls into place.
  • Letting go enables influence. Too often we grip everything with an iron fist trying to protect what we believe belongs to us. While we might succeed at protecting our turf, our influence is stifled. Rather, give everything away and it will come back to you threefold, pressed down and shaken together. Our CMIO and CNIO used to report to me. I purposely had them report elsewhere in our organization, effectively multiplying the influence of IT threefold. You do not have influence until you give it away.
  • Love when you want to hate. Admit it. Sometimes people can just beat you down and for no good reason. You are maligned or disrespected or taken advantage of and your natural inclination is to strike back. Instead, double down on your efforts to love on that person. Clearly, they need it. Hate only fuels hate. Love puts out the fire.
  • Turnover is awesome. We used to have these KPI that were, in a sense, perverse. Someone decided 10 percent was the high watermark for turnover. That generated a lackadaisical attitude and atmosphere. Transforming an organization sometimes requires clearing out non-performers. Embrace appropriate turnover, KPI or not.
  • Turn your leaders. Longevity has value to a point, but it also cultivates complacency and inflexibility. I will delight in celebrating the day one of my team resigns after years of serving—but not necessarily serving me or my organization. I’ve enjoyed a greater pleasure watching one of my directs fly the coup and continue on their journey to reach their career goals. I have six CIOs out there who used to report to me. I am a proud papa!
  • Hide your rank. I will rarely introduce myself or say, “I am the CIO.” I actively participate in meetings and rely more on my logic and persuasiveness than on rank. If I relied on rank, the world would not be a better place. People are less inclined to contribute and engage if some arrogant ass is leading them.
  • Build villages, not castles. We all have a set amount of mortar and brick at our disposal. The real action happens in villages, in the town square, among the people. Get out of your castle and live among your people. You will not only better understand how to serve them, but you will experience real joy.
  • Ask for help. Everyone already knows you’re partially incompetent. You can’t possibly know everything. The gig is up. Just admit it, ask for help, and move on. You will earn respect and more will get accomplished.
  • Give credit to the team. Obvious, yes, but hardly practiced. Hello? You want glory? Then take the glory that comes with taking bullets for your team when a project goes sideways. You want the most loyal team on earth that will jump on grenades for you? Protect them. Take the shit when it hits the fan.
  • Embrace challengers. At first, I’ll hate them; but then I’ll love them deeply. They are one of the reasons I’ve experienced success. I grit my teeth and embrace those who challenge me; I glean all I can. They have the inherent ability to transform me more than any who kiss my ass. Ass-kissers feel good. Challengers make you good.
  • Never coast. I have participated in about 125 triathlons now. Coasters never win. They look good for a while, but they never achieve significance. I know people who achieved a level of success and decided to retire while working. When all is said and done, they will be depressed knowing they had more to give but kept it to themselves.

As I review the above list and contemplate the personal application, I see where I have fallen short and need to take another run at them. I know that if I do not continuously look for and fill gaps that I will become the kind of leader I fear most. A complacent leader. An impotent leader. A leader in name only.

Insignificance is not my calling. Nor is it yours.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "7 comments" on this Article:

  1. “Patients come second” is completely new to me. Okay, I will be open to this and see where it goes.

  2. Sometimes after reading these I get the same feeling as I do in church after the sermon. Are you writing these for me? Thanks for helping others to remain focused on what is important.

  3. Well said! Serve, engage, let go, build, ask, love, embrace. Thank you for the awesome message. I agree on all points.

  4. words to live by Ed, not just at work. thanks for the thoughtful guidance. best thing I read which lends credibility to your comments is your proud papa statement. Perhaps a KPI we all should consider.







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