To Lead, Align Your Values with Your Organization's Goals

The successful integration of high performance and organizational culture starts with the CIO.

By Tom Murphy
Fri, April 13, 2007

CIO — As IT leaders, we know we must be agents of change. Some of us have embraced this challenge more readily than others. The main reason we have struggled to meet this new expectation is that for years CIOs were not valued for their leadership skills per se but rather for the project management and technical skills necessary to meet the basic blocking and tackling of IT service delivery.

Now we find ourselves setting strategy and creating competitive opportunities for our companies. What this means is that we can no longer lead through control of projects and resources, expecting our staff to do as we say. Rather, we have to demonstrate we are worthy of being followed. We need to be authentic. Authenticity of leadership is the first step toward building high-performance teams.

The Leader Makes the Culture
A high-performing IT organization has a culture that I call purposeful. This culture is characterized by:

  • A clear, compelling purpose that drives decisions and ignites passion among employees.
  • Shared values that serve as guidelines for delivering on the organization’s promise to its constituents.
  • A work environment that encourages individuals to take ownership of the organization’s performance and its culture.

The successful integration of performance with culture starts with the CIO. We establish our organization’s shared values. Then we live them.

I have experienced how powerful an organization becomes when this is done well. But I have also been in situations where I have neglected to connect my goals with those of my team and my company. Early in my career I had a management style best described as “lightning rod.” I loved to be at the center of things. I relished being the person everyone called when they needed to get something done. This role was helpful in situations where I needed to create the appearance of cohesion in a team—for instance, when the business had a negative perception of IT. I was able to cut through roadblocks and force action. It made me look good.

However, I failed to notice the negative impact of my management approach over time. During this period, my decisions reflected my own purposes. I left organizations regularly, seeking the next big thing. And I left my teams rudderless because I had not developed effectively the capabilities of everyone around me. Their business relationships suffered, and negative perceptions crept back when I left.

I was continuing along this path of charismatic control when I became CIO of Royal Caribbean in April 1999. The next year, Terry Pearce, author of Leading Out Loud, urged me to rise above this tendency and become a more engaged leader. Pearce was conducting a workshop with my team. Before leaving, he pulled me aside and challenged me to give away my “power.” I began developing shared values and attempting to create a purposeful culture. I committed to staying at least five years. I told my direct reports my plans and asked them to hold me accountable.

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