CXO Leadership

Is Leadership for you?

Is Leadership for you?

Leadership comes at a cost and demands many lines of expertise. Are you ready to deliver? A CIO is no longer just an IT leader, he or she needs to be able to deliver business strategies using technology expertise. Are you there yet? Is your team behind you? The top position comes at a price to personal life. Are you ready for the balancing act? Are you willing to do what it takes to be a leader?


    • Jim Smith, CIO, Office of Information Technology, State of Maine.

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Top 6 Learning Points

  1. How do you plan a path to a successful leadership role?
  2. What role do environment, motivation and the will to help play in becoming a successful leader.
  3. Having skills, goal, as well as a purpose, makes the best kind of leader.
  4. While having a vision is good, you need to be flexible about the outcome, which may not always be as planned or desired.
  5. Leadership qualities include some skills that need to be constantly honed- understanding the purpose, influencing others to follow, communicating the objective- and of course, creating the vision.
  6. There will be some compromises on the way to being a leader- perhaps on the work-life balance?

Show Notes

  • One may have the ability, but motivation and the right environment is critical to developing a leader.
  • Having a goal for leadership is really the biggest motivator for working towards becoming one.
  • The difference between a person who executes something already outlined, and someone who has the vision to create.
  • A leader needs to have more of soft skills, about communication, being a lifelong learner, understanding how to work in teams, since technology is continuously changing.
  • Leaders think about what they can do to make the world a different place, make their organization better, or have a bigger purpose.
  • Understand the vision you come out with today, may not be where you end up tomorrow.


Leadership comes naturally to some, while some others even with the talent need vision, skills and the ability to create a path that others can emulate. They can blossom in a conducive environment and good motivation, and then they can actually chart the course for the whole team to touch their goals. The journey will require a constant skills upgrade, especially in communication, creating and sharing a vision, but will also involve compromises on work-life balance, in most cases.


Sanjog: Our topic for today, Is Leadership for You? We are speaking with Jim Smith, CIO with the Office of Information Technology, State of Maine. We have spoken about leadership- what does it take and what you can do. There are many people who internally also debate, “Where have I aligned myself?” The goal here is to see whether everyone is a leader and we can develop and nurture someone. Alternatively, we should also have some framework or some questions that we can ask ourselves and save ourselves the trouble, pressure and the insanity that goes along with reaching the top and instead, be someone who enjoys what they do. So, what do you think is the path towards it? You may have started your journey through technology side or the business side but did you think and plan on becoming a leader? Is that how typically it works?

Jim: For me, it was the journey of discovering where I was involved in technology. However, I came out of college as a computer science graduate, when I had started as an English Major. At that time people had just started to think about technology. I was very, very lucky that I happened to get into this field, and I cannot imagine having done anything else. However, when I first walked into the job, I was a COBOL programmer back in 1980, and to think that one day I would aspire to be a CIO or other type of leader, that just wasn’t there; it was not happening that way.

Part of it, I think, was because the industry was not as well known. It is much better known today both on the entrepreneurial side and the organizational side; the pathways are much better known. However for me, it was not an accident, but it was not the destination when I started out.

Sanjog: While you did not start out thinking of being a leader, but at some point, it looks more like a deliberate attempt towards that direction, it seems calculated. The reason I bring this up is to see the kind of mindset, the behavior and attributes and everything that you need in a leader.

Jim: When I take a step back, I think about what is the definition of leadership, and why would someone want to be a leader? Is it they want to be on point, they want to be visible in a time of crisis, maybe they want to influence events? When they have a vision, they want to leave a different world, and what do they find? Alternatively, do they want to be a teacher who wants to help others? Do they want to help others in their career? At some point, you evolve towards leadership.

Once you set that up, then you say, “Well, do I have the right attributes and what can I bring to the table?” It is often and part of a conversation that I think it is a mix of environment and attributes.

