CIO Lessons From Power Tools

Curtis Franklin Jr., Executive Editor | 9/3/2013 | 20 comments

Curtis Franklin Jr.
Let's talk about freedom and control. They're not nearly the opposites you might think.

I spent a lot of time thinking about freedom and control this weekend. While many of my fellow citizens were celebrating the Labor Day weekend with picnics and sporting events, I was enjoying quality time with a Hitachi DH38YE Rotary Hammer.

According to the specifications, it delivers 2,800 blows per minute into whatever lies beneath its metal bit. That number becomes important to my story. It's also important to understand that when I first picked it up, it weighed roughly 18 pounds (8.16 kg). By the time I finally put it down, it had mysteriously increased to approximately 53 pounds (24.4 kg). I'm not sure I'll mention that again -- I just wanted someone to know.

The Hitachi DH38YE Rotary Hammer
Controlling this rotary hammer involves skill, practice, balance, and very strong thumbs.
Controlling this rotary hammer involves skill, practice, balance, and very strong thumbs.

I was using the Hitachi to chip thin-set mortar off of a concrete slab. I found that it was possible to very finely control where the rapidly vibrating chisel point landed if I kept one hand firmly on the handle nearest the business end of the hammer. If my grip loosened too much, the chisel would go bouncing around the floor, never striking the same point twice and dissipating most of the energy. With too tight a grip, though, the drill didn't vibrate with as much enthusiasm and tended to dig a small crater under the chisel tip. The key, then, was figuring out just how tightly to hold the drill to allow for maximum effect while maintaining control.

I had only been working to find that balance for about six hours when it occurred to me that CIOs in rapidly changing enterprises strive for precisely the same balance in managing their departments. For many of the more traditional-minded CIOs, the instinct to keep a firm hand on the department is strong. It can even be a useful strategy when all of a department's resources need to be concentrated on a single problem. When the issues that face the CIO's office are spread over a wider range of concerns, though, a lighter hand can allow for much more effective impact while keeping the effort sufficiently focused to avoid waste or damage.

The author, when the rotary hammer still weighed 18 pounds.
The author, when the rotary hammer still weighed 18 pounds.

There are limits to this analogy, as there are to most. The modern enterprise is far more complex than the average concrete slab, but there are still lessons to be learned from hours spent wrestling a small jackhammer. One is that trying to exert too much control exhausts the operator while leaving more work to be done at the end of the day. Another is that using a faulty technique can leave you with scars. (I look a bit like I took part in a boxing match using only my thumbs as weapons.) If you use the right technique, though, the results are most gratifying.

Most IT executives will learn a lot of the lessons about control and freedom on their way up the corporate ladder. When you first sit behind the desk in the corner office, though, it can be like the first time you take hold of a very large industrial tool: The basic operation is familiar, but there's a sound and fury beyond what you're accustomed to handling.

So take care when you're given charge of the department or division. To quote an old Southern Rock song, Hold On Loosely. You'll find that allowing the employees to work for you brings the best results while exhausting you (and them) the least. That's the lesson I learned from the DH38YE. What lessons do you think I should have learned? What tools or experiences have taught you lessons? I'd love to know. And if I can type my responses without using my thumbs, I'll look forward to the conversation.

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CurtisFranklin   CIO Lessons From Power Tools   9/23/2013 11:32:25 AM
RE: control and freedom tools for CIOs
@Anand, I think another lesson might be expressed as "trust the tool." In the case of my rotary hammer, I had to trust that it would knock the thinset off if I allowed it to do its job. In the case of a CIO (or any manager) you have to trust that your team members will do their jobs if you give them proper direction -- you don't have to keep a stranglehold on them to make sure the job is done.

We've talked many times here at E2 about the importance of hiring the right people. This is a good example of just why the people are so important -- you must be able to trust them!
CurtisFranklin   CIO Lessons From Power Tools   9/23/2013 8:41:11 AM
RE:CIO Lessons From Power Tools
@SunitaT, one of our gifts as humans is the ability to make connections. I seem to make a lot of unusual connections -- that is, I suppose, the way my brain is wired!
CurtisFranklin   CIO Lessons From Power Tools   9/23/2013 8:39:54 AM
RE:CIO Lessons From Power Tools
@SunitaT, I like that approach: Involve everyone on the team and help each member understand what's involved in the entire process. While the person at the top is responsible for the final decision, when they make sure everyone is involved it has to make the process of getting team "buy in" easier when you get to the implementation phase of the project.
Anand   CIO Lessons From Power Tools   9/23/2013 3:44:11 AM
RE: control and freedom tools for CIOs
I am not certain as to whether these two can be applied to the same situation but what I am certain about is that these are tools that people who lead require to ensure quality results. Too much control often results in the entire organization using the brains of the guy at the top hence might have chances of bringing unwanted results. On the other hand if a CIO gives the various departments too much freedom then they might not deliver the required results since they can easily deviate from the aims and objectives of the organization. It is therefore the role of the CIO to ensure that they use these two tools moderately so that they can get the best services out of the various departments they head.
SunitaT   CIO Lessons From Power Tools   9/22/2013 10:23:26 AM
RE:CIO Lessons From Power Tools
A few years ago I received a comic email drawing corporate lessons out of funny things. It was amusing, but at the same time pointing toward the fact that we can connect seemingly irrelevant events in our life to our professional life. We can all do so by having a keen observation and motivated sense of learning.
SunitaT   CIO Lessons From Power Tools   9/22/2013 10:22:38 AM
RE:CIO Lessons From Power Tools
In some other post, I read the experience of a seasoned executive who had worked in several organizations. He concluded that he could get the best of him and his team when he engaged them in everything from decision making to execution. He even made everyone preside over different morning meetings to get their involvement and enthusiasm. I agreed to his point of view then and believed this was the best approach I've seen so far.
kstaron   CIO Lessons From Power Tools   9/9/2013 12:18:41 PM
Balanced control
Asute observation on control. I've known managers that hold on too tight, or barely hold on at all. When you find a good manager that holds on to balance work efficiency with letting the workers be professionals and do their jobs, they are the ones you want to keep working for.
batye   CIO Lessons From Power Tools   9/8/2013 8:44:36 PM
Re: learning to control.
yes, as urges to spend is one of the human traits... same as gathering and storing for future use or as backup...
batye   CIO Lessons From Power Tools   9/8/2013 8:41:08 PM
Re: lookin good
could not agree more, very pro look... hope one day Curtis create a video Power Tools one on one...
batye   CIO Lessons From Power Tools   9/8/2013 8:39:40 PM
Re: Photo Credit
Curtis, I hope you did not get in trouble... for failing to give credit:)...
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