Harnessing collective wisdom is a CIO's mandate

Their job is to mentor employees, not micro-manage them, says Frank Hayes

One of this year's Computerworld US Premier 100 honorees, Sheldon X Wang of eHealth, quotes an old Chinese proverb: "If you put three shoemakers together, they are going to be smarter than the prime minister".

(The Premier 100 is an annual confernce for CIOs and IT managers hosted by Computerworld US).

Wang uses that adage as a way of thinking about open-source software. But it also raises a question about IT leadership.

Are three IT people together smarter than the CIO?

Hold that thought. Now consider what some of Wang's fellow IT leaders have to say.

For example, here's the philosophy of another honoree, Gregory M Veltri of the Denver Health and Hospital Authority: "Build effective teams with people who are trustworthy and smarter than [you are]."

And this, from Jeremy T Meller of the Marshfield Clinic: "The best leaders resist the urge to solve the problem."

And from Thaddeus Arroyo of AT&T: "Don't limit your team's ability to innovate by your perceived view of what is possible."

And here's Mike Cummins of VHA: "Employees are intelligent. Provide vision and opportunity, then let them lead."

And Timothy A Waire of Constellation Energy Resources: "No one of us individually is as smart as all of us collectively."

In fact, that theme runs through comments of many of the Premier 100: These IT leaders may be running the show, but they have no illusions about where to find the real brains of the outfit.

Those brains are all around them — in their IT staffs, in their organisational peers and in their business users. Taken together, that's much more brainpower than any CIO will ever have.

After all, users know their jobs. Business-side managers and executives know their operations. IT people know their technologies and systems. That's a lot of knowledge.

But more than that, all those people represent a huge amount of experience, analytical judgment and accumulated wisdom. Among them, they really do have all the answers.

So while three IT people together may not be smarter than a CIO, the whole IT staff, plus users and business management, surely is.

Great IT leaders know that, and they value it. It means they don't have to be geniuses by themselves — at least, not if they can harness the experience, intelligence and insight of everyone else.

They like diversity in their IT shops — because cookie-cutter employees don't make them smarter.

They trust their people, and command their people's trust — because without trust, those people won't share their ideas and bring their intelligence to bear on technical and business problems.

They expect ideas and critical thinking from everyone on staff. They break down boundaries. They welcome new ideas and bring people together to solve problems.

The result? They're 100 of the smartest — and most successful — IT executives in the world.

Now it's your turn. Join them.

You may not be as smart as they are — not yet, anyhow. But you can get that way. You can build an IT culture that fosters communication and critical thinking. You can encourage give-and-take, support new ideas and foster innovation.

Most important, you can bring together your staff, your peers and your users in ways that harness everything they know — and then you can reap the success that comes from that combined intelligence.

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