How to reinvent yourself

Boy holding butterflyThe concept of career reinvention has recently received a great deal of attention. And the book Business Model You: A One-Page Method for Reinventing Your Career, in particular, has gained a lot of interest. The authors haven’t targeted it at any one type of executive, but the book does give rise to thinking about how CIOs might reinvent their careers.

Of course, many CIOs will ask themselves whether they need a career reinvention. This is a personal question, and the answer will depend on each individual’s circumstances. More generally, though, as technology drives wrenching change within industries and organizations, the ground under CIOs is shifting. Many are being told they need to change, and rightly so.

With that in mind, here are a few things CIOs should consider when they decide to reinvent themselves:

Put someone else in charge of IT. It’s worth remembering that CIO stands for chief information – and not technology – officer. As much as possible, CIOs need to delegate the responsibility for looking after the infrastructure and for “keeping the lights on.” CIOs need to create space for thinking strategically, and for advising the CEO and the board about how the business can use information and technology to grow. Granted, this is not possible in all organizations, especially in smaller ones. But great leaders know how to create time to think.

Network for feedback. Career development is almost impossible without networking – but don’t just talk to your peer CIOs. Professional associations and networks are very useful, but they can lead to groupthink. Try to talk regularly with your business peers and your internal and external customers. And try to find ways to ask: “how am I doing?” Honest feedback is often difficult to obtain – not to mention difficult to accept – but it’s gold dust when you get it.

Learn to listen. Great CIOs often have a reputation for being innovation leaders in their businesses. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are great innovators. But it does mean that they are great listeners and facilitators. In my experience, innovative ideas often bubble up from unlikely quarters. As often as not, they come from outside the organization. Be open to and, indeed, seek ideas – not just from your organization’s technology professionals, but from other parts of the business, from your suppliers and service providers and from your customers.

Join Toastmasters. If you’re a CIO, you’ve probably developed good presentation skills along the way. But chances are that most of your presenting has been to specialist audiences or peer technologists. To influence the board, the CEO, C-suite peers and business unit managers, CIOs need to present in powerful business language. Toastmasters – a club that helps people develop and practice their public speaking – may not be the perfect place to develop that specific skill, but it will give you access to an audience that won’t shy away from offering constructive criticism.

Really become an entrepreneur. How many times have you been told by the business gurus that you need to become more entrepreneurial? But how many CIOs can really learn to do this while shouldering their daily responsibilities? Putting someone else in charge of the day-to-day running of IT will create time for innovative thinking, but consider a bolder step: resign and start your own business, or join a start-up in its very early stages. There truly is no better way to learn than by doing – and your corporate career will benefit when (or if!) you return to it.

If there’s one common thread through all these disparate pieces of advice, it’s risk. A lot can go wrong, and bold steps can often have unintended effects on your career development (and let’s face it; corporate IT types have a reputation for being risk averse.) But no good leader in any walk of life ever achieved anything without taking a few risks every now and then.

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