The 7 essential leadership skills CIOs must have to get results

In the book The CIO Edge: Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results, three years of data driven research concludes that the most successful CIOs, whilst undeniable smart people, rely on building strong collaborative partnerships with three groups:

  • Their employees,
  • Their peers and;
  • Their external partners.

In other words, it's people skills that trump technical skills every time.

However the book, written by Graham Waller of Gartner Executive Programs, and Korn/Ferry's George Hallenbeck and Karen Rubenstrunk (formerly with Korn/Ferry's CIO practice), doesn't downplay the fact that CIOs still need to be operationally sound: keeping the IT systems and processes running smoothly while managing to tight budgets.

"CIOs understand they need to manage IT processes in order to deliver results and to meet key expectations. They also understand the need to lead people in order to deliver on those goals," notes Waller, in a Gartner Symposium/ITxpo report. "However, what many don't understand is the incredibly important interplay between the two."

In the report from Gartner, they list these 7 key skills:

  • 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.
  • Lead Differently than You Think. Act collaboratively; 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.
  • 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.
  • Forge the Right Relationships to Drive the Right Results. This skill isn't exactly 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Soft skills, of course, won't replace managerial and operational requirements of the CIO job. Instead, the authors state, those skills are a "powerful enabler and an amplifying force that allows individuals to exceed expectations and maximize the value from IT. All CIOs must deliver results," notes Waller in the Gartner report. "What distinguishes the best is how they do it: through people, by people, and with people."

Tags CIO Leadership, IT leadership


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