Are you a CIO who has felt uneasy around the office?
Feel like people give you the obligatory time of day but
don’t really take you seriously? It might mean
you’re in the midst of a full-blown leadership coup,
perhaps being perpetrated by your IT lieutenant, who is working
in close coordination with your boss.
MORE ON CIO.COM
Stabbing Your Boss in the
5 Signs It’s Time to Look for
a New Job
18 Signs You’re About to
How to Spot a Toxic Boss
Here are five signs you’re in the midst of one, as
well as a few things you can do to stomp it out in its tracks.
Some of the signs might seem obvious, but recruiters and career
coaches wouldn’t have mentioned them if they didn’t
happen. It’s also important to remember that these coups
normally occur at companies experiencing traumatic change.
During this tumultuous time, recruiters say, there will be
loyalists and dissenters, and your goal will be to retain as
many of the former group as you can because they’ll keep
you in the loop if something is amiss.
1. Left behind on the e-mail trail
If you find yourself struggling to catch up on an e-mail
thread, that’s a blatant indication that things might be
awry, says Shawn Banerji, an executive recruiter with Russell
Reynolds Associates. “You might constantly be
let in late on key exchanges that you should have been privy
to, and that isn’t good,” he says.
2. Meetings between your second-in-command and the
Even if you’re aware that your second-in-command is
meeting with businesspeople to discuss a critical project that
he or she has been assigned to, that doesn’t mean their
conversations might not drift elsewhere, especially after your
number two gains notoriety and trust.
“It begins with just a normal business
relationship,” says Karen Rubenstrunk, an executive
recruiter with Korn/Ferry International. “After awhile,
[the second-in-command] gains an element of credibility. One he
gets that credibility, he can begin questioning things and
planting the seeds of doubt.”
3. While you’re away, your IT lieutenant might
Though as a CIO you want to empower your number-two to make
decisions while you’re away for purposes of solid
succession planning, an ambitious IT lieutenant may try to make
key strategic decisions while you’re away (when he should
have shelved it and waited for you to return) to give the
business a taste of how he or she would lead in the CIO
“You should know what’s going on back at the
ranch while you’re out on the range,” says Russell
Reynolds’s Banerji. One of the ways you can do this is by
demanding a detailed debriefing upon your return both from your
IT lieutenant and your other direct reports. In addition, walk
the hallways and speak with what loyalists you have left. They
might clue you into some things that were conspicuously omitted
from the debriefing section. “If you walk the halls and
sense that dissension, it behooves you to get in there and have
an open line of communication,” says Patricia Wallington,
former CIO of Xerox,who now gives career advice to executives
and other business managers.
4. The CIO-to-be-search
While IT might be one of your company’s most important
assets, you should do a double take when HR throws an IT
candidate at you who, for all intents and purposes, might be a
CIO at any other company your size. “The worst search is
the CIO-to-be search,” says Banerji, who adds this often
happens with CIOs who have been at an organization for 5 to 10
years and are “well-entrenched.” CIOs, whether
ready for retirement or not, tend to get defensive and even
block well-qualified hires in some extreme cases. “The
fear of it, actual or perceived, has a material impact on a lot
of searches because at the end of the day, people are looking
out for their best interests,” he says.
5. Whatever you say, Joe. Whatever you
According to Martha Heller, an executive coach with ZRG, a lot
of CIOs prime for ouster find that their opinions have already
become marginalized by the time they get overthrown.
“People will dismiss their ideas, sometimes without good
reason,” she says.
What to Do About the Situation: Three Tactics
If any of the above signs seem to ring true for you, you’d
better keep reading. The more signs you see, the more perilous
your situation. Here are three things you can do, however, to
stop your rising IT coup in its tracks. And perhaps
you’ll save some face while you’re at it.
1. Find another job
Sorry not to lead off with a fighter’s attitude, but if
you find more than one of the five warning signs in your
organization, it might be too late to save your job. In this
case, as ZRG’s Heller says, perhaps you should take a job
in another organization and save some face. “If you feel
like you’re on your way out, maybe you should make a
change before a change is made to you,” she says. She
adds that you also might consider a position somewhere else in
your current company if you can swallow your pride and admit
your number-two would make a better CIO. “If you’re
better at strategy than you are at executing, then maybe you
could take that VP of strategy post,” she says.
2. Reconnect with business partners and
More often than not, an IT coup is launched against you not
just because you have an enterprising IT lieutenant and a CEO
you’re constantly at odds with. It might be that
you’re not in touch with the business. Ironically, you
can lose touch with the business from working too hard and
traveling too much. “You can be out on the road working,
but if you take your eye off the ball and don’t stay busy
managing relationships, you can’t perform in line with
business expectations,” says Korn/Ferry
International’s Rubenstrunk. To remedy the situation,
start asking more of your business partners to lunch and to
other strategic meetings, to show you’re concerned about
the business first, technology second. In the IT department,
start walking around the cubes and seeing how people are doing.
Even if things have gone from bad to worse, you’ll always
have some loyalists who can communicate to you what’s
been going wrong.
3. Sponsor the good deeds of your
If you brought on or raised an all-star on your IT staff, why
should this be a liability for you? According to Valuedance
executive coach Susan Cramm, this should be an asset. If that
person keeps wooing the business, start attaching yourself to
his or her success. “If your second-in-command has done
some good stuff, adopt it,” she says. “When you
promote it, use the word ‘we.’”