CIOs and the ideal management style

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“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) Dutch painter

Today’s article is the seventh in a series of articles (1st Steve Jobs, 2nd Michael Dell, 3rd Warren Buffet, 4th Bill Gates, 5th Larry Ellison, 6th Eric Schmidt), analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders.

These blogposts have been informational for me and my readers and I have certainly learnt a lot from all the different management styles of these ‘new age’ leaders. It was fascinating to read that while they all had common aspects, they were also very different indeed.

As a result of these blogposts, books that I read, academic and vocational qualifications and my own experience, I decided to outline my thoughts on the qualities that are needed to become a successful CIO.

1. The start of a CIO’s career within a new organisation:

There is a general assumption within IT that a CIO’s career starts once the interview process is over. This is one of the worst assumptions to be made by a prospective CIO. The aspiring CIO needs to understand the prospective organisation that he/she wants to work with and ensure that it is a good fit for his/hers skills and that the ‘culture’ of the organisation supports change and is quite open to ‘challenging the status quo.’ I would suggest that the CIO has done his/her research on the organisation prior to the interview to establish that it is an organisation that they want to work with and assist to achieve the business benefits that the organisation perceives will be achieved once the CIO joins. The CIO MUST ask the right questions at the interview and ensure that there is indeed a ‘strategic fit’ for both the CIO and the employing organisation.

Read the job specification well and look for indicators that may lead to problems or that highlight that ‘strategic fit.’ Try and define (fine tune) the role to establish, for example, How will IT success be defined and measured?

2. The job begins:

As soon as you join/start an organisation as a CIO, make a list of strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your organisation on a piece of paper as that will enable you to plan effectively and to ‘hit’ the problem areas first. Go into the job well prepared, as by that stage, you had ample opportunity to look at the job specification, research the organisation and the interview gave you ‘key’ information to utilise. Start building your credibility by establishing some areas for ‘quick wins’ and be careful to strike a fine balance between ‘moving too fast or slow.’ For example, trying to impress your boss by moving too quickly to make something happen that results in an awkward explanation to him/her has to be avoided at all cost. Take decisive action, as moving slow can also adversely affect your credibility.

3. Communication and establishing relationships:

Listen, learn and communicate. As soon as you are comfortable, conduct a business/IT review. I am not going to give this consideration as a separate bullet point because I believe that it has to be done by establishing relationships. These relationships will be ‘key in analysing the business and IT and will provide the information that the CIO seeks. This communication and relationship building cycle has to take precedent as the CIO casts a wide ‘networking’ net across the organisation. Talk to senior executives’, gatekeepers, junior staff and all the people who use IT to do their everyday jobs. These are the people who will inform you where IT is delivering value, where business fails and how to strike the right balance.

Conduct ‘one to one’ interviews, inform people within your organisation your goals and communicate to your team your leadership style. Be honest and transparent with people as everyone hates the ‘new smart ass guy/gal.’

4. Lead and innovate:

Always follow your instincts and look for ideas to nurture. Encourage innovation and ask your team to set aside at least 10-20% of their time for projects that they want to do (during business hours). Google and 3M have done this very successfully and if they can do it, so can you. Look for opportunities while constantly analysing every aspect of IT and your team, looking for improvements.

Be visionary and ensure that you present a vision to your team that is representative of where the business wants to be or is heading towards. Create a culture of change and nurture the ‘right’ talent within your team and if hiring externally ensure that ‘action oriented employees’ are selected.

Finally, ensure appropriate metrics and scorecards are used to chart your progress (key success factors and key performance indicators) from just ‘keeping the lights on’ to actually ‘driving business transformation.’


Related Information:

Who is a CIO?

A CIO is a leader who has an excellent overview of IT, business and how people interact with each other. He can then apply that knowledge to understand where a business is going (Business Vision) and ensure that IT systems and procedures are developed to realise that vision and along the way, if he/she can realise financial savings/contribute to the bottom line (actually utilise IT to earn revenue), he/she become indispensable and should head for stardom. For example, Tesco’s Ex IT Director became their CEO –

Why hire a CIO?

To ensure that the above actually happens and that the IT systems are actually working towards creating value for the business and are delivering the business vision with assistance from the IT systems.

Why a CIO is important in an organisation?

A CIO is important as without a board level director (CIO), IT manager’s cannot represent IT effectively to the business. Read my blogpost: Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality? –

Roles and Responsibilities of a CIO

Deliver the business vision
Create the ‘buy in’ from internal and external relationships to deliver that vision
Develop effective and reliable IT systems to deliver that vision
Empower IT teams to make good decisions
Effective and brilliant leadership

Criteria for Becoming a CIO

Leadership skills, inspirational capability, tenacity, ability to make good educated calculations of where both business and IT are heading towards (especially the IT capability, for example, In House systems vs. Cloud), Excellent networker and people person, team player and good communication skills, especially the ability ‘to listen.’

