As we all know, there's a lot of information out there-from magazines to blogs, there is more content than anyone could possibly consume in a lifetime. I don't even have time to read Page Six anymore, which says a lot. Sure, a maddening percentage of it is either garbage or recycled garbage. The problem is that a lot of it is stuff you could use. The biggest worry is of missing something useful that you didn't realize you needed to know.
I'm here to help. Here and in a few coming posts I will be sharing some of the most interesting-and CIO-relevant-gems I've come across.
Leadership in the information age
In The World in 2010, this year's edition of The Economist's annual year-end supplement on ideas for the year ahead, Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz authors "Leadership in the information age," offering wisdom on how leaders should take charge in today's information-saturated environment, traditional command-and-control management is a bad idea-perhaps impossible, she believes. That said, clear decision making is more important than ever: "The greatest mandate for leadership...is the ability to cut through the information clutter and make clear decisions without apology. [Emphasis added.]"
Of course, leaders have always been expected to make good decisions, but it's harder now, Bartz notes, what with the online world, especially the blogosphere, ready to pounce on your every action to second-guess or, in the case of competitors, critique. "Learn to live with it," Bartz advises. Your constituents-employees, investors, customers, and partners-respect a leader who can sift through all the information-and misinformation-and get down to and communicate what matters to the business.
Bartz also proposes two skills leaders must work on now (CIOs take note: these are soft skills). One is listening; the other is identifying and mentoring the top thinkers in your organization.
By "listening" Bartz isn't referring to the cliché that good leaders are emphatic. In the information age, listening is a great "path to new insights." CIOs in particular might take special note of her statement that "A leader who is sequestered in a corner office is missing out on the rich discussions bubbling a few floors below."
As for nurturing your thought leaders, this too goes beyond the old practice of looking for the high potentials to groom for promotion. That's still important, but it's equally important now to pay attention to the people who in fact may not even be management material but who are good at absorbing information and digesting it for others. "Grooming these in-house ideas people helps foster a culture of openness to fresh thinking-the greatest energy an organization can have," writes Bartz.
Beware-and Be Aware of Stereotypes
As educated professionals, most of us like to think we're enlightened enough to be above stereotypes. Sometimes stereotypes inspire a chuckle over the quaintness of the very notion of them. Yet according to research projects conducted by Galen Bodenhausen, professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, people in fact tend to give too much weight to the accuracy of stereotypes. This ultimately can lead to bad (read: erroneous) decision making, For leaders, this is a pitfall to avoid if they agree with Yahoo!'s Bartz that clear decision making is a leader's "greatest mandate." After all, those clear decisions should also be wise ones.
Professor Bodenhausen's experiments found that stereotypes remain powerful because people tend to recall more readily examples from personal experience that affirm their stereotypical beliefs. For example, one stereotype about the elderly is that they drive slowly ("Sunday driver!"). Chances are drivers remember getting stuck in traffic behind a slow-driving senior citizen more vividly than they recall witnessing elderly motorists with the need for speed-even if the latter actually occurs just as often.
One's vulnerability to the stereotype trap varies according to mood, energy level, and the complexity of the decision he or she must make. For instance, according to Bodenhausen, morning people tend to be less biased in the morning, while night owls tend to be less clouded by bias in the evening.
It goes without saying that these findings have significant leadership implications that manifest themselves in countless settings, from promotion decisions to strategic direction. It doesn't help that "decision makers often are not conscious of their biases"-an inherent challenge in avoiding biased thinking. "The first step in combating stereotypes requires an awareness of the dangers they pose for decision making," according to Bodenhausen. "The motivation and opportunity to consider members of stereotyped groups and the desire for accuracy can allow decision makers to go beyond simplistic stereotypic biases."