Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
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2/24/2014
10:22 AM
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5 Skills CEOs Prize In CIOs

You want to be a CIO? The road to the top isn't about what you want. It's about fulfilling the expectations of your boss and peers.

I get this question all the time: What should I focus on if I want to be a CIO someday? The answer is complicated and doesn't always please the person who asked.

You must understand technology, of course, but most of what it takes to become an effective CIO has nothing to do with technology. The better question to ask is: Which skills do most CEOs want their CIOs to have?

So let's discuss what your boss will expect of you. Here's where it gets complicated. Regardless of whether the CIO reports to the CEO, has a dotted line to the CEO, or is married to and has children with the CEO, the CEO is your ultimate boss. And the CEO very much cares about the folks who run other mission-focused business units: your peers. To make matters more complex, those peers are also your customers. Thus, the first of the expectations of a CIO:

1. Customer management
A great CEO will want you to impact the business positively, through new products, re-engineering, automation, etc. But the CEO doesn't want you causing problems with people who rely on you. Call them your peers or your customers, your boss still doesn't want problems.

It's not about being a yes man or woman. Nor is it about being a pit bull -- those kinds of conflicts land right in the CEO's lap. It's about being able to have difficult conversations when IT screws up, and admitting to those screw-ups. Or being able to point out, constructively, when line departments are causing problems, like when they change requirements 12 times during the course of a project.

You need to resolve those kinds of problems without most of them rising up to Mom or Dad, because if your CEO is spending most of his or her time brokering your little conflicts, expect your tenure to be short.

Required development: diplomacy and emotional intelligence. Pompous jerks need not apply.

2. Staff management
A great CEO will want you to develop a team that takes pride in its work, of course, not only because it's good for the company long term, but also because it keeps HR grievances and costly turnover low and productivity-friendly morale high.

[Don't forget, you also need a strategy. Read Digital Business Strategy: 8 Gut-Check Questions.]

The challenge is most enterprises (also known as bureaucracies) have rules that seem crazy to employees, yet the CEO will expect you to develop a sane team without the aforementioned problem. It's possible to build such a team, but it requires an intense focus on mission, an appreciation for process with a focus on outcomes, and a humane approach to managing people that still emphasizes accountability. You also need to hold yourself to the same standards you hold your employees. And you need to manage your own stress levels so that you can perform at your best.

Required development: emotional intelligence, HR management, organizational development, candor, courage, and common sense. Dilbert bosses need not apply.

3. Vendor management
Your boss wants the company's technology vendors to be invisible, but your boss also wants the results that a specialized vendor can provide. When a $2 million tech project fails "because of the vendor," your boss won't be looking at the vendor. He or she will be looking at you. It's your vendor to manage; you must have the skills to do so.

Many of the skills that apply to customer and staff management apply here as well. While there's a time and a place to pull the plug on a vendor contract -- and I have done so -- there must be a lot of action in between. Most projects and contracts that are going off the rails can be righted with a little candor and TLC, recognizing that everybody wants the project to succeed. Tough guy tactics and lawyering up usually benefit the lawyers only.

Being pals with vendors: bad idea. Such relationships can lock you into a place that's bad for your company and hamper your negotiation leverage. Ducking

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Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human ... View Full Bio

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gibbassett
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gibbassett,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/5/2014 | 9:14:54 PM
Marketing/External Customer-Facing Skills?
With Gartner saying marketing will control more IT budget than IT in coming years you'd expect CEOs to desire technology leaders with some skills or background in technology-enabled marketing to support those efforts and drive utilization of technology as a competitive asset.  Maybe it depends on the industry.

Gib Bassett, Global Program Director for Consumer Goods with Teradata Corp.
jfeldman
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jfeldman,
User Rank: Strategist
2/27/2014 | 8:01:36 PM
Re: A Few More
Totally agree! I tend to think marketing is in line with business reporting but I also agree that it is important enough to warrant its own section. As to political savvy - so many think that politics is a dirty word, yet the alternative to diplomacy is often "war", far worse!
J_Brandt
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J_Brandt,
User Rank: Ninja
2/27/2014 | 6:10:17 PM
A Few More
To those you can add 6) Internal customer education and expectation setting, 7) internal business knowledge and 8) Political savvy.
Paul_Travis
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Paul_Travis,
User Rank: Author
2/25/2014 | 11:24:20 AM
Re: The missing 4th skill
The missing skill is knowing how to count. It has been fixed. Thanks.

 

Paul Travis

InformationWeek.com Managing Editor
jfeldman
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jfeldman,
User Rank: Strategist
2/25/2014 | 6:38:40 AM
Re: The missing 4th skill
Apparently, I cannot claim the 4th skill as "attention to detail"! :-) I am not sure what happened there, but it does seem somewhat zen (or at least Pythonesque). Thanks for pointing it out!
Csharper
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Csharper,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/24/2014 | 8:55:16 PM
The missing 4th skill
Jonathan, would being able to count to 6 count as one of the 6 skills?

The article lists:

  1) Customer management

  2) Staff management

  3) Vendor management

  5) Financial management

  6) Internal reporting

But there's no #4... presumably just a paging issue on the site? (Although the text seems to flow.) Shame--basic detail kinda makes you question a really good article.
plarrieu1
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plarrieu1,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/24/2014 | 6:21:11 PM
Re: Project Management
I forgot to mention ethics. This would address Rob's question regarding where you draw the line with accepting venndor perks.
jfeldman
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jfeldman,
User Rank: Strategist
2/24/2014 | 6:15:36 PM
Re: Project Management
You make a good case.  Rob already knows what I think.  I will reveal what the answer is soon.  Thanks!
plarrieu1
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plarrieu1,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/24/2014 | 6:13:37 PM
Project Management
Project Management should be the launch pad for a career as a CIO. It covers all of the items that you listed and more (planning, scheduling, risk management, financial management, stakeholder management, and most importantly execution/delivery).
jfeldman
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jfeldman,
User Rank: Strategist
2/24/2014 | 5:56:52 PM
Re: Vendor Management
Another one of those razor's edges, Rob.  In gov, you're right, it's easy to know what to do.  A good rule is that if you or the organization gets something of any value, be willing to pay for it.  This helps to keep vendors in business and avoids hidden costs down the line. 
 
Big conflict of interest is easy to avoid.  If I need to go to a vendor site, surely my org can pony up for a plane ticket if it's that important.  If a vendor is sending me for "free", you can bet that my org will be paying for it eventually, most likely with a markup.  When I was on the vendor side, I'd frequently hear cackles of "we'll get that money back 10x over." So, ethical considerations aside, why not just pay for it in the first place?
 
The smaller conflict of interest stuff?  A lot harder, but just as important, because it leads to the bigger stuff.  Dishonesty flourishes because we enable it. Pay for your own darn lunch.  Go to lunch because you want to, not because there's a freebie attached. Free isn't really free, there will be hidden costs. TANSTAAFL: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.  Make sure you know what the value exchange is.
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