In which Jill doles out a little self-help to IT leaders.

Effective leaders…understand that they have to earn the right to sit where they want. And where they start out is not necessarily where they’ll end up. But categorizing IT leaders into personas or “types” à la Myers-Briggs, doesn’t solve the entire problem. After all, you can anoint a CIO as an “innovator,” but if the rest of his organization is maintaining legacy Cobol code, how innovative is he?

— The New IT: How Technology Leaders Are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age (McGraw-Hill, 2015), page 27.

I love personality tests. I know my Myers-Briggs type, my five top Strengthsfinder preferences, my Standout results, and my DISC profile. I have taken my teams through these exercises to hone our collaboration, going so far as to retain outside facilitators to ensure rigor. I’m even inclined to excuse certain behaviors based on someone’s type, as in, “Oh, he’s an ‘I’ so he probably sent me an email rather than returning my call.” I’m a veritable personality-typing fangirl.

Obviously this kind of typing can backfire, misused to marginalize coworkers. But an individual’s behavior tendencies don’t necessarily inform those of her organization. That your CIO is an extrovert and a big thinker doesn’t mean that people aren’t completely ignoring IT. In fact, the CIO might lack the leadership skills or personal influence to even affect how the larger team is viewed by the rest of the company.

Rather than typing a single leader, I’ve found it’s more accurate—and ultimately more useful—to type prevailing behaviors of the organization at large. In my book, The New IT, I’ve defined six different archetypes for IT: Tactical, Order Taking, Aligning, Data Provisioning, Brokering, and IT Everywhere. These archetypes circumscribe not only how people in IT collectively behave (particularly under stress), but how the organization is viewed by others.

To stay with the self-help theme for a minute: only until you understand your department’s reputation can you decide whether you want to change it. (This is sort of the same thing as admitting you have a problem.) For instance, is your team seen as a group of order takers, adept at technical delivery, but overlooked for strategy or brainstorming sessions? Maybe that’s okay with you. Maybe it’s the best you can do right now. Or maybe a focus on project completion puts potential innovations at risk.

The point is that understanding where you want to be means knowing where you are. (I got that one from Weight Watchers.)

I know what you’re thinking. She’s from California. But trust me when I say that no CIO, indeed no leader of any kind, can transform his own reputation without also evolving his organization. Call it self-knowledge. Call it a moral inventory. Whatever you call it, know whether you’re okay with it where it is.


Editor’s note: Jill’s fourth book, The New IT: How Technology Leaders are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age, was recently published by McGraw-Hill.