CIO SA and AppDynamics dinner reveals how the Covid-19 pandemic has made CIOs better leaders.
Some of the country’s top IT executives gathered at the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg on the evening of 26 July to share their experiences and lessons learned during the pandemic.
The dinner, hosted by CIO South Africa in partnership with AppDynamics began with a round of “tell us one unexpected, fun fact about yourself”, during which CIOs shared some of the most fascinating aspects of their lives.
One revealed that they held the Guinness Book of Records for the longest basketball game (83 hours) and even went on trial for Manchester United. Another CIO revealed that before becoming an IT leader, they delivered 10 babies, and another shared how taking casual dancing classes led to them competing in a regional dancing competition.
The most important theme of the evening was leadership in times of crisis. One CIO said that at the start of the pandemic, it became about leading rather than managing for their organisation, and as such, they went on a mission to implement a leadership development programme that would transform leadership’s way of thinking and approaching things.
The CIO then brought in a psychologist to help with the transformation journey, with a focus on three main areas: leading oneself, leading teams, and leading organisations. This involved the entire IT department as well as influential leaders within the IT community, which led to IT being allowed to play a stronger leadership role in their organisation. It is critical to advise who you choose as your psychologist in this journey, they said: there must be trust and chemistry, because the transformation journey is not easy.
Another IT leader discussed the difficulties of joining a new organisation where you haven't had the opportunity to meet the team you're supposed to lead. Having to hold meetings virtually through Microsoft Teams only added to their sense of disconnection from their team. This revealed the value of in-person or in-contact meetings, and not being able to see people face-to-face for long periods of time also had an impact on psychological wellbeing.
Some dinner guests said that the importance of empathy for others began to resonate with them profoundly. During those trying two years, some people suffered personal losses, mostly inadvertently or without anyone’s knowledge. This highlighted the significance of mental health and the importance of getting to know your team members on a deeper and more personal level.
It was also an opportunity for them to reflect on their own ways of doing things and change their leadership style, transitioning from being a leader who micromanaged to one who gave instructions and let people do their jobs without constantly chasing them. Trust became important, and giving it to their team saw their own anxieties about not knowing if people were or weren’t doing their jobs gradually fade away.
Situational leadership was another topic of discussion – that CIOs needed to develop the ability to adapt in the midst of a crisis and changing circumstances. They needed to be agile in order to make the right decisions now or pay the price later. According to them, situational leadership also required courage: while everyone else was worried about the crisis, IT had to step up in order to keep the lights on and make those difficult decisions quickly.
Overall, they all agreed that the crisis resulted in many sleepless nights, but it was also worthwhile in the end, because it demonstrated the critical role that IT plays in the organisation. IT leaders’ agility, courage, and ability to keep the business running made all of the difficult times during that period worthwhile, and ultimately made them better leaders.
Those in attendance were:
- Toni Serra, AECI CIO
- Lungile Mginqi, Sasol Group CIO
- Faith Burn, Eskom CIO
- Helen Constantinides, Avbob Group CIO
- Farieda Mayet, Netstar CIO
- Josh Souchon, Sasfin Group CIO
- Zakes Chibi, Total Energies Country IT Shared Services Manager
- Vallance Subban, AppDynamics Regional Manager
- Mduduzi Duey Mohlala, AppDynamics Regional Sales Manager
- Joël Roerig, CIO South Africa Managing Director
- Reabetswe Rabaji, CIO South Africa Managing Editor