Leadership

Adopting Shared Leadership

Adopting Shared Leadership

Leading today’s increasingly dynamic and complex organizations is too big a job for one person. Shared Leadership has its challenges and can be difficult to put in place. But, it holds a lot of promise. How can organizations successfully adopt shared leadership model to enjoy its many benefits?

Contributor

    • Mark Roman, Chief Information Officer, Simon Fraser University

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Top 5 Learning Points

  1. A leader is not always a hero. He or she is a person who realizes the responsibility and works with teams to ensure results.
  2. The really successful leader is one who can work in multiple environments and then change their style to suit the environment.
  3. Leadership is ultimately about getting things done by applying various tools.
  4. Empowering the staff, giving them the sense of confidence to go out and do things is different from shared leadership.
  5. If you’re in the role because you want to have power and you want to control people, then it’s no fun.

Show Notes

  • It’s not about being factually correct and having all the information and having complete and absolute control but it’s having the right principles and doing the right thing all the time. That I think is true leadership.
  • Real leaders create teams, and mutuality of interests is what really drives the successful teams.
  • The leader is the catalyst, he’s the one or she’s the one who drives the mutuality of interest and the desire to the processed focused.
  • A real leader pushes decision making down to the lowest level possible.
  • The really successful leader is one who can work in multiple environments and then change their style to suit the environment.

Summary

It is important to understand that a leader is not a hero. How crucial it is for organizations to realize that empowering employees to become leaders in the need of the hour? How can companies put this into practice? And is shared leadership a possibility that can really be a part of the everyday routine? A detailed process of thought of how shared leadership can be put into the process.

Transcript

Sanjog: The topic for today is, “Adopting Shared Leadership.” Our guest is Mark Roman, Chief Information Officer, Simon Fraser University.

Leadership has got so many different interpretations but over the years gave what companies are dealing with, the complexities and the variety of work and everything that they have to handle are all increasing. And it’s going to a very fast type of a pace. It doesn’t look like it is one person’s capability to handle it all, and still, we have lived with this notion that as soon as you talk about leadership, it’s singular. How someone can deal with all of this and not crumble and basically, will they be able to do justice to it? That means there should be a way and there is an established concept of shared leadership. A lot of people talk about it but then it has not been adopted as well.

What’s the road to an adoption of a shared leadership were people up, down sideways, everyone comes together with a common goal? They’re not reporting to this one person. They’re like a swarm of ants who are moving together taking accountability.

What would be the steps to going at least closer to that Nirvana? We are still living that one singular leadership, like for example, you as a CIO, what’s going on in your organization? Are you not at the end of the day left holding the bag in front of the fire when something goes south?

Mark: When something goes South, it always lands on my lap whether I’m responsible or not. I think it’s interesting you talk about the swarm of ants and it’s almost like an army of bots that would work together and it sounds magical.

We read science fiction or we look at some examples in nature and think that that’s an alternative. But if we look at great leaders in history, they were faced with similar kinds of issues. If you look at the rise of Napoleon, it seemed like utter absolute chaos and how could one leader emerge to deal with this that’s hugely complex issue and yet these leaders to emerge. These leaders do emerge, single leaders do emerge and it seems almost impossible. But being a leader isn’t about being right all the time or having all the answers. It’s about being willing to do the right thing all the time. What I’m saying is you need to think that it’s not about being factually correct and having all the information and having complete and absolute control but it’s having the right principles and doing the right thing all the time. That I think is true leadership.

We think that the leader has to be this hero. I worry that sometimes a hero is a sign that we have no process and that our organization isn’t well structured. Heroes are a sign of bad process, you need to look for ways to transcend the hero model and understand that leadership isn’t about heroes. Leadership is about somebody who has the right ethics and put the right processes in place. How do you bring all that together? Real leaders create teams, and mutuality of interests is what really drives the successful teams that create that swarm of ants if you will. The teams where no one is a hero and everyone focus really on creating better processes and delivering the appropriate customer service or whatever it is that your organization is about. The leader is the catalyst, he’s the one or she’s the one who drives the mutuality of interest and the desire to the processed focused.