I think you have to sit down and ask yourselves, why do I want to do this? What am I contributing to the table? What can I give – that would help an organization or help me? I think once you decide that, you decide the pathway, then you can work towards it. However, I think if you do not have a goal in that direction, it is more difficult.

As I said, when I started COBOL programming in 1980 I could not envision the possibilities, but the world and the opportunities changed, and I changed and matured with it. My vision and aspirations changed. The other day, I was thinking about the story my wife was telling me– she teaches second grade. A student has a difficult home life as a second-grader, and she knows he is going to need some help along the way. She set him up for some recognition. My wife told him, “This is real because of your capabilities, and you are a leader.” She said he was so proud. That day on the playground, she could tell he was a leader. He reached out to other children in a leadership position. So I think that is a combination of both environment and attributes. He had the capability of doing that, but she had to help set the environment so he could grow into that type of leadership.

Sanjog: Do we have to get lucky? One might have the attributes which could be nature or nurture, but do we have to take charge of that environment to be conducive, so somebody out there is motivating me? Because there are many people who otherwise are great or could be greater, but they are like diamonds in the dust.

Jim: I think it is a combination, but I think you have to reach a little harder. I think you have to be known.  When I was at another organization with a huge project going on, we had a very junior person come in and join the team. After a while, everyone realized this person was volunteering for everyone and everything. Something happens, and she would say, “Well, I do not know that, but I will figure it out.” After a while, people got to depend on her, and she got well-deserved promotions and became a leader. However, if I look back at that, I realize what she brought that to the table; the environment was there because it was a big high visibility project with a lot of senior people involved. However, then she brought something to the table that says, “I am going to figure this out. I am going to help the organization. I am going to bring my attributes to the table.”

I think a lot of these we look at and say, it is a combination. I do not think you get leadership thrust upon you. I do not think that works, but I think you have to bring something to the table and help to move within whatever environment you are in.

If you take the technology world, you have to be known as someone is a problem solver or someone that’s going to go out and investigate and find things.

Sanjog: One show we did in particular which was how to deal with linchpins, people who get the job done, who will always be raising their hand to get things done. However, there was a very distinct difference between a linchpin someone who as you mentioned volunteers and tries to take initiatives and someone who is truly a leader whom someone else would follow. You need both, but one does not mean the other. What would you say would be a differentiator, for a leader who could have started as a linchpin or perhaps not?

Jim: I think the leader has a lot of soft skills, and I think it starts with a vision. What’s the difference between a person that might execute something that someone else has outlined and then someone who has that vision? Someone who has an idea of lifelong learning, of research for understanding the industry and where the issues are. They bring more to the table than the execution part. I mean, you need both, you obviously have to execute, to set a plan, you have to find your resources, you have to be able to go to that end goal. However, I think the difference is that if someone is a leader, he or she understands his or her strengths and weaknesses. They surround themselves with people that will help, or need help; they know their approach, though they may not have the finance background. They surround themselves with the right people. However, they are going to have that vision, they are going to say, this is a journey, and this is where we are going I think.

What’s the difference between a person that might execute something that someone else has outlined and then someone who has that vision? Someone who has that idea of lifelong learning, that idea of research of understanding the industry, of understanding where issues are.

Sanjog: In any organization, you could have people with those attributes. I am not saying that leader is a leader when there is somebody following them, but how do you uniquely pick someone to be at the peak or the top of an organization, or maybe at a place where you want someone to lead? A leader means they are supposed to lead you in a given direction. What’s the differentiator between that person whom someone follows and – essentially those who follow?

Jim: I think it goes back to attributes. If you have a group of people, who is the communicator in that group? Who’s the one that can deal with multiple groups within a group and get them to move forward? It is like what I talked about before, my wife’s story, with a kid on the playground who all of a sudden became a leader because she said to him, “Well, you are a leader, you can influence this group.” I think we look for attributes and communicate.

