Due to the changing nature of technology, CIO role continues to be shaken up, refined, reinvented and reenergized; CIOs also have to do self-reflection: are you a tactical IT manager or business strategist? Are you a technology specialist or a specialized generalist? Are you an order taker or a senior business advisor, are you a technologist or business leader? Are they mutually exclusive? If not, shall you, or can you become both?
Technologist vs. Business leader: A technologist is somebody who is a subject expert, a technology specialist who has in-depth knowledge of a specific IT subject. This requires no leadership, strategic or management abilities. But digital blurs the business and technology, even the SME (subject matter expertise) nowadays shall understand business, and speak the common business language when needed. A business leader is somebody who can lead from the front or behind & has no requirement to get into the bits and bytes of technology details, but with the omnipresence of IT consumerization, all leaders shall have a certain level of digital fluency and acquire the necessary knowledge to understand IT better.
A CIO needs to be a business leader first, technology leader second. A CIO first needs to be as a business leader in strategy deployment to engage the IT role and facilitate in the technologist role. Then in the technology role, A CIO needs to have a sharp mind to leverage business initiatives in artful design using the cloud, mobile, analytics, and wearable technologies. The best CIOs tend to describe themselves as business leaders, and as a result, of that attitude and belief, they align better with the needs of the business. But they have to understand the technology and have to be able to drive technology to a business end. Without either one, you're handicapped. There are many good business leaders who failed because they didn't understand the technology or good technologists are not good leaders because they didn't have cognizance of the business.
A CIO's insight of IT must be a mile wide and an inch deep. In-depth understanding, IT improves CIO leadership effectiveness in managing staff and partners. Every CxO should be a business leader. Having strong business and leadership capabilities should be hygiene factors only, not the main differentiator at the C-team level. CIOs should uniquely provide knowledge of and responsibility for technology, the same as a CFO brings finance knowledge and owns a number of finance/accounting. Technology leaders may not be effective to lead technology savvy IT staff if they had little understanding of the technology they are responsible for. They didn't have the technical depth or interest to effectively recruit, understand team and supplier challenges, provide on-the-spot rough estimates to the C-team, sniff out looming technical risk/debt crises and were ignorant of emergent technology waves that could help the business. A CIO's knowledge of technology must be deep enough to offer the Business solutions that drive costs low, and brings about effective operations. The variety of modern IT technology and their rapid obsolescence assumes that it almost impossible to know all IT technologies. In the best case, the CIO's knowledge of IT must be a mile wide and an inch deep. CIO, in all fairness, must be a Technology Leader, who, in an increasingly technology-centric business environment, must make decisions that matter; around strategy and IT. It is a strategy that "drives" the business. CIOs must anticipate changes to their business and respond before the business come knocking.
Increasingly the CIO looks to play a role of supplementing the business vision with technology as the accelerator and Innovator, The growth mind, and egoless adaptation is important for improving CIO leadership maturity. Business leadership skill and technical knowledge are all critical requirements and believe the different organization needs a different type of the CIO with the knowledge balance point fits its needs and culture. It is a hard role and a slippery slope to balance them both successfully, but that is why it is an increasingly critical senior leadership role to make a cross-functional influence and beyond.