But being a leader isn’t about being right all the time or having all the answers. It’s about being willing to do the right thing all the time.

Sanjog: Imagine if that person was stripped off their title and is a great leader. The beauty of an environment that they create is that it should be sustained but it doesn’t remain that way. That means somewhere underlying, not necessarily even if the person is not trying to be in a command and control approach, there’s an implied expectation. There’s someone that I’m accountable to. In the absence of that person, things start not immediately crumbling but there’s a decay factor and that means we have not let go of that notion that a person at the top is the one who is going to. We still talk about one pied piper, we don’t talk a bunch of pied pipers in the group, isn’t it? I’m trying to break that notion, people are trying to see if there’s a way that shared leadership concept could be introduced to everyone’s benefit.

Mark: I think sometimes we mistake shared leadership for other things. I think that it’s really important when we talk about the notion of breaking it up is that a leader has to know when to create a sense of empowerment. A real leader pushes decision making down to the lowest level possible. Let’s think of two examples, and let’s go to the military organizations for example. If you think about the two most successful military organizations in the 20th century, it would probably be the Israeli army and the German army in 1939, 1940. Both had huge success. If you think about why they were so successful, it was primarily because they pushed decision making down to the lowest level in the organization. They had generals and five-star folks with all kinds of brass on them but in the end, they pushed the decision making down to where it made sense. Created organizations that were agile, they made better decisions to empowerment but ultimately there is always the senior general who is accountable for the success or the failure of the organization.

Let’s look at the university example. The universities are managed by a vast array of interwoven matrices. There are three cultures in a university. There’s an academic culture which is collegial, it’s open for discussion. There’s academic freedom. There is then the administrative side of the university which is really a traditional hierarchy and much more like top-down bureaucratic organization. Then there’s the research society university, which is very entrepreneurial. People make decisions quickly, they try things, and if they fail, they try something else. They take those three cultures. The academic culture, the administrative culture and the research culture, and you bring them together into a single organization, it makes it very, very difficult to make decisions. There’s different levels of decision making, risk tolerance, urgency agility in these three cultures.

The really successful leader is one who can work in multiple environments and then change their style to suit the environment. When you think about this one great leader, well the really great leaders are ones that are adaptive. They have an adaptive style to different cultures. The challenge is really for the leader to have a set of core values and principles of leadership that really transcend culture. In the end, if you look at the university, ultimately whatever happens in that university is accountability of the President. Despite the fact that they probably don’t have a lot of direct control what they can influence is the set of principles by which the organization operates by. I think quite often there is a limited degree of direct leadership but there is always some sort of ultimate accountability for command and control whether you look at the successful military example or if you look at a university environment. That’s kind of my perspective on that.

The successful leader is one who can work in multiple environments and then change their style to suit the environment. When you think about this one great leader, well the really great leaders are ones that are adaptive.

Sanjog: Whatever you just said, definitely there is some historical proof to something is working. Imagine, the general had a scope of things to be done. You’ve got to go, win the war, this is the other country that you’re having a war against. Now imagine, I’m going to bring you back to your CIO camp if you will. Digital coming from all different directions, business internally saying I want something yesterday and I want something new which you never tackled before. The business outside which you and those other internal business leaders, the customers that you’re referring to. They’re changing their approaches on how they want to tackle or how they want to even deal with you and how they expect the value to be delivered by you. All of that happening, means the volume, the variety, the velocity. All three are changing. I am sure that you are a very experienced individual who has dealt with things and you’ve learned your stripes, but those stripes, what got you here would not take you there. It’s not that there’s a limitation of you as a leader but it’s a limitation of a human being able to tackle so much for so long and with efficiency.

That means we’re saying, let there be a type of organization so shared leadership is not a dent on or a digging the CIO or any leader individually. It is about saying, you know your limitations, and you want to promote a culture of shared leadership where you alone are not indirectly or implicitly seen as someone who is going to hold a bag. Let the team, let those individuals who around hold a bag or share the load of the bag together.

