How CIOs can remaster their leadership in the digital era

Digital transformation doesn’t just disrupt markets and business models; it disrupts conventional management behaviours as well. Traditional leadership styles are now ill-suited to the unique demands of digital business, and continuing to rely on them can create dangerous blind spots for CIOs. In this pioneering era, successful leaders are those who can master the key macro forces that drive digitalisation, and then lead their organisations to success.

Persona power

How do CIOs transform themselves to lead digital business in the face of highly disruptive market forces? Two executives at Gartner, Graham Waller and Mark Raskino, identified a pattern for digital leadership behaviours and mindsets, and refined these into six specific personas which can inspire IT leaders to ‘remake’ themselves: adventurer, ambassador, clarifier, educator, attractor, and cartographer.

  • Adventurer – IT leaders in the digital space require an adventurer’s zeal and vision to discover the opportunities digital presents and seize them in the face of uncertainty. With a customer-centric mindset, these CIOs work to design and deliver new products, services, and even business models, and inspire others to move forward and take calculated risks.
  • Ambassador – An adventurous spirit alone is not enough to navigate through highly disruptive change. CIOs also need to be skilled in an ambassador’s art of persuasion in order to recruit others along on the journey to collectively achieve the enterprise’s ultimate purpose.
  • Clarifier – As the level of industry disruption increases, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish reality from hype. IT leaders need to be clear about what is a digital threat and what is an opportunity, and clarify how digital disruption fits in the context of their enterprise.
  • Educator – IT leaders need to educate the C-suite and upgrade the digital DNA of the wider enterprise. Through immersive learning and visualisation, CIOs can facilitate others’ personal discovery and teach them to identify digital opportunities.
  • Attractor – By radiating a compelling digital business purpose that enables others to contribute to something bigger than themselves, CIOs can become attractors of both the best talent and ideas. They create an optimal work environment, and then use it to unleash the power of top talent.
  • Cartographer – IT leaders need to show the business where and how to outmanoeuvre the competition and be able to navigate the digital terrain. This means visualising new paths of opportunity and having the ability to quickly remap structures and capabilities as linear processes and rigid industry verticals give way to the fluid dynamics of digital business.

The personas in action

Ford is an example of a company that is remaking its leadership to take digital to the core of its operations. The automotive company is entering a more disruptive period than any time in its history, and in this climate, the willingness to be an adventurer is critical. Rather than choosing a traditional strategy approach, Ford is adopting new ways of delivering services in mobility. Launched in 2014, its Smart Mobility Plan is a global initiative to invest in transportation technology that goes beyond simply selling cars. As part of this plan, Ford is participating in 25 mobility experiments around the world “to test breakthrough transportation ideas to create better customer experiences, more flexible user-ship models, and social collaboration that can reward customers”. This is a bold venture in the emerging digital mobility space, and Ford is prepared to fail in many of these experiments. But succeed or fail, the insights gained will be invaluable in determining how they invest in the future.

Personalising the process

Now that you know what the six digital leadership personas are, how do you use them to become a more effective CIO? Start by focusing on one or two of the personas that aren’t your strengths and that apply to your enterprise’s current stage of digital transformation. If you aren’t confident leading the digital charge in your organisation, an option is to hire a Chief Digital Officer or digital lead to manage the rollout of the strategy and coach you in some areas. In order to be effective in the digital era, you need to remake yourself to some degree, but no individual will ever be the perfect blend of all six personas. The key is to build a cohesive team around you to fill the gaps and complement your leadership style.

To learn more about IT leadership in the digital era, download our how-to guide for CIOs: ‘Aligning IT and Business: A practical guide for leading change in a service-defined world’.


Tags CIO, Digital Transformation, CIO Leadership, CDO, digital disruption, Gartner, IT leaders, IT leadership, Digital era, enterprise mobility


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