Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Differences between Ordinary CIOs and Outstanding CIOs

The differences between ordinary CIOs and outstanding CIOs are based on how they think, what’s their focus, and which leadership style they apply. 

As businesses embark on the “Digital Era” of computing, how will IT have to change? How can IT leadership adapt to the new normal? The CIO is the leadership role, how CIOs provide the appropriate leadership and how they convey to leverage IT for the business value depends on their vision and leadership strength and style. With increasing pace of changes, the CIO role needs to be continuously reimagined and reinvented. Here are three differences between ordinary CIOs and outstanding CIOs.

Conventional thinking vs. Out-of-the-Box creativity: Conventional CIOs spend most of IT resources and time on keeping the lights on and maintaining the status quo. But digital CIOs intend to break down the silo and accelerate the business flow. An ordinary CIO focuses on “what” and “how,” but a great CIO can dream big and think big; digs into “why,” also ask those open-ended questions such as “why not” or “what if.” Digital CIOs today need to be both creative and logical at the same time; Because it takes a logical mind to determine whether a creative solution will work. One shouldn't separate creativity and logic as two completely different disciplines, they are interconnected, only combine them seamlessly. In practice, conventional CIOs reluctantly align IT with the business, takes orders from customers as a support function. But digital CIOs reimagine the very idea of “supporting” the enterprise and think instead of getting rid of as much IT support as possible through automation and taking advantage of SaaS model so that IT can do more with innovation. IT can lead to the design of products or services that actually create a return. It won’t happen with “old thinking” or conventional management practices, which only lead to a burden of support for operations whereas the true IT potential is in liberating more time and energy to work on improving the top line business growth. IT oversees the business functions and structures, CIOs generally have greater opportunities to stand out and take the leadership role in driving innovation across their companies and leading digitalization confidently.

Command & Control vs. Persuasiveness: Traditional IT still practices command and control management discipline to get the works done in the rigid hierarchical organization. Command-and-control came about through the Industrial Revolution with the perspective that everything, including organizations, can be viewed as mechanical in nature. The management's job is to control the work by commanding the people. People perform based on fear, not on self-actualization. However, the digital age upon us is about people, option, and innovation. The digital leadership means to give a clear direction of what's expected, and then allow people to choose how they get there by leveraging their mind power and creativity. Digital CIOs should shift their management style from “command & control” to persuasiveness and coaching, to win both the hearts and minds of the people - employees, customers, partners, and other stakeholders. Especially for the top-level conversations, the persuasive focus is great for leading and selling the vision. In the executive suite, you need a balance of both logic and persuasiveness. IT historically has had poor communication accountability within IT or between business and IT. IT - Business communication sometimes seems like an oxymoron. Being persuasive means that IT leaders have both business acumen and technical expertise, work closely with the business to solve their problems with tailored solutions, not just do what they requested for. IT leaders can also share their vision and persuade the board and top leadership team to keep investing in IT, not because they have to, for the short-term result, but they want to, for the long-term business benefit.

Transactional vs. Transformational: Digital organizations today have to strike the right balance of being transactional to keep spinning and being transformational to make a leap. However, traditional IT management focuses on transaction-driven operational management which leverages inside-out lens to view things from a single side. Thus, they manage IT by measuring performance only IT cares about. But digital IT leaders focus on information content and context; how that information can be tapped from the underlying data and be utilized to turn it into valuable strategic insight; so they can leverage outside-in business lens to run a “transformational IT,” which means redesigning existing transactions to something new, being innovative/ creative and also introducing completely new transactions hopefully with a strategy that serves the organization well. This strategic focus is all the more important in the current environment where technological advances happen at a rapid pace. With emerging digital technologies, transactional running the systems is going to shrink. When transactional CIO is talking, it's often because there are problems, not opportunities, and the business won't want to listen. The organizational management short-sightedness and running the business in a transactional mode only can cause digital ineffectiveness in the long run. The great CIO can derive the most value out of the technology investments by translating the promise of technology to a strategic and competitive advantage for the company. Once IT is seen as strategic rather than tactical, IT can be transformational when the opportunity arises and it is appropriate to seize it.

The differences between ordinary CIOs and outstanding CIOs are based on how they think, what’s their focus, and which leadership style they apply. Refreshing IT leadership is to keep the digital tempo for creating the business synergy and accelerating digital transformation. Good leaders are continually practicing, experiencing, learning, adjusting, and they understand that the path of mastery is something that is unfolded day by day.


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