Would you agree that leadership is about influence, that’s essentially it is. If you were to expand that definition from being a union directional influence to something which is dynamic, and it walls many people who are influencing or cross-influencing. That’s what shared leadership is in my view or am sure it is a prevalent view of what shared leadership is. What’s wrong with it? I mean I know you may have a difference of opinion which is fine but where do you have reservations?

Mark: I think that we try and define leadership, we get into a bit of a challenge here because we think leadership is a bad influence. My perspective is leadership is ultimately about getting things done. I’m here as a CIO at a large university to get things done. Influence is one of the tools I use. Empowering my staff, giving them the sense of confidence to go out and do things is different from shared leadership. I’m a real strong believer in delegating but not abdicating. I will delegate a lot of work so I have about 200 direct reports and about 200 folks who also do IT work that is indirect. To get things done, I have to do the combination of the influence of empowerment of talking about core values and a shared vision and getting everyone to row in the same direction. But in the end, I can delegate all kinds of work to these people but I can’t abdicate my responsibility for getting it done.

My job is to make sure that I assign responsibilities to folks. I clear the road of all obstacles for them, make sure they have the funding and the resources to get stuff done. But when things hit a speed bump, I’m watching, when things go off the road, I have to get involved, and I can’t delegate the ultimate accountability for getting things done. I have to jump in and if something is failing, I have to get involved because I can’t abdicate that accountability. I worry that in a shared leadership model, people feel that they can just abdicate that that accountability and say well, we’re all leaders. Everyone is responsible.

In the end, there’s to be some single point where the accountability comes to, the buck stops here and someone says I can macro manage to my heart’s content but when things start to go awry, I need to get involved in a micro level.

My perspective is leadership is ultimately about getting things done. Influence is one of the tools I use. Empowering my staff, giving them the sense of confidence to go out and do things is different from shared leadership.

Sanjog: Leadership besides getting the job done is also about developing other leaders who then have their own influence to take accountability, to get the job done. I’m just building a level of indirection of leadership versus being singular by making it plural. So instead of a leader just focusing on getting the job done if they actually work towards developing those other leaders who would then be having the capability of influencing. Then they also take accountability at their own level and it’s not that delegation would not happen. It will happen but then that delegation would be a voluntary request. Give me something, let me deliver because I can do it well? Would you like to take X? This becomes like a basket of many fruits and you invite all of them who you’ve been working and developing as leaders. They pick up the fruits, they want and everyone is making sure the things move forward.

Instead of this being like you being at the inverted funnel. If you are the top of the funnel and everything is below, instead of that, what if the funnel was inverted?

Mark: I used to work for a bank where the president talked about being at the very bottom of the pyramid as opposed to the top, and people always ask him, why would he say that? He said that the only way to get a customer or lose a customer for this bank is if I ram them over with my car. He felt he had very little front-line ability to influence customer decisions. He was at the bottom of the pyramid. I think that’s actually a pretty good analogy from a customer perspective. If you think about any organization is having customers, we all have customers. The bottom of that chain and bottom of that value pyramid, then certainly you have to focus on developing staff and you have to view yourself as being supportive of everyone else but still one person at the bottom of that funnel and the bottom of the pyramid.

I worry that when we talk about shared leadership, we get into this notion of a commune. I’ll give you an example. I was in South Street in Philadelphia a couple weeks ago. There was a bookstore a walk past called the Anarchist’s Bookstore. I thought if there was no cash register, you could just go in and take whatever you wanted. I think that we sometimes fall in love with concepts and ideal thing. Anarchy or communism or whatever seems like an idealistic way of going but the reality is, you’ve got to get stuff done and to get stuff done, you’ve got to have process and discipline.

Shared leadership dilutes your ability to get the process in place and to execute in a disciplined manner. The 60s notion of peace, love, and understanding is all great but if you don’t have the discipline, someone else is going to eat your lunch. It’s a competitive world. If I have to compete with somebody else and I have a more structured culture in approach to work. I’m going to love it when my competitor says, “Oh, we’re moving to a shared leadership model where everybody’s in charge,” because that tends to lead to chaos and anarchy. That’s fine with me, you just go right ahead because if I’m your competitor, I knowing I’m going to eat your lunch.