You can communicate and bring people along with that vision. I think that is what you look for, as you look at the organization. My organization is about 500 people, and obviously, they have tremendously different skill sets and technical knowledge. The way people think about processing and think how to get things done, those different things come to the table. However, the constant is soft skills, and I think the industry is going there. While the technology is continuously changing, the soft skills in communication and being a lifelong learner, understanding how to work in teams, are a constant across whatever technology or whatever end game you are trying to get at.

When doing a project today, a technical project requires so many different groups, from networking group to application group to project managers to the analyst to QA. There are a lot of different players in getting things done today. What’s important is – Who can communicate? Who has that vision? Where are you going?

We did a study at one of the companies I was at. We got X number of people who had just come in and had risen to the top. They became leaders; they moved ahead, and we asked, why is that? We looked at someone who hires and asked, “Why is this person all of a sudden in charge of 10 things and somebody else isn’t?” As we looked at it, we honed in on those soft skills, and we said, that is what might differentiate them. As a lifelong learner, there are many people are out there researching their industry, thinking about new solutions, those types of things. We came up with a list of 10 soft skills that we said. People would get this, seemed to do well.

That constant is about the soft skills, while the technology is continuously changing, the soft skills of communication, being a lifelong learner, understanding how to work in teams, those types of things.

I thought one of them was interesting, was being able to deal with ambiguity. While you would not think of that necessarily as a leadership skill, but then when you stop and think about it, you say, “Well, leaders have to make decisions about all the information.” You might have 80% of what you need to know, and you still have to make a decision. You looked again and said, why are a certain people becoming leaders in an organization, given that everyone starts in the same place? They honed in more those softer skills, and it is not necessarily a technical leadership. You need technical skills; you need to understand how things work, but those can be learned. Some of those softer skills seem to be more attributes that leaders have.

Sanjog: Jim, one can motivate or trigger a certain behavior, but not necessarily change or mindset for life. What does it take for a leader or how do we get a spark at a level which hits your mindset versus a temporary behavior? The story that you shared, about your wife motivating this kid, resulting in the kid having a great time, and he led everyone on the playground. Now, what if the next time around when this child went to the playground, there was no one reminding him about he can be a leader? The reason I bring this up is that that is what happens in real life. Motivation has a shelf life, and not every time you have people, or a support system around, whether you are a leader or not. What do you do then?

Jim: The word you mentioned before the break there was about the – it was a spark, and I think that is a tremendous word. In that particular situation, my wife was able to add that spark and the child who had to have those innate capabilities anyway. I think that was something she saw in him; she just needed to give him the opportunity. In that situation, it worked out. However, you are exactly right, if she had not given that opportunity if the day had gone on like any other day, what would have happened? He would not have had that chance.

I think there are different types of leaders and I think some people need to be given that encouragement and nurture, and they need the right mentor, whether it is a teacher or someone they work with professionally. Then you look at the other side of the aisle, you look at something maybe like Steve Jobs at Apple, and you say, “Well, he had a vision, and he was going to stick with that vision, and move ahead all the way, costing himself his company and his job for a while. Certainly, the board of directors had a different vision.”

However, you look at somebody like that, and you think,” At some point in his life, did he need this type of opportunity? Was it something innately in him that said, ‘I know where we need to go and I am going to continue to go there no matter what’?” I am not sure the answer on that, but I think maybe it is both types of leadership.

Sanjog: In your team, Jim, you may have people who are great, and without their contribution, you may not be able to bring your initiatives or your department to the level that it is today or maintain it. However, they may not have the leadership attribution or the traits. They have not exactly accepted or compromised, but they have found their sweet spot, and it is okay. One of the reasons we are doing this topic is to ask, “Isn’t it better for everyone to be aspiring to become someone who is a great orator or has that great emotional intelligence and the vision?” Because not everybody can have that, and this should allow them to assess what they are doing.

This brings me to my next question: What should be seen in a person, to recognize them as a leader? What attribute should they have, that can be recognized by us? And on recognizing them, how can we assess their performances better?

