From IT executive to boardroom

Oct 03 2002 by Brian Amble Print This Article

“There is no longer any doubt about the importance of the role of CIO” reports Michael Earl of London Business School in a report on the New IT in the New Economy: The Rise of Something Different (2001).

Where as the Financial Director’s role has long been established, that of the IT Director is a relatively new one. No universally recognised professional qualification is available and the job confers no automatic strategic positioning in business. The IT professional has to rely on personal track record and above all personal credibility for appointment and influence. So how can IT executives equip themselves with the necessary skills and prepare to become tomorrow’s business leaders?

New research by The IMPACT Programme, confirms that “new CIOs” are very senior and operate in a positive context, but also suggests that they enjoy complete clarity of role and purpose. The research involved questioning some 1000 IT Directors on their personal value propositions and gives an insight into what personal qualities IT professionals need to be the best and become tomorrow’s business leaders. But what is the best?

Arguably the best CIOs lead their companies in establishing IT strategy as well as running IT operations. They aid their fellow executives in understanding how thoroughly IT undermines the old business order as it creates new market prospects. The best CIOs know that they cannot leave the evangelizing, cajoling and inspiring to their CEOs. As IT leaders, they are closest to the vision of technological possibility aligned with business opportunity. Such CIOs value good people over good systems. They consider themselves businesspeople rather than technologists. They are relentless to the point of paranoia in keeping abreast of technological change—not for the latest upgrade or the most powerful hardware but for the most significant change in the way their companies can, and therefore must, use IT.

Clarity of Purpose
The new breed of IT leaders will articulate a compelling future for their people and their organisations. They will ensure they are well informed and have sufficient insight and understanding to see strategic opportunities quickly. Crucially they will combine this vision with an ability to illuminate complex issues to business colleagues, board and CEO. This ability will be based not on a command of language but on the ability to empathise with their colleagues’ concerns and lead them in their thinking.

Personal Profile
The new leaders will have a high, positive profile combining an open approach to relationships with positive energy and a dynamic, can-do attitude. They will have the ear of the CEO because they are seen, first and foremost as serious and successful business people operating at the heart of the organisation. This business attitude will be based on a set of values and beliefs that manifestly reflect those of the organisation. This does not imply a slavish following of established methods and culture but a genuine commitment to its mission and purposes.

Act, Don’t React
Next generation IT leaders will be able to make things happen, taking action and leading by example. They will take risks, confident in the results they can achieve and the greater rewards that will follow. They will have the persistence to deliver and succeed and a deep-rooted self-belief that transcends adversity, taking responsibility for things under their control and for their reactions to events they cannot control.

Facilitate and Manage Change
Increasingly the IT leader will be seen as the focal point for change in the organisation. Change is uncomfortable and usually unwelcome, so the ‘change master’ will attract dislike. This is part of the higher profile for the IT leader which is emerging and the practitioner will need to be comfortable with this. Again, this presupposes a level of confidence and self-belief that underpins successful performance.

Be, Don’t Do
The acid test of leadership is this: if you were stripped of your title, and the power to punish and reward your people, would you still get results out of them? Successful leaders combine an energetic spirit with a sense of priority and perspective and know how to relax. They inspire respect and trust because of who they are, their identity and purpose, not because of what they do or say. They are seen by their teams as consistent in their values, beliefs and behaviour. They cannot be caught off-guard because they walk their talk.

Develop People Better than Yourself
The new breed of leaders will take succession seriously and work to develop, motivate and promote people who will become even better that themselves. The combined effort of motivation, creativity and unleashing the human spirit will be the biggest single factor in business success as we move into the next century. This capability has always been a hallmark of the effective business leader and is increasingly vital for the IT leader as technology moves into the mainstream of almost all organisations.

Master of Change
How IT emerges in the new century will depend of the identity, attitudes and spirit of everyone, but in particular of our leaders. To survive and thrive, to take organisations into new territories and to shape a compelling new vision of reality for people requires the courage to adopt new attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, the skills to use them effectively and the wisdom to apply them.

It is the IT leader who needs insight into how to make a success of knowledge management, ecommerce and e-everything. It is the IT leader who must have the personal capability to exercise the necessary leadership. Balancing this with the delivery of traditional, still-in-demand IS is an elusive mix for the master of change who must also me the custodian of stability.

In all of this there is one commonality: CIOs usually have a strong leadership profile. That is not to say that they were born that way, but rather like body-builders they have developed their leadership muscle. How can IT executives build their leadership skills?