For More Info:

Master of Information Leadership (MIL) for aspiring CIOs delivered by City University, London

First 100 Days as CIO

Top 10 guidance tips for new CIOs and IT leaders

London School of Business puts whole MBA course on Facebook


About mubbisherahmed
I am passionate about IT and its ability to deliver cost effective, value for money solutions that can enhance performance and in many cases provide competitive advantage by using a range of solutions and approaches in innovative ways.

5 Responses to CIOs and the ideal management style

  1. mubbisherahmed says:

    Richard Whaley said the following on a social media site:

    You are correct when you say there can be many management styles. However, I feel that the right mix depends to a large scale on the organization itself. Upper management may impose some management criteria that the CIO must confirm to. The demands of the users and the size of the CIO’s team to respond to those users will help define the management style. And, most important, the abilities of the CIO’s team will define managment requirements/style.

    You cannot allow independent work if the members of the team are not independent workers. If the team requires micro-management, the CIO may be forced into micromanamement. If the team is composed of independent workers, simply assigning tasks (or types of tasks) may be enough to ensure that everything needed is accomplished. This allows a CIO to manage direction and upper level new projects, leaving the day-to-day to the team.

    Frequently, however, teams consist of both independent workers and those needing daily direction. This presents special HR challenges as some of the managed workers will feel they should be allowed independent work. Assigning pairs of employees to tasks, building small teams with mixed abilities, etc all help.

    Good Question! Wish I had more time to reply. Maybe I will elaborate later or on my blog as well!

  2. mubbisherahmed says:

    Steve Burrows said the following on a social media site:

    I hope that as leaders CIOs don’t spend much time managing 😉

    Anyway, your post says most of it, I would merely say inspires informative innovation.

  3. mubbisherahmed says:

    Alistair Harper said the following on a social media site:

    I think CIO’s need to be collaborative and communicative as well as strategic and technology savvy. In my experience, I have found many many IT folks work with technology because they prefer the logical interaction with a machine to that of an illogical human. CIO’s need to bridge the gap in an organization and ensure that clarity of purpose is communicated to and from the technology area.

    I replied:

    Alistair, I agree. It’s not about the technology, it’s always about the people. It’s about understanding the requirements of the business and how people within that business are currently using IT/want to use IT. Most importantly it’s about communication, communication and more communication enabling relationships within the organisation with IT management to get to a stage where anyone can pick up the phone/talk to the CIO about how they feel the technology is working for them.

    Let’s not forget the ability to ‘listen.’
    Thanks for your honest feedback.

  4. Pingback: Louis V Gerstner (CEO IBM 1993-2002 ) management style and CIOs « Engaged IT for the CIO

  5. mubbisherahmed says:

    David Henderson left the following advice on a social media site: Listen well, get out of the office a lot, spend most time with senior business leaders & external partners, articulate a clear vision, communicate it with verve and excitement to IT staff, business leaders and external partners.

    Ron Orrick added: Eyes first, ears second, mouth third, feet fourth, hands last.

    First, be generally observant. Watch what people DO and draw from that the real drivers (business and personal) in the constituents David mentioned. Second, listen to what those same stakeholders SAY. If it doesn’t match what they do, find out why. Sometimes this will track back to an individual who is being disingenuous, but most often it’s due to either the fact that the person desires to do what they say and are prevented from it individually (don’t know how) or are prevented from it organizationally (they can be shared advocates for change, with you). Third, SPEAK to your peers and the Board in a connected way, demonstrating a clear grasp of industry and company direction translated into value offered from your department. Then, speak to your teams in terms of mission and direct them to develop tactics and design around those missions… then, feed it back. Fourth, DO the things your department and company has decided to do, and last, GOVERN the process in a proactive manner, motivating, challenging, pushing, rewarding…

    of course, again, always and only; my opinions!

    (David said it better, and in fewer words!)

    I replied:

    @ David @ Ron: Many thanks for the feedback. It is quite interesting to get feedback from all the different discussion groups, I am a member of and I am intrigued that your feedback is quite similar to the other groups.

    Very valuable, in my opinion, as through LI, I have been able to collect feedback and advice from people who have personal experience of being in these situations. Many years ago, we would have read books to get such feedback and here we are in the present, collecting this advice for free, in almost real-time!

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