11 Behaviors Most Disliked by IT Leaders

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

Last week I met with 20 CIOs and other senior IT leaders over dinner and we approached the subject of behavior in their departments. We went around the table sharing the behaviors we would most like to see the back of. So I noted them down to share with you.

I should first say that, of course, every organization and leader has his or her own context, but we did spot a number of common behaviors in the discussion. To the list (it isn’t in rank order, I wasn’t that organized!):

  1. Procrastination – leaders reported that their staff took too long to make a perfect decision. In fact, leaders said that they would rather have a quicker decision that was 80% right than a slow decision that was 100%. An 80% decision at least can be ‘banked’ and further elaborated, yet is something that can initiate progress in the meantime
  2. BS – most leaders commented that their staff tend to use bull a lot, and the majority votes on why is a) workers trying to gain some notional high ground, and b) workers trying to impress them. Leaders preferred straight talk that dealt with the matter!
  3. Too much detail – leaders said that conversations with staff tended to go into too much detail unecessarily. Some thought it was because it was a comfort zone and was used to avoid the punch of a discussion. Leaders prefer to keep things at a high-level and always reserve the right to probe for more detail by asking questions
  4. Over-use of process – process-orientation is a tendency of modern organizations, in order to achieve scalability and sustainability. But many of the leaders present said they felt process was used as an excuse for not dealing with problems or being inflexible
  5. Coffee-machine diplomacy – leaders felt that too much decision-making, moaning, politicking and briefing was done between individuals privately, rather than in open discussion. This behavior is a form of passive aggression and stems from conflict avoidance and a lack of assertiveness
  6. Irrational management – this was a big bugbear of leaders. It was commonly agreed that irrational decision making, particularly in the area of support (such as troubleshooting), is a leadership issue that occurs over and over again and that specialist training is required. My opinion is that as the world we live in becomes increasingly complex, and technology becomes iteratively abstract, staff cannot acquire enough deep knowledge on a broad subject matter. Therefore rational management is a much-needed skill to be widely developed amongst staff in order to make the best decisions using the available information
  7. Defensiveness – leaders hated people being defensive instead of listening. This behavior is one of the greatest impediments to continuous improvement and innovation. This was particularly true for the leaders that worked within environments using outsourcing, where their own staff would defend their position against feedback from vendors
  8. Victim-mentality – every leader around the table nodded furiously when this was mentioned. What the dinner-guests particularly agreed with is that the victim-mentality is the most difficult behavior to deal with because the bearers of it don’t possess the awareness, or don’t accept, their failings. What this means is that they don’t have motivation to resolve their issues because they blame other people
  9. Email-itis – in other words, staff using emails rather than interacting with each other in person. The added hatred was the use of blind copy and the overuse of copy to a wide audience
  10. Blackberry ignorance – the use of Blackberry’s in meetings when participants should be listening. This made a number of leaders quite angry
  11. Merit-whores – many leaders described incidents where staff had tried to take credit where it wasn’t due and credit for the hard work of others

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9 thoughts on “11 Behaviors Most Disliked by IT Leaders”

  1. Hi Chris – you have some clear and interesting views! Your points on fear are well made as I think you’ve cut right to the bone of the root causes in a lot of cases. Paul Piotrowski writes a great post on fear, which compliments your points (14 Most Common Fears in Life and What To Do About Them).
    Chris I think there is quite a difference between being a victim and having a victim mentality, where the former is how you are subjected by others, and the latter is how you subject yourself.
    You make a really good point at the end that leaders are culpable in these behaviors, as they create the environment where they form and grow. Thanks for initiating that discussion Chris!

  2. Having thought about it some, I’m going to add some more.

    You write:
    Defensiveness – leaders hated people being defensive instead of listening. This behavior is one of the greatest impediments to continuous improvement and innovation.

    You should read Matthew May’s “The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation” (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0743290178/)

    Essentially: you have to REWARD people for coming forward with ideas on how to make things better, and you CANNOT penalize people when things go wrong.

  3. simonstapleton

    @Chris – indeed. Innovation is an aspect of culture. Innovation isn’t about gadgets and technology, it is about challenging the status quo, and as you say if the organization and the people within it don’t listen and defend their position, the status quo prevails. Receiving feedback that might classically be defined as ‘bad news’ is a gift – not an attack! Pushing a gift back in someones face is bad leadership. See this post: ‘Communicating Bad News’

  4. I really liked this article. I understand far too well the points you made on “victim mentality”, defensiveness (since i’m usually the consultant), overuse of process (I hate that SO much), and BS. (I can smell BS even on subjects i’m not that familiar with, and it’s gotten to the point in my work that most of my job is figuring out what’s BS and what’s not)

    Keep those nice articles coming !

  5. @Jason – I think the victim mentality can start with the worker, who most likely enters the job that way (probably because of childhood worries and fears). Then there are people who become that way in their jobs because of poor leadership and management. This creates other behaviors like over-use of process, as it’s easier to hide behind a provess. BS – well – some people talk BS as a sport but others spout BS because they don’t like to feel they don’t know something – again out of fear!

  6. @Simon – I commented on Chris’s blog (but he doesn’t pay out yet haha!) re procrastination as an employee survival mechanism.

    Heck, I know many bosses do it all the time because I once attended a “being politically savvy” course, when I was employed in the collective beehive, all about the pros and cons of such tactics. A very Darwinian and behaviourist approach to “climbing the greasy pole”.
    I was mildly disgusted but with enough gray hairs not to be too surprised any more at the ways of the world 😉

    Re “procrastination”: My favourite management hairball is “take ownership of the problem”. However, such problems worthy of their attention are by then often big, risky and radioactive – judging by the geiger counters of reactive “oin the blame” management.

    On the positive side, I know some firms get it (almost) right because if multiple people step up to fix a problem (and their ordinary work gets delayed because of that), many managers are very supportive and the behaviour is reinforced by praise (and over the longer term, by promotion or special public bonuses) for the watching others. That’s the key, I think.

  7. @Mark – that’s a great point and not enough managers give praise in the right way. I think the worst situation is when a manager feels threatened by his/her subordinates (e.g. through competence, influence, etc) and creates no energy for people to succeed. This is a massive source of procrastination.

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