When you start a new CIO role, having a 100-day plan is table stakes. Having that plan-on-a-page is only part of the equation for a successful transition, though. When I recently joined Red Hat as CIO, I took several other actions that I believe can be useful for anyone beginning a new leadership role.
First, I carefully studied my new environment. As much as possible, I tried to extract myself from my previous role and focused simply on being highly curious about the team and organization I joined. I checked myself constantly to make sure I was listening more than I was speaking. It can be difficult for a new CIO to do that, because people often want you to come in with all the answers. But how can you have the answers when you don’t yet know what the questions are?
Of course, there may be points that need to be addressed and solved immediately. And you may not have the luxury of time to study the business you’re entering before you’re expected to come up with solutions. But I’m a big-picture person. It’s important – and ultimately more valuable in the long run – for me to learn the company, the culture, the organizational structure, and to learn how people work. This lets me better focus on what we’re trying to achieve and how my team fits into that big picture.
Here are a few additional suggestions for CIOs working through their first 100 days.
Be authentic. I truly believe that no one of us is smarter than all of us working together. I am constantly asking myself in various interactions, “Am I being authentic?” Every company has its people, personalities, and idiosyncrasies that go along with it. I always assume positive intent, attempt to satisfy my curiosity, minimize any concerns, and really think deeply and specifically about what we’re trying to get done. If I’m genuinely interested in the work and the problems that we’re trying to solve, I know I’m being authentic. For me, authenticity serves as a great filtering mechanism.
Maintain an outsider’s perspective. Coming into a new role, you have the benefit of being an outsider. Because you’re not as close to the problems, you are able to see the solutions a little differently, and that fresh perspective is often valuable. Maintaining this view is the hard part because, after a while, you tend to become institutionalized. For me, it’s always been important to step away and look at things from the outside. That’s one of the things I love about being in IT – it affords you a balcony view of the company.
Reflect, but let go of the past. I’ve tried to be cognizant when referring to my professional life before Red Hat. It used to drive me crazy when new people would come in and all they did was talk about what they accomplished in a past organization. It’s important to a certain degree, but at some point, you’ve got to let it go and focus on what’s coming in the future. Even so, I do think reflection is a critical element of leadership, and if you practice it well, it can help you find ways to constantly improve. What’s troublesome is coming into a new role with a destination mindset. Instead, come in with a journey and stops-along-the-way mindset. Know that you can always get better.
Set the right expectations. Transformation is an overused word, and it can be a scary word for team members to hear. If you make big, master-of-the-obvious comments like, “We’re going to transform the organization,” it just falls on deaf ears. In the long run, making big, sweeping promises and then not keeping them is a lot worse than stating an achievable, clear and authentic vision that is realistic and achievable. For me, leadership is all about setting expectations, and the best way to do this is to be pragmatic and say, “Look, we run a business. We are here to take care of that business. Our job is to take care of it every minute of every day.” Pay attention. Be involved. Take care of your team. Help them see that they are part of something that’s bigger than themselves. If you do those things, you have an excellent opportunity to be successful. That’s a true, proven recipe.
Incorporating these elements into my 100-day plan allowed me to target my efforts and stay focused on what I needed to learn. Because I took this approach, I have been able to come up-to-speed relatively quickly and be ready to make real contributions to the future of Red Hat, which is where the journey gets really exciting.
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Excellent first 100 days of summary