5 Leadership Skills CIOs, Senators Share

Georgia state senator John Albers says his former CIO career prepared him well for the perils of politics. Consider his advice on key leadership traits for both roles.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 8, 2012

4 Min Read

At first glance, Republican Senator John McCain and FedEx's widely respected CIO Robert Carter may not appear to have much in common. After all, McCain is best known for being a Senate leader and a presidential nominee. Carter, on the other hand, earned his stripes developing and implementing sophisticated IT systems.

But if you ask CIO-turned-state-senator John Albers, many of the leadership skills honed in an IT shop are a perfect fit for political office. Albers is an ideal example. As former CIO at Ronald Blue, a financial management firm, Albers and his IT team oversaw everything from IT security and network operations to project management and application development.

Although currently a partner at high-tech consultancy Slalom Consulting, Albers spends the majority of his time serving the families of Atlanta-area north Fulton County and the state of Georgia as a Republican state senator. It's a career transition that Albers said is only natural given his years as a techie.

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Here, Albers shares the top five leadership traits CIOs and senators share in common:

1. Personality Management
From hyperactive, 20-something software developers to soft-spoken veteran system administrators, Albers said running an IT shop with "myriad people with different personalities, from extroverts to introverts, demands that a CIO be versatile enough to get to the root of understanding all types of people, what motivates them, and what excites them."

That's excellent training ground for a life in politics, said Albers, where staff members and colleagues tend to fall into a single category: outspoken and extroverted. "When you're working as an elected official, you come in contact with a lot of outgoing personalities," said Albers. As a result, he said, "the political world is a little bit easier for me to handle in terms of personalities."

2. Bean Counting
With IT budgets shrinking from one year to the next, it's no surprise many IT leaders have shifted their thinking from bleeding-edge technology to the bottom line. The same goes for political office where taxpayers' dollars--and the way they're spent--are under constant scrutiny.

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"In the state of Georgia, we have a balanced budget and no deficit," said Albers. "We have to live within our means, so my years as a CIO were very good preparation in terms of prioritizing and making sure there's a return on investment on each and every tax dollar spent, the same way you would when running a business."

3. Collaboration Focused
When it came time to co-author legislation on the creation of a technology commission, Albers knew just what to do: convince government officials and private industry leaders to work together on a solution. It's a collaborative approach to problem solving Albers said CIOs are all too familiar with.

"I have learned in my background in technology that you can't do anything just by yourself," said Albers. "Thanks to a unified front, our technology commission was able to work together to make recommendations that will soon become legislation. I learned that same process by working with technology. You just can't make a radical change like replacing your accounting software or moving to a mobile platform without getting everyone together and finding out what their pain points are."

4. Competitive
According to Albers, the competitive streak that helped him push through high-risk IT projects is now what fuels his political campaigns, albeit with one slight difference. "To me, a big win is implementing a successful IT project. I count that as a win and celebrate the victory of getting the job done. But it's more of an internal win than an external win." Winning an election, on the other hand, is about "winning good things for your constituents," said Albers.

5. Multi-Task Mastery
Working as a consultant for Slalom Consulting means Albers often has a lot of balls in the air, from researching emerging technologies to driving organizational changes in growing companies. "In the consultant world, I get to do lots of different things all the time, serving clients using a variety of solutions," he said.

To be sure, the same rules apply as state senator where Albers now must juggle the interests of taxpayers, local business leaders, and government officials alike. It's just that this time, "I'm the 'P' in PLM (product lifecycle management)," he laughed.

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