An effective CIO needs to be an independent thinker, unbiased communicator, flexible doer, and global leader.
CIO role continues to evolve various changes due to the changing nature of IT, from industry studies, the majority of CIOs has skill gap leaping from techie to strategist, or from good to great. Rome was not built in a day and neither should a CIO. What’s being needed to develop a great CIO? Training, empowerment or self-improvement, what’re key milestones in such a leadership transformation? In short, how to shape a CIO with leadership wisdom, quality and commitment to work?
1. Three Types of CIOs
Change is inevitable and with change comes the need to learn. There must be a balance between the organization and the individual where the responsibility for learning is concerned. The organization should be able to identify fundamental skill requirements at different levels of management and the individual must self-assess and identify what they lack to move forward and seek to learn through whatever means is made available. It requires transparency at both ends of the scale; the organization identifies what it needs and the individual identifies what they lack. And of course, both are setting appropriate expectations to achieve those goals. As far as for CIOs' development, first of all, classify mostly three types of CIOs out there:
(1) An IT Specialist: Techie who was dragged into managing people and still gets deeply involved in tech decisions and architectures. Most of this type are not a very good business manager and are not typically invited to the C-Table often.Can such CIOs wear strategist hat properly?
(2) A certificated 'Guru': an IT degree + MBA who spends her/his time fighting fires, breaking through transformation project log jams, dealing with vendors no longer supporting their bread and butter business app, trying to help innovate and solve some business or operations problems, or showcasing IT to the company's customers. Should such CIOs act more like glue than guru?
(3) A business Generalist: Such CIOs with technical knowledge or experience, have successfully managed a sizable past of the business. They spend their time mostly with customers, marketing/sales, executive team, supplier executives, and her/his staff. Does such CIOs have a vision or passion upon technology?
No one comes to a senior management role fully prepared for that role. Everyone needs to have some skills strengthened and some added. However, each of these types needs various types and degrees of knowledge, training, data, coaching, and continuous improvement. As their businesses change shape, size, expansion, and transformations, they too need conditioning and improvement. First of all, the forward-looking organizations should empower their IT leaders to make a deep influence on people, process, and technology; beyond that, CIOs are top level officers, they must take the initiative to create their own training path in management and emerging technologies. Then when the CIO is at executive team meetings, he/she can offer those creative ideas that give organizations whatever competitive advantage is possible. A good CIO is one that achieves a balance between legacy systems and development projects with a focus on new client revenue while satisfying clients with the timely delivery of product and services.
2. Qualities & Skills Modern CIOs Need to Have
Most of the organizations today are looking for strategic or transformational CIOs in leading their digital transformation journey. Being transformational or being strategic goes beyond skills only, it's about the well-mixed vision, leadership substance, communication and continuous improvement. Thus, CIOs as Senior executive roles, should continue to sharpen leadership/ management skills, though some of the traits needed cannot be learned in a training course, such as entrepreneurial spirit, on-your-feet innovator, strong work ethic leading by example, being a creative thinker, taking risks while nurturing contingencies, growing great talent, etc
- A good CIO should have a strong influence, facilitation, negotiation and collaboration skills. A good CIO knows the business, knows the corporate direction and can even influence that direction and make gains leveraging advances in technology, and master different business dialects with the right attitude and aptitude. Any CIO worth his/her salt should know that technology is NOT a panacea, that it is a facilitator to business goals, a partner in business outcomes. The CIO must understand the business and must be capable of interpreting the strategic goals of the business and even contribute to that vision. They must at a business level be able to lead the technology team to deliver to business outcomes.
- CIO's or any other C-level executives should continue to gauge their own skillets proactively: This is important for the career they have and the next one they aspire to take on. Investing in yourself is not only smart but a good investment that comes after careful self-examination. Being learning agile: shows the potential to learn, unlearn, and relearn. A CIO has to take responsibility for his/her own development path; The CIO needs to define his/her way to gain business knowledge. According to the organization’s possibilities and limitations. A CIO needs to be a creative business manager with a keen interest and significant experience and knowledge in Information and Process Management, but be a creative business manager and forward thinker first! This involves doing something that many technology teams are very bad at and learn how to market what their teams have done and are doing and promote the value proposition to the business.
- CIOs’ well set of qualities & skills: The IT leadership traits include such as influence, critical thinking, creativity, ethics, global perspective, and cultural awareness. What other skills are demanded by twenty-first-century business realities? From a couple of academic and consulting surveys, “The key skills include innovation, dealing with situations that you have not dealt with before, possessing the confidence and the experience to be entrepreneurial".
3. Effective Development Path
Overall speaking, a CIO is not born but created, molded by peers, technical excellence, hardcore managerial abilities, well-defined strategies for mentoring the staff, colleagues, a deep understanding of business processes. The path of the leadership development may be various - depending on the context and also upon the profiles defined. The real issue here is not just about training execs. It is about ensuring they understand their role, its limitations and the overlap/collaborations/negotiation that must exist with your counterparts. In addition, training or learning these days does not always mean to study in a classroom for a few days, it's more hybrid and informal. What are effective training format to develop modern CIOs:
- Training could mean spending x days per week working in a business role, attending a conference and workshops, participating 2 days per month in an active like-industry CIO working group, attending online forums, etc., etc. The secret to success for future CIOs relies to a large extent upon their ability to collaborate across the C-suite and facilitate enterprise-wide transformation and innovation through cross-functional dialog and "bridge building". As an example, when it comes to turning an organization into a "social" enterprise, the CIO has to get engaged with the CHRO, CMO to enable an organization's workforce to live and deliver on its values and purpose. That is no easy undertaking but provides the CIO a unique opportunity to engage in business modeling for the future.
- Learning by doing: More important than training, organizations should provide their CIOs opportunities to participate true C-Level discussions, as many CIOs complained they never get invited to C-Table, don't know what are strategic issues happening in business, and thus, there's a gap between IT strategy and business strategy. And then, Key is Language, if training can help: CIOs need to learn how to talk in commercial outcomes, not technical throughput; CIOs have needed to both convince and deliver the alternative view of IT being a profit enabler and a value enhancer. In short, IT leaders need to talk like and actually deliver as business managers.
- The leadership team learns with each other's strength: Due to change nature of technology and complexity of IT project, other executives should also understand more about CIO's frustration., etc. The continuous technology evolution means CIOs must become the primary coach/mentor driving this business/IT integration, and have other people within their team responsible for managing the BAU (Business as usual) technical deliverables. All C-level executives need to include business, finance, organizational management, and sales training in their learning plan. The CIO, specifically, needs to add knowledge/information management to that plan. The title CIO, in of itself, is perhaps one of the reasons that many have difficulty with the position. The "I" in CIO is about information, insight, intelligence, improvement, and influence., etc.
An effective CIO needs to be an independent thinker, unbiased communicator, flexible doer and global leader these days. Gone are the days where the CIO is given a target and a budget and he/she executes. Nowadays, CIO and other CXOs should stand side by side with the goals of creating new and innovative products, transforming IT into a profit center and aligning IT and Finance across all business units. Only a CIO who is proactively learning every day, empowered or trained via tailored approaches by their organization can make things happen fulfills the expectations of his/her organizations.