CIO Leadership – does it exist?
A Leader is a dealer in hope” – Napoleon Bonaparte
Are all CIOs leaders or followers? Does it matter where the CIO sits in an organisation to be a leader within that organisation? Can you learn to be a CIO Leader? These are questions that I have heard for a long time in my career. As a seasoned CIO I ask myself them constantly – am I a leader or a follower? The answer is not easy as it depends on your personal journey through the professional career you have chosen and within the context of the organisations you have worked for. In some organisations I was a leader, in others I was a followers while in others I was both – schizophrenic or what!
However, I believe that CIO leaders are not made with a bit of strategy, some SMART objectives, a touch of management, a dash of result-driven targets and a sprinkle of fairy dust. Leadership is not something you learn and just do. It is definitely not something you do to your minions. For a CIO, leadership is a journey of discovery that inspires, persuades and fascinates your followers by your own passion, integrity, authenticity and courage.
To many times I hear exceptional leadership competency required in the recruitment of the next CIO or management schools describing a tool-set that will provide a “certificate” in leadership or psychometric executive tests that purport to identify leadership by esoteric responses to benign multiple-choice questions. All dilute the very nature of leadership into a set of tools and skills that concentrate on communication, influence and setting smart objectives. Important these skills are obviously, BUT they are not leadership.
I contend that learning a set of skills does not make you a leader – how do you learn passion, integrity, authenticity and courage?
So, how does a CIO become a leader?
In the journey towards leadership I believe that a CIOs first step is “is he/she comfortable in their own skin?” That is to say have they reached a point in their lives where they confidently feel able to assess a situation without panicking about the outcome? They stop, reflect and then decide how they would respond in a perfect world and then adapt to reality. The old adage of “ask for forgiveness – not permission”. This presence in the CIO’s demeanour instils the confidence in his followers to follow.
The second step on this journey is the ability for a CIO to be “genuine”. This personality trait can come in different shapes and sizes and is about who you are. Strong CIO leaders use their natural talents (for technology, visioning, logic, detail, etc) in collaboration with others that have skills & strengths they do not possess. They do not invest in developing their weaknesses.
The third step is a personal unshakable conviction – the power to make things happen, in order to change things and then having the tools and skills to convince others in their hearts and minds about your belief. Enthuse your followers from a possible apathy of I cannot to a supportive attitude of I can.
And the last step on this journey is Passion. How often have you seen good ideas fall away just because the person who cared goes away? Good CIO leaders make things happen via a touch of passion to drive their vision through. The CIO vision is their picture of the future that they start living immediately even though it may just be imagined or dreamed. Passion is the basic ingredient of the CIO vision of the future.
Through this trait it inspires confidence and energises change around the CIO – it can in time be infectious, when passion is fully unleashed, the idea becomes unstoppable – good or evil. All good leaders are dreamers – not all dreamers are great leaders.
So I am a leader? Are you a leader? Who is a leader?
A great man in my life – Antonio Mancera, taught me a fundamental lesson in life when I was just 9 years old – he said, whatever you do in life, believe you will make the difference because if you believe you will make the difference, you will. Leaders make the difference.