founder of naked leader

Back to my business roots

Naked Leader Week – 178 (w/c Monday 16 October 2006)

Back to my business roots

Whenever I am asked to speak at an Information Technology conference, for me it is like coming home. My background is many years inside IT, starting as a programmer in the Pascal language.

I share this with pride –  it also helps when people call me “evangelical” or say I have my “head in the clouds” – there is nothing more grounded than IT!

This has all been prompted by someone coming up to me at the end of a recent conference with a copy of a book I wrote before Naked Leader – a niche IT business book called Inside Track , a collection of some of the columns I wrote for  Computer Weekly.

They very kindly wanted my signature – I wanted the book, and bought it off them.

I had lost my copy, and without that column and book, I would never have had the courage and know-how to write The Naked Leader.

I opened the book at Column Six, and reprint it here word for word. Although it focuses on IT (then IS for Information Systems), the issues can be applied to every business department, indeed also to many areas of our lives. Sadly, and astonishingly, it is still relevant today, eight years on:

 This is personal – originally published 20 August 1998

 Deborah Graham, 33, a Computer Systems Manager from Dudley, committed suicide after struggling in private to cope with her job. What a tragedy for someone so young to be consumed by such stress, pressures and worries.

 These are not unique symptoms, indeed CW/Banner research shows that over 30% of IS Directors feel that stress affects their ability to cope with their job.

 IS Directors and departments experience levels of demand, deadlines and project deliveries that make our service at least on a par with the traditional pressure areas of sales and marketing.

 In many ways we are still treated as servants reacting to our master’s needs. Add the ongoing budget restrictions, recent downsizing and the specific pressures of Y2K and staff retention, and it is no surprise that we have reached this position. Other reasons cited to me recently are:

 Working long hours in some companies is still considered “macho”

  • The growing volume of information we are required to handle
  • Lack of trust in other people to make decisions
  • The ‘blame culture’ prevalent in many companies – IS managers are easy to blame as they are perceived as being at the end of the corporate chain

 One IS Director told me the role of an IS Director is to “take the blame, say sorry and try to keep smiling!”

 Companies are in many ways making IS managers scapegoats for business failings by denying them access to timely business intelligence, and then blaming them for not responding appropriately.

 There are no easy answers to this, however the following will help:


  • Work to improve business/IS relationships at all levels, while ensuring your business customers take ownership of projects, priorities and delivery. Market the IS service and the value you bring to your company
  • IS service is a balance between what a company wants and what a company can afford – have clear Service Charters in place and build in time for proactive activities
  • Investing in prevention is less stressful than spending on cure
  • Outsource the noise on a modular basis – hand over the pressure to specialists without losing control – focus internal staff on strategic projects
  • Put in place an internal mentoring scheme. Also seek an external mentor for IS managers, who will provide both advice and be a welcome release valve
  • Beware e-mail – it comes across as unfriendly. Maintain personal contact and when you do send e-mails make them friendly and constructive
  • Address culture so that blame is eliminated and there is a community atmosphere where people work for each other
  • Reduce information overload – IS managers do not need to know everything! Go for summaries on key priorities

 There are also many ways to reduce the effects of stress, such as keeping our lives in balance, physical fitness and making time to relax. If you are suffering, do take professional advice.

 Stress has been an issue in all walks of life for many years. There are, however, a growing number of developments within IT that make it an urgent issue to be addressed, on an industry, corporate and personal basis.

 Today, I am lucky to share speaking platforms with leading academics, gurus (not all of them self-proclaimed) and heroes, who have achieved amazing accomplishments in life.

I can’t come close to any of these, but if I had my time over, I wouldn’t change my years in IT.

With love to you all






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