Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Are you an “Atypical CIO” or a “Stereotypical CIO”?

The difference between an "Atypical CIO" and a "Stereotypical CIO" is not about the physical identity but at the mindset level.

Traditional IT organizations have been perceived as technical support centers and help desks, and traditional CIOs have been portrayed as technology geeks to keep the lights on. Nowadays, businesses are on the journey of digital transformation, and IT is also on the way to transform from a cost center to a value creator. CIOs as digital leaders today, what’s your self-reflection? Are you an “Atypical CIO” or a “Stereotypical CIO”? Are you a transformational leader or a transactional manager? What’s your leadership strength and how to lead IT as a changing organization of the business?

Out-of-box innovator vs. a tactical IT manager: CIO leadership is situational, the daily duty of CIOs depends on the growth life cycle stage of the company is on, and the priority list of the business strategy agenda. With the increasing speed of changes and continuous digital disruptions, regardless which company or industry you work in, being a stereotypical tactical IT manager is simply not sufficient to lead IT transformation today. CIOs need to be technology visionaries, to stay one-step ahead of the enterprise leadership’s view of IT related priority, understand how to capture the digital technology trends and well apply the right technologies to the business with a tailored solution. An opportunity for the CIO to add a lot of value in the C-Suite is helping C-Level leaders understand the possibilities of how new technologies can enhance the creation or improvement of products and services while balancing the technical and business risks, the investment needed, timing, etc. Visionary IT leaders are often “out-of-box” thinkers who are “Atypical leaders” to step out of a conventional thinking box, or linear patterns, so they have better abilities to connect innovation dots or dare to ask deep “WHY” questions- to diagnose the root cause of problems; also enable asking the open and optimistic “Why NOT?" questions -The refusal to be bound by constraints and limitations and a pursuit of possibilities rather than impossibilities seems to be a hallmark of great leadership achievements. Being atypical CIOs doesn’t mean they couldn't be the handy tactical manager when needed. It means they have multiple personas to practice the situation leadership and strike the right balance between vision and reality -Setting a vision that isn't high enough doesn't challenge the organization to excel. But establishing a vision that is based on unrealistic expectations will either discount the value of even creating the vision or fail the strategy execution.

A creative problems solver CIO vs. an overloaded order taker: Many IT organizations still have been run as the order taker from internal users, overloaded and under-delivery, because their IT leaders don’t have the seat at the big table, so they don’t get the chance to provide valuable input to the strategy, or lack the comprehensive understanding of the business strategy. With dynamic changes and emergent digital technologies, IT leaders need to become both business strategists and creative problem solvers. It does not necessarily mean CIOs will solve every problem on their own, it’s more about the ability to think analytically and synthetically to manage business solution via high-performance IT team; the strong business orientation and ability to bring the benefits of IT to solve business issues; the ability to map strategies with the IT team/staff’s goals, align the business requirement with the IT capacity, which means that they are able to constantly and dynamically lead an IT structure that will seamlessly support the business and well ahead of the business requirement; the ability to interact with business on their processes and pain areas, the ability to bring out a technology driven solution, driving adoption of applications, to become a business solutionary and trustful advisor of the business.

An influential leader vs. an arrogant controller: Traditional IT leaders have often been portrayed as arrogant controllers. And traditional IT is simply not agile enough to either create change or adapt to changes. With the trend of IT consumerization, the business can bypass IT to order on-demand services from the third party easily nowadays. Thus, IT organizations are in face of fierce competitions and unprecedented pressures to improve quality and delight customers. This requires a mind shift to allow for changes and allow for the element of ultimate control to be released in order for the change to take effect. The critical, continuing concerns for the collective IT leadership team are to ensure that the talent exists to get things done and to fill talent gaps; to maintain an on-going awareness of what technology issues are of most importance to the enterprise leadership team and to communicate the alignment that exists between IT and these important technology issues, to fill alignment gaps, to be an enabler than a controller. CIOs must flip their leadership style from a controller to become influencers. To enforce leadership influence, IT leaders need to be both explorers and experts, they should develop a broad skill set beyond technology. Among other skills, a solid understanding of the application of technology in general, organizational skills; management ability to centralize IT resources and applications and coordinate business-unit resources and initiatives. They lead via influencing, not through brute forces. Highly influential CIOs can practice high-effective leadership practices to accelerate digital transformation.

The stereotypical CIO does not just refer to the certain physical identities, it’s about the mediocre mindset to run transactional IT for “keeping the lights on,” and be a controller to avoid risks. Atypical CIOs are in demand to innovate, optimize and accelerate digital transformation. An opportunity for the CIO to add a lot of value in the C-Suite is helping C-Level leaders understand the possibilities of how new technologies can enhance the creation or improvement of products and services while balancing the technical and business risks, the investment needed, timing, etc. The difficult part to be a great leader is the balance point: Be confident, not arrogant, be empathetic, not lose self-awareness; be creative, but not lack of discipline, be determined but not inflexible; be modest, but not be perceived as incompetent; be holistic, but not lose the focus.


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