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Explorer’s opera is a leadership guide for CIOs

North Pole“We made thousands of decisions to get there. Not one decision,” explorer Alan Chambers told the CIO community at a recent Horizon Business Innovation CIO roundtable dinner debate I had the pleasure of producing. 

Throughout the evening’s conversation the gathering of the UK’s leading CIOs and explorer Chambers discussed being agile, having a minimum viable product, continuous improvement, legacy, reducing overheads of one type or another and helping people adapt to change. Unlike my previous sentence none of those buzzwords were used. 

Chambers shared with the CIO community the journey he and his peers took to walk unaided to the North Pole in 2000. He discussed the entire journey, not just the gruelling walk across the enchanting frozen cap of our planet, but also the five years of planning and research such a major undertaking requires. 

alan chambers
Alan Chambers at the North Pole

What was startling in a discussion that had more surprises than a charging polar bear was the similarities in leadership techniques Chambers shared. Chambers’ adventure required sponsorship and all the stakeholder management any capital intensive programme requires.  He had to pick and lead a team on the ice “you never compromise safety” he said. A number of CIOs present face the same demand to guarantee safety of customers and colleagues.

As the role of business technology leadership morphs as a result of economic and technological change, the way CIOs lead has to adapt.  “The outcome is uncertain,” Chambers said, a scenario CIOs know all too well. 

To cope with that uncertainty, Chambers ensured he had the right team and discussed at length with the CIO community the need to discover passion and not look at the paper profile of candidates. But as we all know, you can select the best team, but obstacles, whether ice and storms or Brexit and a collapsing pound and they test the team and its relationships. Each day Chambers and his team would jointly come up with an idea to make the project easier and he said these discussions and the decisions made in them taught them “don’t always take the path of least resistance to keep a project alive” and from that the team worked out that it had to “take the weight away, but not the job”. In other words, make sacrifices to achieve the outcome, some of those sacrifices will make things easier, other sacrifices will increase the challenge.

All of these lessons on that long and arduous walk to the North Pole taught Chambers his OPERA – Ordinary People Extraordinary Results Achieved. “The least experienced person had the best ideas,” he said.

If your organisation is facing or going through a major challenge and changing environment, I recommend Alan Chambers as a speaker. Everybody in the room that night left with a sense that they could achieve extraordinary results.  You can contact Alan Chambers here.

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