Don't settle for anything less than authenticity in IT leadership

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CIO Magnifying Glass

If anything has stayed with me over the past several years of IT leadership, it’s the importance of authenticity. When I took over a new organization at my company, I had to step back and reintroduce myself to my team so they had a handle on why I think and act the way I do.

In my first staff meeting at the time, I took the opportunity to say, "This is who I am." For me, it was almost a relief setting the table for them and saying, for example, “I can’t stand escalation, so if you come and escalate to me it’s going to frustrate me. So here is the way I’d rather have you handle it. I’d rather have you guys try to work it out, and when you can’t we can discuss.”

This desire for authentic leadership is grounded in a desire to do what’s right for the company, the customer, and our shareholders. I’m huge on leadership development. I have high expectations of my executives. Those kinds of things became really important and created a need to skip all of the formality and BS and just get authentic.

If I’m going to be a leader, people need to know a few things:

  • Why am I going to get frustrated by certain things?
  • Why am I going to continue to push them on certain things?
  • Why do I think leadership is important at all levels of the organization?
  • How do I think about problems?
  • Why am I so big on asset reuse?

I recommend this step to anyone in IT leadership. It’s amazing that in articulating what’s important, it’s also gives you the ability to keep re-articulating it. I’ve often been told that I need to be better at explaining why I’m thinking about things the way I do. That’s powerful feedback for anyone in leadership, because sometimes in these roles we forget all of the input we get that our teams don’t.

If you work for a purpose-driven company in which you align with the purpose, it’s even more important to get yourself out there. People need to see that you’re clearing the path for a reason: to unleash passion and channel it toward the right goals. Moving people’s org charts around doesn’t drive performance, but having a mindset change does, and those are harder than reorgs.

Using authenticity as a way to drive better performance is crucial because in the digital economy, change is going to a constant, and we have to have the fortitude for it.  And we have to realize as colleagues of each other that passive aggression doesn’t stop change, it just makes you look more miserable. Why settle for anything less than authenticity?

Sven Gerjets is Chief Technology Officer at Pearson. Prior to joining Pearson, Gerjets was Senior Vice President of Information Technology at DIRECTV where he was responsible for delivering the full lifecycle of IT business value at DIRECTV starting with business solution definition through delivery into production.

Sven Gerjets is EVP and Chief Technology Officer at Mattel. Previously, Gerjets served as the President and Chief Product Officer at Colorado-based software company, where he supported the company’s business development efforts as well as product strategy for’s award-winning digital transformation platform (DxP).