In the weeks leading up to HIMSS, a common thread seemed to emerge among CIOs: “Should I stay or should I go?”
Many of those I spoke with told me they had wavered on the issue of whether to skip town for a few days to attend the conference. Not because they thought if they stayed there would be trouble and if they went it would be double (sorry, I couldn’t resist quoting The Clash), but because they weren’t sure if the pull to meet with vendors, research new products, and network with colleagues was strong enough to leave their teams behind.
For one CIO who I met during the CHIME opening reception, the choice was difficult, but she chose to make the trip, despite the fact that her organization was going live with a major upgrade.
“I’ve done everything I can,” she said. “Plus, it’s in good hands. My staff is on top of it.” Of course she would keep her phone on at all times, but still, she was able to break away.
Something about her words really resonated with me. As a CIO, part of her believed she should be there in the trenches with her team, but as a leader, she knew she could leave because she had complete trust in her team. And that tells me that her organization has a strong culture, something that has become a holy grail for CIOs and other senior executives.
If you’re familiar with TEDTalk, there’s a good chance you’ve heard presentations given by author and speaker Simon Sinek. In speaking with all types of leaders from organizations like the United Nations, the military, and countless corporations, he’s noticed a drastic difference between the cultures at organizations where people work efficiently as a team and those where people tend not to collaborate. Organizations with strong cultures, he believes, have leaders who focus on putting the needs of their people above their own, and work hard to cultivate a safe environment.
In his most recent book, Leaders Eat Last, Sinek states that the principle cause of failure among organizations is the tendency to focus more on numbers and short-term results than people. Doing this, he said, creates a culture where people don’t feel safe, which in turn can hamper their ability to work as a team. On the other hand, when workers “feel safe” and leaders keep their employees interests in mind, the natural human reaction is to “look out for each other. We work harder. We’re more innovative. We offer our ideas and our best talents,” he told CBS News.
The other key message from his book is that great leaders aren’t necessarily born with a certain set of attributes; instead, having a high level of mutual trust in an organization is what produces great leaders, Sinek said.
It all comes down to trust.
At that same HIMSS event, I found myself commiserating with a fellow twin mom (CHIME’s own Stephanie Fraser) about the anxiety that comes with leaving two toddlers behind for several days. But as difficult as it is to leave our little ones home, both of us are lucky enough to have partners whom we trust completely. And that can make all the difference (along with Stephanie’s advice that the first night is the toughest.)
Not surprisingly, Simek has drawn a correlation between being a leader and a parent, telling CBS News that the two roles are extremely similar. “We put the lives of our children before our own. We want them to grow up, become confident and go on and achieve more than we could ourselves,” he said. “Leadership is exactly the same. Leaders are the ones who are willing to risk, when it matters, their own interests, so that others may advance.”
And, like becoming a parent, being a good leader is also a choice. “Actually becoming the leader and choosing to put peoples’ interests before your own, that’s a choice,” Simek stated.
Once a safe environment has been established, feelings of trust and cooperation can flourish on their own, rather than being forced. And when that happens, a leader can feel safe if he or she chooses to go.