A little while ago I was discussing with a chief executive the key characteristics of being a great CTO. One of the qualities I mentioned—which I’d observed in many effective CTOs I’ve worked with—was a unity of purpose and communication with their peers, most notably the CEO. “Ah yes,” said the chief executive, “a division at the top will create wider divisions further down the organisation.”
I really liked that observation, because it illustrates well not just what the quality is, but why it’s so important. Everyone in an organisation is subject to many different forces. If the key drivers behind those forces—the instructions and guidance from the senior managers—are consistent then it helps hugely to move the organisation forward smoothly and without disruption. This is similar to the way organisations create a particular culture: to a very great degree people will follow the example of those in leadership positions, because those are the people that exemplify successful progress. If the people at the top demonstrate unity of purpose then those in their teams will more likely seek to re-enforce that.
There are, of course, many other important qualities of a great CTO. But what’s interesting about this quality of unity is that to a very great degree it is not just internal to the CTO themselves; it’s about establishing a small number of strong indivdual relationships and continuing to evolve and navigate those relationships as circumstances change.
This is also a lesson for anyone else who is responsible for a team. But the benefits of getting it right—and the dangers of getting it wrong—are particularly pronounced at top level.