Jim: Yeah. I think that it is sort of a two-part question for me. Part of my responsibility is to look at my team and my leaders and understand, what did they excel in, and where would someone else excel? Someone might be a great orator; somebody might be able to get in front of a group and just inspire that group and say, “Yes, we are going to follow.” Some may not be comfortable in that type of situation, but they can still be a leader. Some people lead by example; some people lead through building great teams.

There are multiple ways of being great with customer service or to lead. In our position, we have to understand that when you’re building a team, you get a heterogeneous team, with those kinds of discussions and stuff. That’s when you say, what do I need on my team and whom the people are going to help me with that team? Both types of people, those who share your vision and those who don’t, will confront you then. And you need both.

The idea is that you should hone and improve that aspect rather than maybe dwell on things that may be secondary that. If you are not a great financial person, if you are not a great person with numbers, you may know that. And while you are probably never going to be that great financial person, you can bring other things to the table.

However, I think on the self-assessment side, I think that is the first step. As you start to think of yourself in your career, in your leadership, you ask, “What is the motivation for me?” Inspired by leadership, you have a vision, you want to be a teacher, and you want to change the world. I think if that is what the goal is, then the self-assessment against that goal is this. In one company where I worked, we used a self-assessment tool, a book called “Know Your Strengths” or “Recognize Your Strengths,” I do not remember exactly. It was a question and survey thing, but what was interesting was it concentrated on what the person does well. What comes to your mind as a leader, during a crisis?

If you think about, “What are the leadership goals? What are the attributes? What strengths do I have that can help towards that objective?” you can self-assess yourself, and say, “Yeah, I want to be a leader.” You may not call it a leader; you may call it something else. You may say, I want to help us do X. That, in turn, becomes leadership.

Then you ask, “Well, what is that I can bring to the table that’s going to help us get to that point?” That is that self-assessment piece.

Sanjog: The functional capabilities aside, you are saying that when a person may identify a professional skills or competency which they need to develop, it is the one they love doing. When they connect this to a greater purpose, is that when they demonstrate leadership skills? When someone wants to help the organization or change it for the better, are they being true leaders? In their own right, of course.

Jim: Yeah. Can you say that in a different way? Can you ask that question in a different way?

Sanjog: Finance is a functional skill. Learning a specific skill or a specific discipline has got nothing to do with truly becoming a leader. The only time when they become a leader, is when they connected to a bigger purpose of some sort? They think that their contribution will then change the world.” Once that becomes the focus, would you say they are on their path to becoming a leader?

Jim: I think that is exactly right. I think about what I can do to make the world a different place, make my organization better, or have a bigger purpose. I am on a board of directors for Maine Robotics up here. We were having a board of directors meeting last night, and this one gentleman had a vision many years back. However, he has touched on 80,000 students towards robotics. His idea was real – he was a computer science professor, he looked and said, “Not enough students are getting exposed to this. How can we get students more exposure to people who might know about these legal leagues and robotics?” What’s fascinating is that not just kids are building Lego’s. However, it involves work, and key teamwork, along with the technical and the programming sides of it. In fact, it is so fascinating to go into a group of third-grade students and hear them talking about, robotics, programming loops and all those kind of stuff. This is the stuff they pick up.

However, this gentleman, he said, “There’s a need here, and I can help these students learn.” For something like state government, what are the challenges? Well, it is older technology and processes, they are all paperbound and manual processes. It needs somebody with that vision to say, “I am going to look across the spectrum and solve this problem,” and work on how can that be done across the enterprise.

Leaders are the type of people who have an idea and vision and create the pathway to get there.

Sanjog: Bringing the conversation back to CIOs, many of us have seen over time that the leaders say, “We are here to serve the business,” which is appropriate. However, we have also seen them saying, “The business is not doing it the right way, but we have to support them.” Is that the right tradeoff? Usually, the leader would challenge the status quo or someone going in the right direction, even if it means risking their position. However, we do not see that fearlessness at a later stage. Those people have that DNA, and that is why perhaps it gets them there. At what point does someone start developing that mindset that you have to do the right things and you have to fight your way through if there’s a problem in the environment?


