TITLE: A Missed Opportunity AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 02, 2007 4:09 PM DESC: ----- BODY:

The people always know what's wrong
... but given the wrong leadership,
they won't ever talk to you about it.

Jason Yip

A month or so ago, I wrote about my involvement in a search for a college sysadmin. That search proceeds slowly. In the mean time, the second search I mentioned -- for an Assistant Vice President of Information Technology of the university -- has wrapped up with a disappointing result: a closed search. This means that the university decided not to hire any of the candidates in our applicant pool. If you have ever served on a search committee and put in the many hours required to do a good job, only to have it closed at the end, you know how disappointing this can be. Why close the search? The campus community couldn't get 100% behind any of the candidates. The search exposed some of the rifts on campus, within the IT community and between that community and the arms of the university it serves. The administration felt it better to put our house in better order before trying to bring someone in from the outside to lead the organization forward. Any time a search is closed, there is a sense of disappointment at the time spent for no tangible gain. In this case, though, that sense is offset somewhat by a sense of learning. This search was a discovery process for the campus and new president, and that is valuable in its own right, if intangible. But there is a second sort of disappointment, too. Many people on campus felt that one of the candidate was just what the university needed -- a leader with a strong technical background and a strong vision of the future of information technology. Thus the lament "a missed opportunity". Personally, I learned a lot about university politics by participating in this search, as well as developing a better sense of what sort of person one must seek in a university CIO. This person doesn't need deep technical skills because he or she will be doing technology hands-on, but because he or she must have a deep enough understanding of technology to evaluate ideas, set priorities, select and mentor a staff, and educate administration on the needs, opportunities, and threats that confront the university. Of course, deep technical knowledge isn't enough, as communication can often dominate the technical in most non-technical peoples' minds. At least in the immediate moment, that is; when the technology choices are bad, suddenly the technical side of the leader matters a lot. I shouldn't say much about the details of the search publicly, but let's leave it at this: The quip quoted above from Jason Yip lit up my screen when I first read it, and because of this search. When people know what's wrong but can't or won't tell you, you have a big problem. Striving for excellence leaves one prone to occasional or even frequent disappointment. Back to the drawing board. -----