The turnaround CEO is a well-known phenomenon, sailing in to rescue\n\ncompanies from perilous straits. Lou Gerstner, Jim Kilts, Steve Miller\n\nand many other CEOs made their reputations (sometimes infamously, as in\n\nthe case of Chainsaw Al Dunlop) by righting\u2014or at least temporarily\n\ncaulking\u2014sinking ships.\n\nTurnaround CEOs tend to share a few traits: They are extremely\n\ndecisive and fast; they are tough-minded, unhesitatingly laying off\n\nlarge numbers of people and slashing company assets; they are astute\n\nwith finances; and they are outstanding communicators who can quickly\n\npoint a new direction for bewildered employees and angry stakeholders.\n\nThe communication skills of turnaround CEOs (first noted by\n\nHarvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter) play a large\n\npart in their typical modus operandi:\n\nto swoop in with great fanfare, announce that everything is on the\n\ntable, quickly collect information and make decisions to alleviate an\n\nimmediate crisis, and then look to the long-term health of the\n\norganization. Turnaround CEOs don\u2019t spend too much time on the last\n\npoint of that program; they tend to move on after six to 18 months.\n\nTheir work is done. . . time to ride off into the sunset.\n\n\n\nA similar but less famous handyman (except in the pages of CIO\n\nmagazine and CIO.com) is the turnaround CIO. A few specialists, by dint\n\nof skills, personality and probably a good dose of luck, have become\n\nknown for reversing desperate situations in IT. How do they do it? This\n\nmagazine has written about the seven rules of turnaround IT management and the four-step \u201cbasic formula\u201d for turnaround CIOs. They are, respectively, and in brief:\n\n\n\nGet out of the office\n\nStop the bleeding\n\nFind your biggest problem and fix it pronto\n\nConduct customer surveys\n\nFind out where the profits are\n\nTalk the talk\n\nBase IT investments on ROI\n\n\n\nand\n\n\n\nSurvey the beast\u2014that is, diagnose the problem\n\nDraw your sword\u2014make it clear that all projects and jobs are up in the air\n\nDig in\u2014quickly set up new governance mechanisms, drop projects and fire people\n\nBask in glory\u2014bring home some quick wins\n\n\n\nThese plans look similar to the techniques of turnaround CEOs. But\n\ndon\u2019t be fooled into thinking that CIOs can act just like their bosses.\n\nI believe that turnaround CIOs have it much harder than their CEO\n\ncounterparts.\n\nConsider that CIOs never have a completely free hand. Even when\n\nthey\u2019re expressly tasked with fixing a broken IT organization, the\n\nlines between IT and the business side blur; a turnaround CIO\u2019s plans\n\nare bound to run afoul of the interests of some other executive.\n\nTurnaround CIOs are vulnerable in a way that CEOs never are. These\n\ndays, the easiest thing for the boss to do with an IT mess is call in a\n\nconsultant and outsource the staff.\n\nCharlie Feld had it right when he was head of The Feld Group,\n\nthe noted CIO-for-hire and turnaround consultancy that was acquired by\n\nEDS in 2004. He was independent, experienced and armed with a stellar\n\nreputation. His fee alone made his CEO clients sit up and listen. If\n\nthey failed to implement all of his suggestions. . . well, on to the\n\nnext \u201chairball,\u201d as Feld liked to call turnaround situations. An even\n\nbetter situation was enjoyed by Tom Smith, former CIO of Waste\n\nManagement, who formed a two-man turnaround team with CEO Maury Myers.\n\nHe had the ear and the trust of Myers as they moved from mess to mess.\n\nFor every other would-be turnaround CIO, here\u2019s some advice.\n\nYou need all the characteristics of turnaround CEOs\u2014decisiveness,\n\ntoughness, communication ability and financial acumen\u2014plus one other.\n\nYou must be incredibly, incessantly politically astute. This is not a\n\nskill often credited to CIOs, but in turnaround situations, your\n\nsuccess, and quite possibly the survival of your IT department, depends\n\non it.\n\n\n\nLeading Questions is a regular column about leadership and\n\nmanagement issues. Executive Editor Edward Prewitt welcomes your\n\nfeedback at email@example.com.