You have got to have that vision, but you have got to be flexible, you go to able to think. Understand the vision you come out with today, may not be where you end up tomorrow.

I think part of it goes back to your previous question about self-assessment. I sometimes think back to the example of when PC started to come into the technical environment – your audience is old enough to remember that. There was this one group that fought against PCs coming into the environment, the IT group. They were the ones that didn’t want PCs in the organization, on the network. We thought they were just a toy. We did not realize they would amount to anything.

I think you got to realize that you have got to have that vision but you have got to be flexible, you go to able to think. Understand the vision you come out with today, may not be where you end up tomorrow. When I started in the industry, we would certainly make five and 10-year IT plans. Well, nobody does a five-year plan anymore, do they? Because the technology and everything else changes so fast, but it is not able to stay that direction, you have to be flexible. I think what you do is you have got to create your path, communicate it and that may not happen overnight, but you have got to keep thinking about that.

I mentioned before that Steve Jobs had a vision of what Apple could be, and vision his board of directors had a different version. I mean that is very radical. I mean, he gave up his job, he gave up his company. Well, we kept where he wanted to go at the end but for a CIO and a Fortune 500 or government or something like that, how far do you take that? Do you keep moving on that pathway?

Who are you and fighting that fight or moving along a journey, how far do you take that? Where does your vision take you? I think part of that is that you have the vision, then you communicate your vision. However, part of that is you must also listen, because your vision may not prove to be the right one.

Sanjog: You have to do it thought. What you are saying is essentially one way or the other, your response to this question say to some extent that at some point you have to give up. Is that what you are saying, or you fight your way through because otherwise, the leader does not remain a leader?

Jim: No, I do not think giving up is the right word. I think it is how radical your reaction is. To move an organization, you may not get what you want tomorrow, but you have got to keep that communication going. At some point, if it is the right idea, you are going to get people on board. Think about something like a practical example today, such as project management, or waterfall versus agile. Obviously, organizations are moving into agile, but it’s a journey to get there. When people started it X number of years ago, the first group you had to convince was the project managers, somebody had been doing something as a waterfall for 20 years, and you say, “Well, wait a minute, there may be a different way to do this.” It is radical, it is a cultural change, but the first thing you had to do in an organization is to get to the champions. I think that is part of the journey, to get people on, to share your vision and get them to start communicating. Then they become the communicators, and they help convince an organization about where you need to go.

This journey takes –I guess it takes the strength of conviction which is funny because they said, you must be flexible to realize that, this will modify and change along the way. However, you are going to have I think that strength of conviction to get there.

Sanjog: You are saying persistence; that if you feel something is right, you stick to the calling or seek to whatever you are after?

Jim: Exactly.

Sanjog: When a person needs to have a vision, there needs to be a contribution driven by the number of years of experience that you have. Where does that get developed? A leader does this by first working in the trenches, since some people can develop our vision, others don’t.


I think without a vision, you are probably not a leader. I think you are probably someone who executes and we need people that can execute, and people can be a leader in that way that they are running a group and doing a certain thing.

I have to say; my experience was sort of in the trenches coming up versus someone that might be an entrepreneur and think of a different way to do things. How do you think about Google or Facebook that is coming in and catering to need that we did not know we had? That is not in the trenches that someone is coming up a little bit more would be a blue-sky idea. My particular experience was coming up through the trenches and learning, and you have great mentors so that you will watch them, you watch how people do things. That constant lifelong learning on how the other people succeed and are still learning from this, what are lessons I can learn? What can I take from the industry? Where the fun things about the technology industry across and state government, so we all work together, 50 states share a lot of information stuff?

However, even when I was in private industry, I found people love to talk. They love to think of the best way to do things, and share ideas. Even though it may be in competition with someone, you sharing ideas is bold. With the workforce going or technology or any of those things, people get together and share ideas. What can you take from that? How can you develop your vision out of that?

