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Oct 20

The Seven CIO Leadership Skills That Drive Results

Posted by tomhoff in The CIO Edgeleadership skillsleadershipKorn/FerryKaren RubenstrunkGraham WallerGeorge HallenbeckGartnerCIO


To be sure, CIOs should have a good understanding about technology and strong business acumen in order to be successful in their roles. But to truly be an effective leader, CIOs must have solid people skills, communicate well and be great at developing partnerships with employees, business peers and other constituents, according to the authors of a new book on the topic.

In The CIO Edge: Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results (Harvard Business Review Press, Nov. 2010, $29.95), co-authors Graham Waller (Vice President and Executive Partner with Gartner Executive Programs), George Hallenbeck (Director, Intellectual Property Development, Korn/Ferry Leadership) and Karen Rubenstrunk (formerly with Korn/Ferry's CIO practice) examine the key talents CIOs require and how those can be developed.

Central to all of this is a CIO's ability to lead, inspire, manage and develop people. "Focusing on leadership and people skills - the 'soft' things that many CIOs tend to minimize in their quest to keep up with their day-to-day responsibilities of managing IT - is in fact the biggest determinate of their success, or failure," says Waller in a press release promoting the book.

Following three years of research, the authors determined that high-performance CIOs distinguish themselves by "mastering" the following seven skills and behavioral traits, as cited in the press release:


•1.              Commit to Leadership First and Everything Else Second


     Gartner and Korn/Ferry's research reveals that the highest

     performing CIOs are effective because they embrace the idea that

     everything they need to accomplish will be achieved through people,

     by people, and with people. They don't pay lip service to that idea.

     They live it. They lead.


•2.              Lead Differently than You Think


     A high-performing CIO is an incredibly complex and creative thinker.

     Yet when the time comes to lead, they don't rely on their superior

     'smarts' and analytical skills to come up with the best possible

     solution. They act collaboratively.


•3.              Embrace Your Softer Side


     Effective CIOs manage the paradox of gaining more influence by

     letting go of control and allowing themselves to be vulnerable. In

     turn, that vulnerability enables them to create deep, personal

     connections -- connections that provide the ability to inspire people

     both inside and outside their organization.


•4.              Forge the Right Relationships to Drive the Right Results


     This skill may not be surprising. High performing CIOs spend a

     greater percentage of their time and energy managing relationships

     that exist sideways: with internal peers, external suppliers, and

     customers. They purposely invest in horizontal relationships which

     form the foundation to drive extraordinary results.


•5.              Master Communication


     The best CIOs know that their colleagues - especially the people who

     work for them - are always watching. These executives understand

     they are always on stage. They take advantage of that situation by

     constantly reiterating core messages and values. Through their focus

     on clarity, consistency, authenticity, and passion, they make sure

     their message is not only understood but also felt. They want to

     communicate a feeling that compels people to take the right actions.


•6.              Inspire Others


     In exchange for a regular paycheck, most people will give an

     adequate performance. But they will only give their best work if

     they believe they are involved in something greater than themselves.

     The best CIOs provide a compelling vision that connects people to

     how their enterprise wins in the marketplace and that their

     contributions are meaningful and valued.


•7.              Build People, Not Systems


     By developing people all around them, these CIOs increase their

     capability and capacity to deliver results. They also know that

     leaving behind the next generation of leaders is the best thing they

     can do for the organization--it will be their lasting legacy.




One could say that most if not all of these traits could be applied to any type of leader - CIO, CEO, or others. Particularly the ability to lead and inspire people.

But there are certain nuances to the role of the CIO that lend themselves to these traits, such as the characteristics cited in the third and fourth skills which involve a willingness to abdicate control and to spend a great deal of energy building partnerships. For as Waller and others have written about previously, the CIO is uniquely positioned to serve as a change agent within their organization, given their unique horizontal view of how various organizational functions interoperate. As such, the ability to build partnerships with key constituents and to know when to relinquish control is critical.

What do you think? Do these seven leadership skills embody the effective CIO? Or are there other facets to this?

Comments (3)Add Comment
Ellen Pearlman
written by Ellen Pearlman, November 09, 2010
The focus on people skills, the so-called "softer skills", reminds me that these are the leadership skills that women excel at. Which leads me to wonder why there aren't more high-performance female CIOs. What is still holding back women's progress as CIOs? Any thoughts?
Tom Hoffman
written by Tom Hoffman, November 09, 2010
There have been some very dynamic female CIOs. As to why there aren't more, my hunch is that it's partly a numbers game. As the number of women in IT continues to decline, there are fewer and fewer female IT leaders who are emerging. But that's only part of the picture.
Ellen Pearlman
written by Ellen Pearlman, November 10, 2010
It's somewhat of a Catch-22. If young women don't see female IT leaders they are less likely to want to stay in the game since they don't see a place for them down the road.

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