Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Toughness and Softness of Digital CIOs

Digital CIOs lead by inspiration, interaction, insight, innovation, and influence.

With the exponential growth of information and continuously technology-driven disruptions, Information and Technology become the key differentiator of the business long-term success.  IT has become “softer” because it shifts from monolithic hardware oriented to mosaic information-driven. Digital is the era for the rise of the CIO role. However, IT leadership is the tough journey. The digital CIOs need to demonstrate mental toughness and hardcore competencies to run one of the most sophisticated organizations, as well as present the soft touch to capture the minds and hearts of people, with the goal to achieve the high-performance business result, build the people-centric organization, and maximize the collective digital potential.

The hardcore leadership competency: Due to the complex nature of technology and shortened knowledge life cycle, digital CIOs today need to display the hard tech skills and in-depth business knowledge in order to become the effective business executive and strategic digital leader. Most of the businesses executives have no idea how complicated corporate technology is, they don’t have to understand how complex IT system is. So, CIOs need to bridge the gaps between business and IT, they need to have both business acumen and technical expertise to communicate without "lost in translation." In fact, you can’t separate the technical skills of the CIO from their business skills in order to build the hardcore IT leadership competency. A CIO's knowledge of technology must be deep enough to offer the business solutions that drive costs low and brings IT-enabled business solutions. Without technical understanding, CIOs as technology leaders would not be effective to lead technology-savvy IT staff if they had little understanding of the technology tools and IT frameworks that they are responsible for. They also won’t have the technical depth or interest to effectively recruit, understand IT teams, facilitate technical challenges, provide on-the-spot rough estimates to the C-team, and deepen leadership influence to improve IT management maturity.

The mental toughness to make effective decisions: Due to the complexity and ever-changing business dynamic with frequent disruptions, leading today’s business, especially IT organization takes mental toughness for managing orders from chaos, staying cool under the turmoil business conditions. Being tough is neither about rude nor about arrogance, it is about grit and resilience. IT is one of the most expensive and important investments of the business, digital CIOs with mental toughness have a balanced viewpoint to make effective decisions, take calculated risks of pursuing innovation or focusing on achieving the mid or long-term strategic goals even facing the daily pressure to solving emerging requests from customers. The CIO, in all fairness, must be a strategic leader, who, in an increasingly technology-centric business environment, must make decisions that matter; around strategy and IT. Thus, the mental toughness coming with solid business knowledge and IT expertise will enable CIOs to make sound judgments for improving IT investment success rate and taking the necessary risk for doing more with innovation.

The soft touch of CIO leadership: Beside the hardcore competency and mental toughness, CIO leadership also needs to have a sense of soft touch for leading by influence, not by brute force. Digital CIOs should shift their management style from “command & control” to persuasiveness and advising. The soft side of IT is about how to communicate with the business and partners. You need to be welcomed and invited to the big table. You also need to provide input and co-create the business strategy by seeing through the technological lens. In reality, a lot of time and energy are spent on keeping and maintaining the functional wall instead of developing honest and genuine relationships with people. To improve IT communication effectiveness, the question is not only about how to deliver the clarified message but also what message to deliver. One of the biggest communication barriers is to say something, not the way others wanted to listen. The art of communication is to win the mind and touch the heart based on knowledge, empathy, and cognitive understanding. More specifically, you should tailor what you say when you say it, and how to say it to the audience. Respect your audience's cognitive diversity, and try to send the message which appeals to them. CIOs need to lead the department so that every level of the organization has great working relationships with the IT teams. They also need to be the great “storytellers” to harness communication for accelerating digital transformation. From IT management perspective, CIOs should be also interested in listening to the fantastic individual stories of their employees, or having the touchy-feely conversations with customers to understand their pains, with the goal to build a people-centric IT organization through the soft leadership touch.

No wonder the CIO is one of the most paradoxical and sophisticated leadership roles, the toughness, and softness of digital CIOs are developed by how profoundly they can think; how self-aware they can recognize their strengths and weaknesses; how fast they can learn, how solidly they can make decisions, especially at the strategic level, how fluently they can speak digital dialects, and how effectively they can craft and implement strategy. Digital CIOs lead by inspiration, interaction, insight, innovation, and influence.


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