Aspiring IT Leaders

What makes a great CIO? What do CIOs do anyway? These two questions and variations of them seem to get asked regularly at conferences and on social networks such as LinkedIn. The latest round of these questions has inspired me to write this blog.  This is my take on what makes a great CIO.

At a high level I believe a CIO needs to be competent in 7 key things:

Setting the Foundations for great performance through Personal Leadership.  Current research suggests that great leadership performance is directly proportional to your level of emotional intelligence. The two key aspects of emotional intelligence that form the basis of leadership success are self-awareness and strengths based development.  Self-awareness means that you understand what you are good at and what you are not and that you understand how what you do impacts others and allows you to consciously change or manage your actions. Strengths based development means focusing on and developing those areas where you have the potential to be great rather than worrying about those things you are not great at and probably do not enjoy doing.  For those things that you are not good at, recruit others who are good at them and encourage them to develop their strengths in complement of yours and vice versa.

Creating a High Performance Environment – Leadership and Management.  The purpose of leadership is to produce results.  A leader in a corporate context, however, does not produce results directly rather a leader produces results through a team.  The role of leadership then is to create an environment in which the team can be successful.  To do this, leaders need to understand what constitutes a high performance environment and then systematically set about creating such an environment.

Enterprise Technology Strategy.  The ultimate role of the CIO and the IT function is to create value for their enterprise through the effective and innovative use of technology and information.  Value creation doesn’t just happen, it is normally the result of a well-executed plan.  CIOs need to be able to develop an IT enablement strategy that is business focused, flexible and executable and bought into by his/her executive peers.

Building IT Capability.  It is all very well to have a vision of the future, but if you do not have the capability to deliver on this vision then you will not succeed.  To be successful, CIOs need to identify what capabilities are required for success, how to build these capabilities and in what order.

Enterprise Influence.  As IT matures within an organisation increasingly, the CIOs most important work happens outside of IT as the CIO seeks to enable and drive enterprise success.  All executive roles have a requirement to be influential, but the CIO role is unique as everything that a CIO does, requires the active participation of at least one other department to be successful.  As a result, enterprise influence is central to and critical to success as the CIO role.

Leading Innovation and Change.  Most significant innovations in today’s enterprises have technology at their core, or if not at their core, as a major enabling component.  This fact makes the CIO a natural candidate for leading enterprise wide innovation and change initiatives.  Despite this, relatively few CIOs have stepped into this role within their organisation. To fulfil IT’s potential, CIOs need to naturally step into this role and be seen as the CEOs go-to person for leading enterprise wide innovation and change.

Bringing it all Together – Strategic Execution  OK, so you have invested in your own personal development, you have created an environment where a high performing team can show up and thrive, you have identified where IT can add value and documented that within your enterprise’s Technology Strategy and you know what capabilities you need to make it happen, you have the support of your peers and are seen as a leader of change, but none of it matters if you can’t pull it altogether and bring it into reality through execution today.

There it is; the 7 things a CIO needs to be able to do and do well, however, simply being good at all of these 7 things is not sufficient.  Strengths based development teaches us that to be great, a CIO needs to be exceptional in some of these competencies.  It doesn’t matter so much which of these capabilities that you are great at but that you are great at some of them.  Ultimately, the capabilities you are great at will determine how you are seen as a leader and form the core of what some people refer to as your personal brand.

So, what do you think?  Are these the core capabilities a CIO needs to be successful?


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