I think that we sometimes fall in love with concepts and ideal thing. Anarchy or communism or whatever seems like an idealistic way of going but the reality is, you’ve got to get stuff done and to get stuff done, you’ve got to have process and discipline.

Sanjog: Totally all the points that you’re making and that’s pragmatic. This is discussion could turn into a debate where if we were to consider ourselves as leaders who have influence. But we only are available to help solve your problems as a resource versus the leader and only based on contingency versus on an ongoing basis. The shared leadership is only not to be looked at when something is going south. In fact, that’s the time someone could come to you and not as someone who’s supposed to hold the bag but as a resource. Someone who may have some more experience than the rest of them or maybe one of you as a leader who has some more experience. Do you think that model would suffice because what your response was at all times you mentioned that to get things done? I totally agree with you, and if things go down, at that time they should remember you, but do you think you need to be always in limelight as a leader when they’re going about doing things, if it hurts them, at that act at a certain level which is not mission critical or it’s not going to bring the company down, let them deal with it. Do you think there’s a problem?

Mark: That’s interesting. I could move to an example whereas a CIO for the university, I had a major security breach with our point of sale systems. We discovered the incident on a Friday morning and we shut down. We caught it before it got out of hand and were able to shut down the problem. But I brought in all my senior people. It was a Friday afternoon where we were sitting in a conference room and we had a few extra tech folks to talk about some of the details of what we had discovered. It was really interesting. These are the IT, sysadmins and very technical folks who’ve been around for a long time. We’re really talking about how this particular breach occurred and all of that stuff and then we start to talk about the point of sale terminals that been compromised. One of our most junior technical folks in the room and she tried to make a comment and all of these much more senior folks were talking over her. I asked everyone to just be quiet for a moment, and I asked this girl is about 22 and I asked her if she could repeat her statement. She started to explain to the room how we had to handle the forensics around compromised computers. It was amazing how this one voice started to dominate the room full of almost 30 people and explain the particular process we had to go through to lock down the purposes that compromised computers.

It was fascinating, it was probably the youngest person in the room and I think she was only one of two or three females in the room. The respect she earned within five minutes in that room was absolutely incredible. From that point on, she became the lead for the forensics process for the institution as we move forward with managing the breach. As a leader, sometimes you can convey a lot of power to someone very quickly and its scenario based on that particular circumstance. This unexpected person became the leader for very, very important activity. I can do that as a leader.

If that’s what you mean by shared leadership, then I wholeheartedly and wholesomely support it. But I think at the end of the day, even though I can convey authority and power to folks, I do that on a delegated basis but I don’t abdicate the responsibility for that person getting things done.

But I think at the end of the day, even though I can convey authority and power to folks, I do that on a delegated basis but I don’t abdicate the responsibility for that person getting things done.

Sanjog: What you just mentioned is competency skills all or expertise based credibility building. People will come to her if they need to get any question answered or they need a unique situation to be tackled for her to be seen as a subject matter expert. That is a credibility what you just mentioned in the example. If there was a wider discussion to be had about how this program will have to be done, there was a possibility to check that individual, to see if she would be open to leading the charge on building that type of a program so that it is not a need-based education but it is adopted as a culture.

What you’ve done is you’ve developed a leader beyond the competence or a functional expertise, you’re talking about letting that person go to a point where you essentially developed another leader. If you did that, would you think that would create those individuals who together will lead the organization without you having to watch or you having to hold the bag? To that end, what do you think are the challenges? What prevents us from doing that?

Mark: You’ve got to get your jollies from growing your staff, from senior staff get better. I have some staff that reports to me and I said very clearly to them, “Your next job is CIO, I’m not going anywhere. My job is to turn you into somebody that can be like me at another institution like ours.” That’s fun, that becomes a great coaching opportunity because you can sit down with folks and say, here’s where you want to go, here’s what I can do to help.

