Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Digital CIO’s Hard Core Leadership Competency

Although IT has become “softer” because it shifts from monolithic hardware oriented to mosaic information-driven, the CIO as IT leader needs to demonstrate more hardcore competencies beyond just soft skills only.

Often the management gurus put a lot of emphasis on the soft skills of leaders, such as listening, communication, facilitation, etc. it is indeed critical, however, for top-level leaders such as CIOs, the hardcore knowledge and competency is crucial as well to make profound leadership influence and improve management effectiveness. As a leader, the CIO has to be able to inspire and encourage with his/her vision and generate conviction and enthusiasm for the missions of the company and the IT division, regardless of how exciting or mundane they may be. As a manager, the CIO also needs to be able to manage day-to-day tactical issues. The ability to keep the bottom line while increasing efficiency, championing new and "business relevant" technology, and providing "convincing" management discipline. More specifically, what are the hardcore leadership competencies of a digital CIO in order to both lead and manage effortlessly?
The technological vision and strategic insight: IT is the steward of the business’s information system, and CIOs need to be the information master who can convey the technological vision and in-depth business insight, neither vision nor insight is delusion or mirage, it is knowledge base cognition, the views you can foresee, and many others can not. It’s an intimate understanding of the business, inspires teams to clearly see the picture of a better tomorrow, and communicating that vision in a way in which the picture becomes clear to those who can provide direction, funding or permission to execute the vision for the benefit of the organization. And they are all based on the hard-core knowledge and profound thinking skills. The CIO has to be the technical visionary of the company, so she/he has to be able to not only articulate the vision but communicate it in various forms and forums, including investor relations, business partners, IT personnel, the other CxOs in the company, etc., so the CIO has to be flexible, adaptable, and able to adjust the lingo to suit the audience, sometimes soften it up and drop the technical jargon, other times diving into the bits and bytes level. As a business strategist, the CIO needs to understand their environment and playing field to develop a plan to harness the opportunities you identified. When the CIO is in charge of a forward-looking organization that needs/expects a lot from technology, the style of the CIO needs to be more of a strategic partner/vision designer. He/she needs to be a trusted partner to the business areas who has the business acumen (the hardcore knowledge) and communicates (the soft skills) well with others.

The multidisciplinary knowledge and “multi-dialect fluency”: CIOs need to build hardcore expertise and develop skills beyond technology, based on the understanding of their particular organization's current and potential corporate structure, senior management style, and strategic plan. CIOs need to develop a broad skillset beyond technology. Coupled with the ability to understand, and translate “tech-talk.” Among other skills, they need strong business orientation and a proven ability to bring the benefits of IT to solve business issues They translate from one conversation to the other seamlessly. CIOs need to have hybrid talent, the absolute No#1 non-technical skill is the ability to speak the language of business. Understanding technology and technical staff are important, ironically this sums up why businesses need CIOs because non-technical people can't explain to technical people in precise enough terms what they want. Though you may have both technical and non-technical people who have been successful in the CIO role, many argue that in this world where the business is driven by IT, organization needs a hybrid set of hard competency & soft skills; because it's more than a little frustrating when the CIO doesn't really understand their technical staff; on the other hand, CIOs need to be a business leader as well with adequate technical skills who can drive technology to deliver value to the organization, not just technical wizardry, but about how to translate into revenue or profit in the business.
The sound judgment: The top leadership role such as CIOs need to spend significant time on making both strategic and tactical decisions on the daily basis. Hence, the sound judgment skill is important for either IT management or talent management. Due to the complexity and ever-changing business dynamic, sound judgment is a hardcore competency which often does not come from “gut feeling,” but based on updated information, solid knowledge and decision wisdom, as well as the humble attitude to learn, de-learn and relearn all the time, to put simply, learning agility. In order to make effective decisions, it is more important for senior executives to frame the right questions than hunting for the right answers. In the senior position, stay on strategic focus rather than the tactical details. However, CXOs should be able to count on the answer and understand the scope of the answer and any constraints on validity or accuracy. But that too should be part of the answer. That said, knowing enough about analytic processes provides insight and improves communication in order to make effective decisions. CIOs are information agents: If you look at the information life-cycle, any decision-makers as information agents are key in converting/processing data and knowledge into information as well as consuming that information in their decision-making. And no information can ever be generated without agents. Information has something to do with reifications and ramifications by individual agents. And the critical phase when information is created is when agents/decision-makers frame problems or more exactly when they DISCOVER problem structures and then leverage sufficient information and knowledge to make sound judgment and solve the decision “puzzles.”

Though IT has become “softer” because it shifts from monolithic hardware oriented to mosaic information-driven, the CIO as IT leader needs to demonstrate more hardcore competencies beyond just soft skills only. The reach of the CIO and the IT organization offers a nearly unprecedented opportunity to take the lead in an organization - in the best sense of the word. It requires real vision, a sense of mission, an ability to foster a collaborative clarity of focus with clients - even when they are not clear, and willingness to go beyond being even a very high-end service provider. Much is possible for transformational kind of CIO Leader. The CIO also must also recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and compensate for either a dose of personal education or by filling the gaps with the right personality mix.


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