CIO Leadership

The Five Shields CIOs Put Up To Protect Their Team From Tyrants Of The Urgent

Urgent requests and unreasonable timelines are normal. Accepting those requests does not need to be the norm. Five responses will help protect your team to stay focused and your technology vision to be fulfilled.

Joe Woodruff


March 7, 2024

Photo credit:
Garrhet Sampson

I’m never surprised at what I find in business and leadership these days. I guess it goes to human nature and organizational systems - as in, some things never change. In which case, we need to lead better when the bad habits of others try to lead us.

Case in point. Recently, I wrote about managing expectations. That opened up conversations that exposed multiple instances of a similar dysfunction: urgent requests of IT from leaders in authority who need projects delivered in an unreasonable amount of time. Those projects may take days or months, but the common issue is an unreasonable deadline.

You know the consequences:

  • Team morale
  • Short cuts and quality
  • Priority projects back-burnered
  • Roll-out malfunctions
  • Poor adoption

The list goes on. As the leader of technology and as the leader of teams, you are responsible to protect both and to promote the best for both.

How do you meet the business need while protecting the needs of your team and technology vision?

Five Shields To Protect Your Team And Technology

The Case

The need of the moment is never greater than the need itself.

Behind the urgent is a trigger. What is prompting this action? Why now? Often, the need is legitimate and the call to action is justifiable. Every need has a picture of the needed solution.

That’s a distinction. Need is one thing. Needed solution is another. Needed is not satisfied until it is sufficient or best. Example: I need a piano player to complete my jazz trio, but not any piano player will do. They must have certain traits or the performance will not be sufficient.

CIOs are partners in business because they contend for what is needed, not just that which meets a need. And the needed can’t always be accomplished in the time business says they need it,

The Context

Have you ever lost sight of what matters?

Authority often does.

I like a good tavern. I find awe in a temple. Taverns are easy to build; temples take time. There are temples around the world that have stood for centuries. Taverns stand for years.

Urgent requests are made against greater endeavors. As a CIO, you have your team working on priorities directly tied to business initiatives that require great care in its construction. Temple work.

Authority forgets priority.

Remind them.

The Cost

If I do this (what you need in the time in which you need it), here is the cost.

If I do not do what we already said we must do (the temple or the needed), here is the cost.

“At what cost do you want IT to do this?”

The Constructive

Leaders adopt a style that won’t change. You may work for a Tyrant of the Urgent. You have no way around it, no great shield against it. Even Captain America would be at their mercy.

Build for it.

Reserve hours or rhythms that anticipate the unreasonable. I am a veteran of the overwhelming. I learned quickly to block time to satisfy the interruptions. I rarely had the perfect day or the perfect project where all that I planned went as I had planned.

Normalize the abnormal.

The Candor


That is your answer. No.

I watched an interaction take place. A friend of mine sold a large audio visual system to an organization. A very cool project. My sales friend promised an unreasonable installation time.

The install team arrived. I was there. The client asked the lead installer if it would be finished in four days because they had planned the first event that would use the new system.

The lead said simply, “I can’t promise that.” He then explained all the variables that can happen on an installation.

The client was unhappy. My sales friend put himself in a bad light. The lead on the install said exactly what needed to be said.

The client adjusted.

You are an amazing leader. You likely work for a great company. Your business peers are worthy peers. And human. And desperate. And lose sight. And need to be educated, reminded, and stood up to.

“The paradox of the early astronaut training program was that they recruited hot shots who were used to living in their own lane, and then trained them to be experts at being in close quarters.” Seth Godin.

The C-Suite is full of hot shots. Make them a tight team while you fight for your team.

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