Heil: CIOs must become more effective leaders

SAN DIEGO?Chief information officers must focus on their vision and remain optimistic if they are to bring about change, according to Gary Heil, the keynote speaker at the 2005 annual conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

Heil, founder of the Center for Innovative Leadership, kicked off the meeting yesterday by imploring CIOs to be more effective leaders.

Only one in five workers, even with the best companies or agencies, are truly engaged in their work, said Heil, whose organization specializes in studying and performing consulting work on service quality, leadership and change management. He cites a lack of leadership in engaging workers as the primary cause of apathy.

"How often do you live in concert with your highest aspirations?" Heil asked an audience of 100 government employees and more than 200 private business attendees during his address.

Heil said too many people ? roughly 70 percent of the population ? tend to be pessimists and do not inspire others to follow them.

"The problem with optimists is they don't see reality. The problem with pessimists is nobody wants to follow them," he said. "If we want to change the way we lead, we need to change the way we think."

Great leaders must be optimistic and realistic at the same time, Heil added. They must be absolutely clear where they are headed, and they must give a compelling reason for change unless there is an affirming event that sparks change.

One way to engage a workforce is to give them something to care about, something beyond money, he said. "People will die for a cause, but not for money. It's not necessarily curing cancer, but it is something bigger than themselves," he added.

Offering people more money to induce better work is tantamount to a bribe, and that does not motivate workers over the long haul, according to Heil. "The more you bribe them, the more they lose interest in the underlying cause," Heil said.

The essence of motivation is choice, Heil said. But there are too many processes that control people. Instead, he said people need to be in control of the processes.

An environment where ideas are shared and employees feel open to question long-standing practices is essential to help change occur. But since it can be intimidating for employees to challenge leaders, employees must be invited to question leadership to promote change, and must trust that they won't be punished for doing so, Heil said.

Trust is essential in business, especially for a CIO looking to foster change with new ideas. "As leaders, we have to trust to be trusted, and it's the hardest thing we do," he said.

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