You grow them and you have to get some internal satisfaction from that, you have to feel good about that. If you’re in the role because you want to have power and you want to control people, then it’s no fun. You’re not seeing any growth or improvement or change in people and that’s the real buzz.

I think it has to start from a place of honesty in your own self as a leader. Do you want to grow other leaders? That’s the fun part of the job. I think that by the time you’re ready to put your feet up and relax and go to Hawaii and not answer email, you’re probably going to get bored if you are a really good leader. My preference is to have something exciting to do. If I get to the point where I’ve got such a great leadership team that they don’t need me, I’m going to get bored, I’m going to go do something else.

If you’re in the role because you want to have power and you want to control people, then it’s no fun. You’re not seeing any growth or improvement or change in people and that’s the real buzz.

Sanjog: Yeah, what you just said it totally makes sense. Then, here the end goal was not to just have the top-level person kick back and relax and rest the other people do the job. You are a part of the organization, you do not own the organization as the leader and you are a resource. If the time is spent in building other leaders who can do the job and they can talk to other leaders who you also developed, then essentially you will as a group will have the mentality of bringing it on. Bring the challenge, bring the opportunities, we will tackle them, but that’s what shared leadership – is that still utopia or is that something you think it has been tackled and brought pretty close to the ideal?

Mark: I don’t know, I just think Utopia might be a little boring so. I like to have something keeps me going. It’s interesting, I think a great leader looks for ways to encourage their staff to bring their A game to the work. But a great leader is the reason why people bring their A game to the work. I want staff to come in feeling like they want to impress me. I want to impress them. I want to have an environment where we’re all there to really do cool stuff and to do some exciting stuff and that when we have meetings, we’re all excited to talk about the accomplishments. We’re excited about what we’re going to do with the challenges. That it feels like we’re doing something special so that when you come into work every day, you feel like you’re doing something special. Sometimes it’s about the work, sometimes it’s about the people, but it’s always in the end, about having a vision where you want to go to.

The great leaders find ways to make it very clear where we’re going and it’s got to be something simple. For our university here, the vision is to have what we call One IS or One Information System. That vision says that all of our systems will work together in a seamless fashion and all the people who support those systems will work together in a seamless fashion, and it seems pretty simple but in a complex university environment where there are these multiple cultures, there’s really a matrix of decision making. To get to that vision is non-trivial. The value of having that vision in a leader is that everybody understands where you’re going and we’re not going to achieve that overnight. It creates this long-term objective that influences every small decision you make.

Every small decision, every medium decision, every big decision that the IT folks in the institution make needs to start to align itself towards, is this going to help us achieve the vision of One IS. I just think having that compelling vision is really important to getting everybody to work together.

I like to have something keeps me going. It’s interesting; I think a great leader looks for ways to encourage their staff to bring their A game to the work. But a great leader is the reason why people bring their A game to the work.

Sanjog: When you talk about vision, do you think it is really the only option that people at the top generate the vision because as we discussed the leaders being also present beyond you as the person at the top. That means that vision could be co-created and not become the monopoly of the person at the top. When you do that, then it is no longer – the adoption is no longer an issue because it was a co-creation.

Mark: I think that’s a luxury to do the co-creation. I think when you go through a planning process, you need to hear a lot of voices. You need to understand where everyone’s going. From my experience in the university environment, it’s like pulling back a very large elastic, you get a lot of people pulling. Imagine this, mile-long elastic and it’s anchored at two ends and everybody’s trying to pull it back. It takes a lot of effort and lot of coordination to pull it back. Its consensus, its conversations, lots of talking and listening, but once that elastic is pulled as far back as it goes and you’ve got an agreement, then when you let go. I think from a planning process if you can say the vision is to aim the elastic do west and you get everyone to agree on how you are going to pull it back. When you let it go, really moves quickly and that’s the success of having a singular vision but a lot of people contributing to the planning for that vision.

Maybe it’s a group of folks that come up with a vision but in the end, the execution has to be a coordinated effort and that coordinated effort, in the end, requires one person to be accountable for.

