My Superpower

November 11, 2022

Periodically, post-pandemic (is it?), colleagues and former colleagues have reached out with some interesting career opportunities. Some have been local, and some have been back in the Pacific Northwest — place means less and less these days as I’m remote or hybrid from almost all of my clients, and we seem to do just fine. Since “self-selling” is not my first language, it gives me a chance to hone my message and get comfortable interviewing again. An equal and interesting part of that involves interviewing the organization, learning its culture, and imagining if you’d fit in.

Back in August, I was contacted by a recruiter specializing in CIOs. I wasn’t exactly looking, but the “it can’t hurt to talk” spiel led to some discussion about What Do You Want to Do When You Grow Up?

It was quite revelatory.

The introspection led me to the realization that IT leadership in medium-to-large organizations is an itch that for me still needed scratching. It also made me realize that I’d inadvertently taken a couple of well-intentioned career detours over the years. Industry segments that looked great from the outside proved not to be so from the inside or were buffeted by economic headwinds: some of the “boom and bust” cycles that are common here in Tulsa. Friends and former colleagues would direct me toward positions that I could do well, but in hindsight were not in keeping with my personal or professional goals. It’s not their job to know the ins and outs of IT departments — I can lead myself down wrong paths without anybody’s help!

One of my dearest Bosses at the University of Washington told me one time: “If you can imagine your new Bosses putting a body in a trunk, run.” I ignored that advice once. Such is life and life lessons. But I digress…

Thinking back over the years, I realized I have a superpower. One that is so powerful as to change the direction of hiring officials:

“…we have decided to cancel this recruitment, as we look at moving in a different direction with the role.”

Or words like that. If it happens once or twice, you write it off as just a bad fit. When it happens several times, you begin to question how your mojo is tipping the scales. My wife and I have lost count of how many of these have come up over the years, but often enough that we just laugh about it now.

The most common is that during the process they decide to upgrade the position to something bigger, which I am encouraged to re-apply for. But by then, I’d met the players and gotten a good read on the organization and I see red flags.

No thanks. Life is too short, and these are not CEO gigs. You’re not paying me enough to address systemic org behavior issues.

It’s not You, it’s Me.

The epiphany has allowed me to remember who I am: a builder of high-performing teams, whose institutional memory remains in the service of the organization. A leader whose team members develop leadership skills of their own, and become CIOs themselves. An internal consultant, whose deep research, knowledge, and experiences craft new and innovative approaches for your business. Where technology is rightly a tool, not an excuse for an organization or a manager to hide behind to avoid growth and success.

Thinking back over the longer term, I realized that when I was still in my detour, there were clues that should have told me I was perhaps seeking to sell myself short. While I don’t have enough data points to make it a thing, the previous interview ‘monkey wrenches’ we laughed about were something like:

“Wow. You’re making this decision really hard for us.”

What I believe happens is this: a company posts a position, colleagues share it, and people like me are encouraged to apply. My resume reflects my particular skillset and history: no one else I know in the field has been a writer, a market researcher, a mutual fund salesman, a technical sales engineer, a coder, a client support tech, a manager, an IT Director, and CIO with a degree in Organizational Behavior. Reading my CV, they like what they see enough to schedule a Zoom or Teams, fly me out for more interviews, meet everyone, tour everyplace, and even arrange for a realtor to drive me around, looking at neighborhoods.

During the deep set of interviews and meetings, they perhaps begin to see that I am so much more than the position they’re recruiting for. Maybe they think, “He’s good. Really good. He’ll take the job and be out of here in no time.” Or maybe: “We wrote an uninspired job description. Maybe we’re an uninspiring organization.” Over time, other candidates have perhaps left via their own observations or found other gigs elsewhere. Leaving them to begin the process again.

In one instance, after several months the position I rigorously interviewed for was never filled. They decided to restart the search and apparently, no one stepped up. At their level of compensation of course. Almost a year later I learned that the CIO had resigned, leaving them now to fill not one but two positions at the minimum.

Being that every organization is a machine, the HR part of the machine crafts a job description that reflects either what they think they need (aspirational), or what they had previously (functional). Every square peg has to conform to that round hole.

More than just me, this may be a new development: related to the change in people’s career choices post-Pandemic. People are choosing professional and personal fulfillment — maybe all at once. See “life’s too short” above. I know lots of folks like me who have thought long and hard about their career paths recently, exiting the hamster wheel to do different, meaningful things. Rewarding things.

In the course of talking and learning about their org and their needs, I perhaps offer them a disconcerting third way. Maybe they see that there are people out there who are CIO types who have had experiences beyond what they’ve considered. I’m surprised nonetheless when looking to fill a C-suite IT position how many organizations or boards haven’t thought about executive succession planning. I and the organizations I’ve been a part of have; once again, another way in which my experiences are different.

November 29, 2022 Update:

I’m proud to announce that I’ve joined the Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa (501c3) as their first Director of Information Technology. The vision of IHCRC is to eliminate health disparities, expand innovative family-focused practices and promote an embracing approach to care that strengthens physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness within the Indian community. I am honored to join Carmelita Skeeter and their leadership team as we work together to improve efficiency and resources for urban Native Americans. 

Armed with the knowledge of my Superpower, as we commenced the Hiring Dance, I was gratified to see that this high-performing nonprofit embraces change. They agree that my particular leadership and team-building skills are just what they need. As they prepare to break ground on a new building, my special experiences in large campus building projects are appreciated. As a Native American myself, I feel a special affinity for the mission of this organization and think it’s Providence that they were looking at the exact moment I was questioning, and getting Itchy to be an IT leader again.

I look forward to the challenges inherent in blazing a new trail in a new organization, and later on being able to look back with pride and accomplishment of building something that will stand, helping an IT staff grow their skills and capabilities., and adding my gifts to this org’s culture.

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