know-1082654_640Oleg recently asked LinkedIn’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) Network Group: “How does someone in the highly visible position such as CIO / CTO say “I don’t know” about a key issue or strong technology problem without compromising his/her authority, career and influence?”

Here’s how I answered:

I like what AHSAN A. said in his response: A smart CTO/CIO will not let this happen for any key issue. Which begs a very important question, Oleg – what aren’t you doing on a day-to-day basis that would help you TO know?

The answer, in part, is informed by the second option you offered in your follow-up post: “do you delegate it out (and hope they will educate you in the process)?” From that, it seems pretty clear that your direct reports have not sufficiently prioritized your need to know about “approach A vs. B or technology D vs E,” etc., and are, instead, focusing on other (quite possibly meaningful) activities that just happen to be more helpful to them than you.

But don’t rush to blame them for that; it’s not their fault. If you don’t mind me saying so, it’s your own doing. After all, you are the boss. You get to set the priorities. And you get to hold people accountable. As the saying goes, “Who’s in charge of this asylum, anyway?!”

It makes sense that you’d EXPECT them to “teach” you (or whatever term you prefer) what you need to know, before you need to know it. But that’s not enough. You need to REQUIRE them to do so.

See the difference?

You see, by giving them the latitude of deciding for themselves what’s important for you to know, you’re left out of the loop. But the reality is that they’re busy people; they’ve got a lot going on; and they’re not the one’s being embarrassed by the questions you can’t answer – you are. Yes, they’re leaving you in the lurch, but can you see that it’s far more likely a case of “benign neglect” than anything more intentional?

Back when I was a VP in a mission-critical technology job, I’d interact regularly with Board members and senior executives. So I know, first-hand, how awkward the questions you’re talking about can be. That’s why I’d regularly tell my staff, “Your job is to give me news – and while I don’t really care if it’s good news or bad news, it must be NEW news. Know that it’s a requirement of your job.”

Know that your situation is imminently addressable, Oleg. (And by “Oleg,” I mean everyone else who’s facing similar issues up, down, and across the chain-of-command.) If you’d like to talk through how else you might increase your leadership impact, please contact me directly.


Thoughts? Comments? Follow the thread on LinkedIn.

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