Sanjog: Do you think that could be a form of limiting belief that that’s how it is going to work without attempting it where a single person is the only one has to do it. You’re definitely speaking from your experience but has anything of this sort what I’m talking about, it’s not even a utopia, and it’s just another way of approaching leadership where you say, “No, I’m not going to say that I’m the only one responsible.” You come along and you be responsible as well. Has that been tried and you’re saying that it falls flat on its face every time it was tried.

Mark: Let me give you an example. We have regular meetings with my direct reports. When things are going well, it’s a very comfortable conversation. I don’t really participate much in the conversation. I just let folks lead and we walk in the room. We write a list of things on the whiteboard, things we want to talk about in that meeting and things go well. But when things are not going well, when we have a problem, I tend to take more control over the conversation. A sign of leadership where you know when to step away and you know when to step in. When’s the time to behave an open comfortable relaxed fashion and then these times when occasionally you have to be authoritative about how we’re going to move forward?

A leader knows when to apply different styles. I would suggest that it’s a scenario based leadership style. In different scenarios, you have to behave differently and no one style is always effective. The trick in true leadership is understanding what styles to apply in what context. Sometimes that’s really hard.

A sign of leadership where you know when to step away and you know when to step in. When’s the time to behave an open comfortable relaxed fashion and then these times when occasionally you have to be authoritative about how we’re going to move forward?

A leader knows when to apply different styles. I would suggest that it’s a scenario based leadership style. In different scenarios, you have to behave differently and no one style is always effective.

Sanjog: You are right about it. We just have to make sure that anyone who is going to come on board and is going to participate in anything that we are trying to do. It’s not about building a consensus but you’re saying, you are going to be part of this bigger puzzle that we’re trying to solve with new pieces getting added every day. I don’t have the mental bandwidth or the capability or the experience and everything possible. You step up or in fact, you don’t have to say that you step up because you cannot really pull their collar and pull them in. You have to focus on building those set of leaders which will, in turn, build it as a shared leadership environment. But is that the time that people at the top like yours are actually thinking or spending where you’re not focused on getting the job done. But in turn focusing on getting these people to take ownership, co-ownership, get the job done in that process and you are able to lead it to that model that we just spoke about versus shutting it down and saying this is not going to work?

Mark: You get to be really careful here. I think I used to be really technical. So I grew up through the ranks. I was a programmer, database administrator, system administrator, and analyst. I’ve worked my way up through IT. I remember being a programmer and really understanding the technology in a way that nobody at a management level and particularly senior management level understood. I knew what could work, what couldn’t work. I would watch decisions being made and I thought, “That’s a really dumb decision. They don’t really understand the technology.” I thought, well, you know what, they all have MBA’s, I may have a computer science. If I can go get an MBA and I’m going to go lead an IT organization and I’m going to understand the technology, I’m going to make better decisions on them.

If I look back in my career, I found that the further up I moved, the further away I got from the technology, the less I understood about the technology. The one thing I’ve been mindful of throughout my career is that I can no longer make the technology decisions so I have to listen very carefully to the technical people. Because they really understand how things work and to pay attention to their advice but what I can bring to the table is the overall institutional mission, the business sense for what decisions need to be made and help the technical folks understand the reasons for the technology and why we’re implementing it. To help them understand the business case. Although I can no longer make a rational technology decision, I can help people who understand the technology provide me with the appropriate advice on the right technologies to invest in.

The one thing I’ve been mindful of throughout my career is that I can no longer make the technology decisions so I have to listen very carefully to the technical people.

Sanjog: My next question will be that what you were able to do with relinquishing or rather accepting that I don’t understand the technology. That automatically led you to help other people assume control and/or take responsibility and you saw that now any new technology decision has to be made a swarm of ants comes together and they’re able to help solve it. That came from the perceived lack of interest and/or expertise which led to innovation. What if we took that concept that you mentioned or the example, and your own example of you letting go of your perception of your expertise in technology led you to innovate in the way you got still better technology decisions done. How about let expand to leadership and accept that there could be other leaders who could bring better leadership or at least comparable leadership beside you in the organization and let it follow the course and let it develop some leaders and let it make it the shared leadership model?

