"With great power there must also come great responsibility." It's one of those leadership tips that every CIO can relate to -- and every comic book fiend can identify as Uncle Ben's reminder to Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. For CIOs who feel that their own arch nemesis works in the marketing or operations department, it sometimes feels as if great power comes with never-ending meetings and frustrating legacy applications, and trusted sidekicks who tend to go rogue from time to time. Surprisingly enough, the recent Hollywood blockbusters The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers offer leadership tips that apply to CIOs (and their everyday alter-egos).
Assemble a team of everyday superheroes. The Caped Crusader would have been nothing without Alfred, Catwoman and Lucius Fox. The Avengers need Nick Fury to manage their egos and Agent Coulson to bring them all together when times get tough. Even Tony Stark would be just another bratty rich kid without Pepper Potts. Each of these supporting team members is nothing special -- which makes them all very special. CIOs who can pull together an elite team of dedicated people have behind them the power to rule the universe.
Find out what motivates your team and use it. Peter Parker wasn't motivated until his guilt drove him to take action against the criminal element responsible for his uncle's death. Nick Fury knew what he had to say to get Captain America to pick up his shield. He also knew how to use a handful of trading cards at the right time (and he knew that he had to use some "special effects" that weren't exactly genuine) to get the Avengers to spring to action. Bruce Wayne watches the terrorist Bane unleashing a regime of fear within Gotham, but it isn't until Commissioner Gordon implores Batman to return to fighting crime that Wayne dons the cape and mask. CIOs who want their IT team to function at a high level must demand that team members do great things -- and that means learning not only what makes them tick but also what gets them to perform extraordinary acts of brilliance.
Stay connected. Batman and Spider-Man had connections to high-ranking police officials. The Avengers were hooked into (some against their better judgment) Nick Fury, Agent Coulson and the power of S.H.I.E.L.D. Peter Parker, arguably a tremendous introvert, still stays connected to citizens and community leaders. To a man (and woman), the superheroes were nothing without the very normal men and women who were managing the plebeian problems of everyday citizens. CIOs might feel like they're running the company from the dank depths of the Batcave but in reality, they need to touch base with each and every head of their operation. Even the marketing department. The most important of all leadership tips: Even when you're a freaking superhero, you still need to work your network.
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Technology beats brute force every time. It's awesome when the Hulk smashes things, but just about everyone knows that the real master of the Avengers is Tony Stark with all his amazing toys. Spider-Man's genetically modified spider talents are later enhanced with his technological tools, such as web shooters. And Bruce Wayne is just a man -- a man with the most awesome tool belt in the world. CIOs with tiny IT budgets can make a huge impact on the business because they're loaded up with great tool belts of their own. And yeah, the other superheroes of the business world just might resent them a little bit -- after all, Thor may have great hair, but I bet he'd give his eyeteeth for a Stark-ified hammer.
You can do the right thing and be hated for it. The thing about superheroes is that they're usually running from the authorities. At one point, Spider-Man actually asks the police why they're so mad when he's just done their job for them. The citizens of Gotham thought the Caped Crusader was a criminal. A lot of CIOs can relate: The IT department is at best tolerated, and at worst, reviled by users. People don't like to be reminded that they owe a debt or have an uneven relationship. While it's a dance of perception for the users, the superhero CIO has to remember that what seems like a good idea from the Batcave might initiate a real problem for the user community -- or, at the very least, spoil their favorite Web-surfing breaks.
Fix problems. Don't wait around for a thank you. We've seen it again and again: Superheroes rarely wait around for a victory celebration when they've saved the day. In fact, they might disappear before a shaken victim has a chance to say "Thank you." That's because they're off to save the next life or take down the next bad guy. It's nice to be recognized for great deeds, but only when the last supervillain has been eradicated and the world is safe once again. (And let's face it, how likely is that?) Every midmarket organization has problems. CIOs fix them. It's a tough job, but with great power comes great responsibility.
One last leadership tip: Reward the team. One word: shawarma.