The role of the CTO is, as you might imagine, rife with temptation. For example, consider the following case:

“This defendant is accused of lining his pockets with millions of dollars intended to be used to educate the children of the Cuyahoga Heights School District,” Dettelbach said. “Our office will continue to go after those who would abuse the public trust.” 

Palazzo was employed by the Cuyahoga Heights School District as its Information Technology director until February 2011. Palazzo was responsible for managing the district’s IT Department, which included purchasing hardware and software and making other IT expenditures to benefit the district and its students, according to the information.Source:

Abuse of the public trust is one of the many temptations Chief Technology Officers face in their jobs. But, there is one more pernicious, more debilitating to an organization than the temptation to be all-powerful. It can be marked by unilateral decisions on the part of Technology to take actions like the following:

  • Indiscriminately block web sites, citing CIPA concerns, but providing little explanation or room for discussion.
  • Purchase equipment that’s easy to deploy and maintain without regard to what end users see as necessary or worthwhile.
  • Spend district funds to the sole benefit of the Technology infrastructure to meet world-class standards without carefully considering how those purchases align to district goals.
  • Implementing data management processes without involving stakeholders.
  • Unblocking or blocking services (e.g. VOIP) to further an agenda (my favorite story is the blocking of VOIP technologies because the CTO wanted to push a particular solution he was sold on…hmm).

The omnipotent CTO works under the illusion that his expertise makes him THE final arbiter of technology issues. “I know best what the school district needs,” s/he says to himself, and then with arrogance, sets out to prove the case, “This is the best solution and you shouldn’t ask me why, you shouldn’t question my motives, because, after all is said and done, you hired me for the job and you must trust me to do right by the District.”

This temptation to embrace omnipotence goes hand in hand with the willing individuals who surrender their ability to ask probing questions. It goes something like this: Don’t you agree that you, as Technology Director, should be the one who makes decisions about this? 

So, how do you avoid temptation? Surprisingly, one does so exactly by doing a gut check, a motive inventory where you ask yourself, what can I do to help others understand the ideas and information I have to share with them? How can I encourage everyone to share their thoughts, ideas, yes, fears even, so that we have a pool of meaning that facilitates rich dialogue?

By asking questions like this of ourselves, we remind ourselves that our first priority isn’t to exercise our superiority, display our power as technology geniuses, ride roughshod over the contributions of others because they are not in the technology department. We set aside our egos, our anger at being challenged, our fear of embracing a solution that we did not first put on the table, and strive to ensure that all stakeholders appreciate our true objective–improve service to the District and those it serves.

In the final analysis, it’s not our vaunted abilities to serve, but rather, placing our abilities in service of the organization that make the difference.

Check out Miguel’s Workshop Materials online at

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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