Mark: Well then what would I do for the rest of the day?

Sanjog: Well, you will be earning, you will be there to develop them because they would not be fully cooked yet because right now they’ve been learning technology and you will say one of the trainers and/or someone who is going to learn how leadership can be done and you join the academy together with them. It’s not about you letting go and you’re an expert, perhaps not, no one is an expert at leadership. Do you think that is all we can move forward in that area and that would become the genesis of shared leadership?

Mark: No one is an expert in everything. But what’s interesting is that I do see my job as a trainer, as a coach, that’s part of it. I get my jollies from seeing my staff become much better people, much better leaders. I also think that leadership is more than that though. Leadership also includes, how you make decisions. When you think about a complex organization like a large research institution in our university, how do you make decisions and is that up to the CIO to make all the decisions about technology? I think traditionally, the answer has always been yes. I don’t agree with that at all. When we make decisions about technology at the university, they need to be university decisions, not the leader of the IT organization.

When you talk about a swarm of ants, I think about the broader decisions we need to make about an institution. Let’s say as an example, the university wants to move away from an archaic email system to a more modern cloud-based email system, with a lot more functionality than a traditional email system would have. Is that the sole exclusive decision of the CIO? I think the answer is no. I think the real answer is that you need to have a stewardship process in place, where the entire university makes a decision. That’s giving up as a leader a whole lot of power, it’s not just giving it up as the leadership of the IT organization. It’s giving it up as a leader of the technology of the university to the whole university so that the university makes the decision.

Let’s walk through the example of changing an email system. We can do all of the work around here is what needs to be done, here are the options, we can move to this cloud service, we can move to this on-premise system, we can move to this variety of vendors. Here’s the cost, here’s the benefit, here’s the whole business case around that. My job as a CIO is to facilitate that process. I make sure that the technical folks who really understand the technical piece of the puzzle has put that together properly. My job is to take that information and do the full business case analysis and bring that to the senior leadership of the university and say here are the options, we recommend this, but let’s have a discussion about where we should be going and what’s the appropriate direction for the institution. In the end, the decision becomes the university’s decision, not the CIOs decision or the IT department’s decision.

We end up behaving like Switzerland. We’re splendidly neutral when it comes to the decision-making process. In the end though, what happens is the university makes the decision and the university is ultimately accountable for the decision. In this particular case, in an email decision, at this university, we went through this process of saying, what’s the business case? What are the ethics around moving very private information to a cloud service which would be owned by a foreign company under the foreign legislation? Do we feel comfortable with that? Even if their servers are hosted in our country, the company that owns the data is a foreign company. Are we comfortable with that? The answer became no. It was an ethical decision to spend more to have an on-premise email solution versus having a cloud-based solution. It was based on an ethical conversation and a university decision, not an IT decision, not technical decision, not a CIO decision but a broad-based decision.

As a leader, as a CIO, I’m giving up a huge amount of power by broadening the decision making but in the end, once we make that decision, then it’s everyone’s decision. When things sometimes hit speed bumps, we’re all in it together. When we run into problems, we’re all in it together. Whereas if it was just an exclusive decision made by the IT department and things went wrong, folks could point the finger and say, “You guys failed.” But when we do it collectively when leadership becomes a collective decision-making process, then it becomes a mutuality of interest process and we all work together and we come to better decisions and we come to a better execution as well because we’re all supportive of the decision throughout the complex and sometimes difficult implementation process.

As a leader, I’m giving up a huge amount of power by broadening the decision making but in the end, once we make that decision, then it’s everyone’s decision.

Sanjog: This was a debate but a healthy one so that you can see both sides of the coin and make your own decision whether you can adopt leadership. Thank you so much again for taking the time.

Mark: Sanjog, thank you so much.

Contributors

Mark Roman

Mark Roman, Chief Information Officer, Simon Fraser University

Mark Roman has served as Simon Fraser University's chief information officer (CIO), since Sept 2015. He was most recently associate vice-president of information and communications technology and chief information officer at the Universi... More   View all posts
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