Leaders wield power through many means: formal authority, control of scarce resources, use of structures, rules, and regulations, control of decision processes, control of knowledge and information, control of technology interpersonal alliances and networks, and so forth. (Images of Organization by Gareth Morgan).
But one often-neglected factor when it comes to power is likeability, sometimes known as political capital: the late President Ronald Reagan was the epitome of this.
“Political capital is primarily based on a public figure's favorable image among the populace and among other important personalities in or out of the government. A politician gains political capital by virtue of their position, and also by pursuing popular policies, achieving success with their initiatives, performing favors for other politicians, etc. Political capital must be spent to be useful, and will generally expire by the end of a politician's term in office. In addition, it can be wasted, typically by failed attempts to promote unpopular policies which are not central to a politician's agenda.” (Wikipedia)
Every leader (including the CIO)—whether in the public or private sector—manages to get things done in part through their political capital.
For the CIO, this means that while their job is certainly not a popularity contest, they cannot effectively get things done over the long term without rallying the troops, having a favorable image or degree of likeability, and generally being able to win people over. It’s a matter of persuasion, influence, and ability to socialize ideas and guide change.
The CIO can’t just force change, transformation, modernization. He/she must expend political capital to move the organization forward. The CIO must make the case for change, plan and resource it, train and empower people, provide the tools, and guide and govern successful execution.
The Wall Street Journal, 4-5 October 2008, has an editorial by Peggy Noonan that touches on the importance of political capital:
“Young aides to Reagan used to grouse, late in his second term, that he had high popularity levels, that popularity was capital, and that he should spend it more freely on potential breakthroughs of this kind or that. They spend when they had to and were otherwise prudent…They were not daring when they didn’t have to be. They knew presidential popularity is a jewel to be protected, and to be burnished when possible, because without it you can do nothing. Without the support and trust of the people you cannot move, cannot command.”
Certainly if the President of the United States, the most powerful position in the world, cannot execute without political capital, then every leader needs to take note of the importance of it—including the CIO.
Lesson #1 for the CIO: effective leadership requires political capital duly earned and wisely spent.