Gartner: IT leaders need to find their inner ferocious pack animal

Gartner analyst Tina Nunno's book, The Wolf in CIO's Clothing, explains how to survive your company's IT power politics.

Gartner analyst Tina Nunno, author of a book called The Wolf in CIO's Clothing, wants IT leaders to find their inner ferocious pack animal not only to be able to snarl at enemies challenging them but to better inspire team cohesion through displays of power, and yes, cunning.

"Think like an animal," advised Nunno in her engaging keynote address today at the Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit 2014 at National Harbor. The animal that Nunno thinks represents the psychological middle ground between the shark and a helpless bunny is the wolf. Why? Because the wolf is not only formidable in attacks, she says, but is a social creature with pack loyalties roaming a large territory. As a Gartner consultant speaking with CIOs about their struggles to survive corporate power politics, she thinks they should stop being so nice.

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Nunno admits she's inspired by the works of 15th century-born Italian politician, historian and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli who remains famous for his book The Prince, about the art of how to retain power. And although IT leaders in businesses think they can succeed by simply being nice--through traits like honesty, transparency and willingness to always help--Nunno insists the reality is that the IT leader sometimes must be manipulative, show strength through "collateral damage" to push back against undermining influences, and yes, sometimes make people unhappy. They have to say no.

"I don't think 'happy' is a good business target," said Nunno, explaining her theory of why CIOs and others in positions of power in the technology side of things have to get over accommodating every request that comes along. The goal of the business is growth, something the upper management knows well and so should the IT department. The goal for the CIO should also be "to grow the business."

That's why the image of the happy dolphin that communicates well and just wants everyone to be happy, is not the symbolic animal that Nunno wants CIOs to emulate.

While Nunno doesn't entirely approve of the shark as a model for a CIO, she knows they're out there. But the shark CIO isn't a model for success even though "people follow sharks because they know they will win." But the problem with sharks is they "create a lot of damage," she notes.

Thus, the wolf is Nunno's preferred animal to think about. In her keynote, she advised the IT security professionals in her audience to consider that IT leaders need to learn that "power is a handy thing, It makes things happen," and it needs to be wielded, just as by a show of discipline against someone, to show it's real.

The core aspect of decision-making is emotion, she noted, though many IT executives like to think they are extremely logical and objective. IT leaders need to tap into emotions and charisma--not just logic and data--to get their points across and win their battles, she says.

And at times. CIOs and other IT leaders are simply going to have to be a little sneaky and manipulative, especially in dealing with sneaky and manipulative people going against them, she warned. It may mean a walk now and then "on the dark side." But being the wolf at times could be the key to survival in winning the fights in the corporate dog-eat-dog world.

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