In every organization there are things that aid productivity and things that are toxic. To succeed, you must exclude or excrete.
OK, stick with me, here. One of the constant factors on a tropical coastline is the mangrove tree. Red mangroves and black mangroves each live with their roots in salt or brackish water. They're absolutely essential to the existence of marine swamps, and they share a common trait with most other trees: Salt is toxic to them. So how do they cope?
If you're like most senior IT executives you have made jokes about being up to your [hips] in alligators in an organizational swamp. In fact, though, "draining the swamp" is less about fighting off big toothy reptiles and more about getting rid of the toxic muck that surrounds everyone (including gators) that live in the swamp. Politics and "palace intrigue" are poisonous to everyone in an organization -- how do you cope?
Red mangroves keep salt at bay by excluding it. The red mangrove's bark is impervious to salt, allowing water to slowly seep through the bark's membrane structure while keeping the salt safely out in the swamp. Black mangroves, on the other hand, allow salt water into the tree but have special glands on the leaves that excrete the salt, leaving safe water behind.
One need (for fresh water) and two strategies for trees that live in salt water swamps.
Some executives cope with a toxic environment by shutting out the harmful aspects, surrounding themselves with those who agree with their management practices and refusing to allow any bad information or attitude to enter their management practice. Things may be falling apart around them; nay-sayers and schemers might fill the overall organization; but these hardy individualists will refuse to acknowledge anything that doesn't support and strengthen their point of view. They can be magnificent in their isolation, but a hard exterior can become brittle if not carefully tended and maintained.
Not all executives feel the need to exclude disagreeable or toxic themes. It's possible to listen to the challenging and even toxic ideas of others, examine them for value, then excrete the bad and hold on to the ideas and practices that can be of value. They're left with something of value, but they don't have to maintain that tough bark.
The excretion tactic can leave you with far more that's of value, but there's a cost: You must be willing to develop a process or practice that can safely examine, identify, and dispose of the toxic load that may accompany anything of value that comes from the office environment. It's hard work that can easily become overwhelmed if there's too much toxin in the environment.
When things get tough (or the level of toxicity gets too high) then excluding can be the only way to safely deal with all the daily muck and garbage in the environment. In that case, you must pay attention to the excluding layers -- you simply have to make sure you're also taking care of the processes, programs, and culture that keep the bad out while allowing nothing but good into the departments you control.
Which are you: and excluder or an excreter? Which of the mangroves speaks to you? I'm looking forward to your answer and to talking with the community about the best direction for future management. Let us know -- the swamp is going to be here for a while.