Recently, I had a conversation with a former colleague who is about to embark on a new journey in his second role as a CIO. I had a separate conversation with someone who is contemplating making the rise towards the role. I realize that, over time, I’ve had lots and lots of conversations and I’ve also met some stellar leaders — and some not-so-stellar.
I am still a work in progress and enjoying the journey of everyday trying to become a better leader, better business executive, and a better CIO. I wanted to post a quick list on what I think are some of the critical skills for a CIO.
Of course, there are dozens of items I could include. However, here are the top five in my opinion:
You have to be able to deal with and be accepted by people in various groups. Expect that in a typical week, you might have a meeting with a peer about a failing project, with vendors to negotiate a contact, with your CFO to review budget, to an external sales call with a client, to a strategic conversation with your CEO, to handling a sensitive issue with an employee. Each relationship is different and requires an ability to adjust your style while remaining authentic.
2. Financial Acumen
Master your budget. Know where you’re on target and where you have options to better manage. Don’t depend solely on the Finance function. They may provide you the numbers and the insight, but you get fired or rewarded for results. The temptation of is to spend a lot of time with your infrastructure team and developers but then to forsake time with finance leadership. That is a fatal mistake.
3. Business Acumen
You must know the business almost as much as the business development and sales teams. The risk of not working hard to know the businss is being left out of important calls. Or worse, you get invited to “the table,” but only talked to when discussing specific technology issues. If not careful, you will get relegated to corporate stuff and controls.
As anyone in the field will know, IT can be thankless. You rarely get calls when things go well, but once the proverbial crap hits the fan, your voicemail box is full. Your team needs inspiration and encouragement without pandering or coddling. Tough love that holds them accountable but allows for fast failure and supported recovery. You must have your Henry V moments on St Crispins Day, but also your Harry Potter vs Voldemort one-on-one battles where you are leading by example. Firm but fair leadership when you are also under pressure can be incredibly tough.
No matter how hard you try, from time to time you will find yourself doing stuff that is “beneath you.” If I had a dollar every time the entire room looked at me when a PC wasn’t able to connect to the projector, or the CEO’s iPhone wasn’t working, I could at least buy a really nice dinner. Like it or not, if you have technology in your title, Wharton MBA or otherwise, you will at some point be asked to fix the meeting presentation system in a meeting with the Executive Committee. And you will have to graciously ignore the fact that Joe D. Salesman simply didn’t know how to hit page down to advance his slides. Humility is everything sometimes.
Being a CIO can be one of the most rewarding, challenging, and exciting opportunities in your corporate career. You will meet amazing people, network amongst technology visionaries as well as business leaders, and drive significant transformation in your company. It can also be highly frustrating and boy will you be tired. A lot. However, continually working on these particular skills will make you and your company more succesful.
What are some expectations you have of your CIO (or, if you are the CIO, of yourself) and does he or she live up to those expectations? What skills would you add to my list?