I mean we talked a lot here about leadership and how people become a leader. Without a vision, you are probably not a leader; you are probably someone who executes. We need people that can execute, but they may not be a leader. I really can’t break away from the vision thought with the leadership. I think you have to have a direction about where you are going; you have to have a pathway, you have to know where you are going with this, and then have the ability to execute. For all of this, you need to surround yourself with the right team.

In my personal experience, I was in the trenches. I was seeing other people but, you go beyond that and say, “How do I want to think about this? How do I solve this problem and move the organization in a different direction?” In a world that we know, technology is changing so rapidly that it cannot be a technology play. It is not just picking the technology; it’s picking the direction, building that culture and the organization for change.

Sanjog: Let’s talk about the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager does things right, but the leader does the right things. The question that comes up here over and over is, is the right things just intuitive and following, or it is about values that we have? If that is the case, are we saying that a manager or a director or someone who is not a leader yet, doesn’t have the intuition or doesn’t have values because of they are not a leader?

The big question is, Jim, in many cases, people say, yeah, we are a leader, but then there’s a core definition of the manager doing things right. It means as per what’s expected, and leaders do the right things. So, in turn, are we saying that the intuition to do the right things needs to be developed? Alternatively, they did not have the values to ensure no matter what, you will do the right things. That has to be practiced and suddenly someone who was otherwise just a manager or director, create opportunities for themselves to become a leader.

Jim: I think that maybe it is a finite definition of leadership. We talked a little bit before about someone who might be a great leader in a very technical area, but they may not have the vision to lead a whole organization. It is not only just leading in good times, and it’s about change. It is about evolving the organization in a different direction. I think it goes back to the general theme today, a combination of vision and experience. In our state; we elect a new governor every four years, some states do it every two years. If you think about that, sometimes voters want to continue on a current path, and sometimes they want to hold new direction.

Whether someone can learn that or not, I think people in the right environment can learn if they have the right attributes to be a leader. But at some point, they think, “Well, wait a minute, I have another way we could think about this or do this. I am going to start to champion that.” Maybe it is subtle, and maybe people do not even realize when it is happening, but I think there are some people that are not there to satisfy the status quo and say, “I want to think about things a different way. I want to do things a different way. I am going to propose and communicate them.”

If you have an incumbent governor, they are more effective as they already know the process. A new governor is probably more effective because they might look at things in a different way. However, they take some time to learn the process, so there’s the trade-off. When I think about leadership, I do not think most citizens want a caretaker for their leader; they want someone who can execute on a vision, some with an eye on the result. They want a leader as opposed to a manager, at least in terms of vision and about the change. The manager is someone who has set their path, execute that, and how do they do that execution. Whether someone can learn that or not, I think people in the right environment can learn if they have the right attributes to be a leader. But at some point, they think, “I have another way we could think about this or do this. I am going to start to champion that.” Maybe it is subtle, and maybe people do not even realize when it is happening, but I think there are some people that are not there to satisfy the status quo and say, “I want to think about things a different way. I want to do things a different way. I am going to propose and communicate them.”

Sanjog: You just mentioned about execution. Take a look at a leader who would be taking on a big project, and they always strive to or deliver much more value than you otherwise expected. Then they would surprise everyone at how they helped develop the people who worked alongside them. This influence also allows them to exceed all expectations. How does one develop that edge, to allow something to make you work harder?

Jim: Well, I think part of that goes back to the attributes, and then part of it goes back to someone aggressive, someone who can energetically influence others. The best conversations I think I have is from my staff, walking into my office and saying they might have a different approach.” That’s what you want – for people to be thinking about these things, you want people going over in the heads and say, “Well, we’ve always done it this way, is that the right way, is there another way we should think about this, a breakthrough idea?

