John Holley: Leadership lessons from the frontline

Back from his stint as planning officer for the UN Mission in South Sudan, John Holley shares how the Army’s approach to strategic planning and operations can apply to the business environment.

Leaders should find time to mentor

John Holley relates when he was in South Sudan, he was working with junior planners, in essence mentoring them.

“You have to be always growing the organisation,” he says, on why organisational leaders should find time for this role.

“CIOs have to make time to mentor the young stars you see coming through. That is important for the industry as a whole.”

Otherwise, he asserts, these people may leave overseas.

“I just gave them guidance, I set expectations for them,” Holley explains.

CIOs have to make time to mentor the young stars you see coming through. That is important for the industry as a whole.

John Holley

He uses the following analogy when he was an instructor in the Army, and when working with his staff at the Auckland Regional Council, where he was CIO.

“Typically, there is an eight-lane highway. How you find your trip on the road is up to you. I just want to make sure you don’t get off the road.”

“It is a sanity check. You are just giving them something to bounce ideas off, providing your experience or knowledge in the industry contacts.”

He stresses that this is especially true when working with young graduates. “They are fresh out of university, they are idealistic. Let us harness that idealism and not destroy it, but give them the realism in the world.”

According to Holley, one of the challenges for young start-ups, for instance, is they go to organisations and will be told their product is innovative, but are asked to provide references. “If you are a small organisation, you have just started, who is going to be your reference?”

When he was CIO at Auckland Regional Council, he worked with two software developers, Sheenu Chawla and Sulabh Sharma, and gave them a range of assignments. The two eventually left to start their own company, and asked Holley to be their reference

He agreed, because he knew both of them. “And they became successful,” avows Holley of the startup that is now known as Sush Mobile.

Related: Finding your true north

John Holley, general manager of operations at Visible Results, is emphatic about preparing for a post-CIO role.

Send news tips and comments to

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz

Sign up for CIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, views and events.

Join us on Facebook.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags strategic planningchange managementdisaster recoveryplanningCEOBusiness Continuityunited nationsmentoringstart-uparmyAuckland Councilceo and cioglobal cioNZ Armynz defence forceCIO100John HolleySush MobileSheenu ChawlaUN Mission in South SudanSWOTwar zoneSouth SudanSulabh Sharmapeacekeeper

More about FacebookSush MobileTwitterUnited Nations

Show Comments