CIOs are never short of advice from others (including me) about how they need to think and act more strategically, and must break out of that IT straitjacket to become innovation leaders in the business.
However, let’s not forget that it will be very difficult to achieve this if the technology function they lead is not delivering core technology services with the necessary levels of quality, cost-effectiveness and security. The point is that effective CIOs are not only very good networkers and bridge-builders; they are also very good leaders of their own teams.
A full list of what makes for an effective leader or CIO is beyond the scope of a blog post. But, for me, a few attributes stand out. CIOs should be:
Dedicated to talent development. It goes without saying that every good CIO must have an equally good “number two” who manages the day-to-day operations of the function, and who probably hopes to take on the CIO role eventually. But nurturing talent goes beyond the top team. Mid- and lower-level IT managers should be prepared, through an organized process, for future leadership roles. This may include the practice of rotating them out to other business units or geographic regions.
Focused on good governance. The larger the organization, the greater the need for a well-established governance structure for the IT function. Some CIOs have established IT steering committees at both central and regional or divisional levels to ensure technology services are being delivered to the required levels; others rely on their divisional heads to devise the most effective local governance structure. In many cases, non-IT managers will be part of that structure, in order to encourage alignment with business objectives.
Financially astute. Major IT-led transformation projects have a mixed record in large organizations. They often overrun on time and costs (even if they eventually deliver on their goals). CFOs hold business unit leaders to strict financial performance targets on projects; CIOs should be able to do the same with their direct reports and project managers. And for anyone running a large IT project, financial metrics should be as important as operational ones.
Great communicators. CIOs must not only be able to talk about technology with the CEO, board and other business managers in language they understand; they must also communicate the business objectives to their technology teams. Technology language will be inadequate for this. The more the entire IT function grasps the strategic and operational goals of the firm and its different business units, the more likely it will be that genuine alignment will be achieved. And how CIOs communicate with their team is crucial to this.
Every CIO wants to be influential with their board, C- suite and business heads. Credibility is a prerequisite for this, and nothing builds credibility like being seen as an effective leader of one’s own team.