I think developing that edge requires honing of some skills. We talk about soft skills, to learn to be better listeners, and I think that is a skill set any of us can probably learn. Are we listening? Or are we just moving ahead and trying to get through a conversation to get to an end goal? I mean there’s a difference between an ability to listen to someone, be it is your team or customers or whoever. Secondly, develop your vision. There are some of the things you can do, like you network professional groups, and see for yourself, where’s the industry going.

I know we talked a little bit about what it takes to be a leader, but if you are thinking about your job between 8:00 to 5:00 and 9:00 to 5:00, that is probably not enough to be a leader. I think you have got to be thinking about much more than that. You have got to be doing things; they’re going to move an organization forward and move you forward much more than a 9:00 to 5:00 process, and that is network professional groups. I think you have to have some ability to do some analysis. I think you have to look at your environment, your organization, what’s working, what isn’t, etc. These type of attributes you think help you to grow. How can somebody look at that issue across the enterprise?

I think a manager would look at that issue in a silo and say, “Well, I am going to do this.” A leader would look at that issue across the enterprise and say, “Wait a minute, in 15 places, we are doing the same thing. If we do this one solution, it will solve in 15 places as opposed to one.”

Sanjog: The way you explained is the person has to work harder, but does the person have some common thread across all of their activities? They develop that edge which gives the results. Then this leader is showing a consistent output that is not only tangible but also shows in the professional and personal growth of the individuals in that project. This person delivers all along. I know many people who are trying to spend the time building a network to go to training, but they are struggling to be able to get an opportunity or be seen as someone worthy of an opportunity to do those big projects. If they do, they deliver less than stellar results, and people are burnt out or growing as part of the projects that they are trying to deliver.

What’s the difference between those people who are equally working hard and someone who delivers the results that we discussed just now as a leader?

Jim: Well, I think it certainly is a balancing act as you have suggested. You need that opportunity, but it is probably difficult to look at any organization and not realize these tremendous opportunities for improvement. I think if you have the right attributes if you have the right vision, you can help move an organization. We talked before about the difference between somebody like an entrepreneur teaching the world, all of a sudden this – searching on the World Wide Web. We did not know that until somebody taught us that. We did not understand we need to do that. We did not understand we need things like Facebook and things like that until somebody went out there and put it that way.

In an organization like mine, you’ll see that it is a little different; it’s not an entrepreneurial breakthrough. However, it is organizational and structural breakthroughs that may not be as visible to the world at large, but can have a big impact. There are a couple of things you have hit upon, one being teamwork. Entrepreneurs are putting all these hours just having that vision tested in the lab. Even though we know now, he would still pick teams and put his teams on a project to methodically go after things. They had a systematic approach, more than the Eureka moment. You start to say, “Well, there are things like that that we can replicate.”

No one can build strong teams by themselves. They have to communicate and get them to be enthusiastic about where they are going. I think whether it is you are in a large organization, or you are an entrepreneur, there’s much hard work involved. However, I think there are certain repeatable skill sets that are often required, such as communication. How do we get that idea? Say, you are rolling out Office 365 with multiple files, spawning thousands of users, how do you communicate that and build the excitement of changing everybody’s day, workflow and everything?

Sanjog: In this final segment, Jim, we want to talk about the price that one has to pay to get to the top professionally. Leadership ends up doing something beyond ordinary such as going beyond the 9:00 to 5:00. There is some price being paid by someone. How do we make sure that as we go through this journey, we do not get to success crazy while still enjoy the perks of being a leader?

Do you think to become a leader you always will have to have some sacrifice on personal front?


As a leader, as a manager of people, if I think there’s something and send an email 11:00 PM, then I am probably subconsciously or not consciously setting an expectation with my employees that I need a response. Why are we suddenly telling our employees to be online all the time? I am not. However, by doing those type of actions, I probably set that expectation for them thinking, “Oh, he just sent me something, he had a question.” I will send it because I might think of something at 11:00 at night that I want an answer the next day. However, me sending that out at night set that expectation.

I think companies today do work hard to find work-life balance. However, as I think about this question, you might think it is our position it is getting worse. I mean, for me, there’s never a time when I am not connected. As a leader, as a manager of people, if I think there’s something and send an email 11:00 PM, then I am probably subconscious or not consciously setting an expectation with my employees that I need a response. Why are we suddenly telling our employees to be online all the time? I am not. However, by doing those type of actions, I probably set that expectation for them thinking, “Oh, he just sent me something, he had a question.” I will send it because I might think of something at 11:00 at night that I want an answer the next day. However, me sending that out at night set that expectation.

I think we talk about work-life balance, companies also think about that, but I do not see that change a lot. My son is a professional, works for Alibaba in China. He does the same type of hours I do. As I said, maybe when I started my career, they handed me the beeper, that beep will go off, and you have to find a phone, but you were connected, involved in conversation 24/7. If there were an issue with someone, the beep would go off, and you talked to someone. However, now it is emailed; they do not stop.

You go on vacation, do you say, “Well, I am not going to look at emails.” While thinking, “Well, I am, because if I do not, when I get back, it will be even worse.” I am not sure of the connected side. People are paying the price and will continue to pay that price if they want to be in a leadership position. I think one thing companies are trying to do is, is really encourage people to take their vacation. People need that time to decompress, and when they are on vacation, we get fine ways to get them to disconnect and stuff. However, I think the price you pay to be a leader in a big organization that is a big-time commitment.

Sanjog: In a way, we are sending a message that if “leadership is for you,” you know what you are getting into, so there’s no way out. Is what you are saying?

Jim: I do not know if there’s no way out. But I would struggle to envision the CIOs I know, anyone who would not say, “No, I am engaged, I am connected all the time, and I have to be connected all the time.” All the industries have a crisis, state government, it could be a problem and in health and human services or corrections or at the police department. I mean, there are just so many different things that could happen, you have to be available. I do not necessarily say if someone is a leader, are they always available? But as you move up the ladder, I think that is part of the equation.

Sanjog: Now, do you think there’s a point when a leader who may have otherwise had a great ride, good successes delivered, ever need to step down? Because they are not able to work at the top in their very best, at top capability? And if so, can they pave the way for new leaders instead of dragging themselves on for too long?

Jim: Well, I think that there’s much truth to that. I think about that – as a state CIO, the average tenure is little under two years because governors change and people move on. For myself, I think that is too short because if you have a strategy and a plan that might take X number of years, how do you execute it in that limited time? There is a time where people need to step aside. Maybe that is not the right word. Maybe it is nurturing and building that next level of leaders, and maybe that is it more than the step aside because eventually, as you build and you nurture, and you find those hidden gems in the organization, and you find people that are ready to step up and move you to the next level. I think there’s a lot to be said for that.

The step aside has been amped up with a better intern program in the last couple of years. We have had great success with it. I have built another approach where young people come in with different ideas, a different level of energy, different views and understanding of technology, and you can see a change in the thinking. You also see a change in the culture, as people come in and say, “Well, wait a minute, why are you doing that? Nobody is doing that anymore. We are doing this. Why aren’t we doing this?” I think you have to get someone out of the way, but I think you have to be open to that, you have to feed your organization with some different ways of thinking. I think you have to nurture that and help those people in their careers. I think that is part of the fun; that is one of the great things we get to do is help people with their careers, find those stars and say, you know what, this is going to be the next leader.

Sanjog: Thank you, Jim, for sharing your thoughts and insights on how people can discover their leadership potential, perhaps of work on certain areas where they need to. Essentially identify in all clarity whether they should go to this track and if they do go in that track, what they need to do to excel.

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Jim Smith

Jim Smith, CIO, Office of Information Technology, State of Maine

Jim Smith CIO, Office of Information Technology, State of Maine Jim Smith is currently the Chief Information Officer for the State of Maine. As such, he will direct and oversee all Information Technology policymaking, planning, arch... More   View all posts
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Jim Smith


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