December 25, 2009 — Who is Qualified to be a CIO?


The career pinnacle for most Information Technology professionals is the Chief Information Officer position. Achieving that role depends on whether you are qualified for the position, if the opportunity presents itself, and if you can successfully market yourself in way that takes advantage of the opportunities.

In my thirty year career in IT I have encountered numerous people who thought they could be or should be the CIO. Many of them thought they should replace me. Among these is a class of people who should never be placed anywhere close to the CIO’s office:

The Peanut Gallery – the denizens of this great deep are supremely confident and often have the arrogance of ignorance. Some see the CIO sitting in his office drinking coffee, talking on the phone, and issuing orders. They are not quite sure what the CIO does, but it looks like fun. Some of these folks are actually quite good at what they do, but they filter their thinking through their own frame of reference. Quite simply, they do not know what they do not know.

The Bureaucratic Horrors – these well-meaning employees are usually in operational positions and skilled at keeping things on an even keel. These are the people you need to keep your IT organization running in a silky smooth manner. But when they attempt to extend their imperatives upwards through the organization they can be dangerous. Their goal is to conquer the office of the CIO and work on achieving stasis in the IT group. This would result in a frozen technology organization, drifting into the sea-lanes of the business; endangering enterprise initiatives, and stifling innovation.

The Twisted Leaders are people who often excel at some level in the organization. They have natural leadership skills and will collect a group of followers who are susceptible to influence. This individual will lack basic management skills and must micromanage everything under his control. The twisted leader often lives in a reality distortion field, and loves to think great thoughts. The supremely self-confident ego drives him above and beyond his capabilities. This sort of individual is exceedingly dangerous because he will bypass all levels of management and convincingly ingratiate himself with the CEO and COO. If he ever gains control he will launch a great crusade and destroy the IT group like Napoleon did to his army at the gates of Moscow.

Then there is the raw material from which future CIOs are constructed. Remember we are working with an unfinished product here. The CIO who does not actively put his hands into the Play-Dough of future leadership is not doing his job.

The Builder is the person who loves to build things. It may be a software system; it may be data center infrastructure. It even may be a comprehensive training framework for IT employees. Such an individual should be cultivated. Train her in how to complete projects on-time and on-budget. Make sure she understands how to build things which create value for the business. Lead her into projects which begin the transition for her from a tactical worldview to the strategic. Many of these people will top out at some level – the Peter Principle is still alive and well. However, a small percentage could eventually make it into your office, or perhaps even to the CEO’s chair. They represent the future.

The Fixer – This poor individual has a compulsion to fix broken things. If you ever are called in to salvage a badly dysfunctional IT shop, this guy will be supremely valuable. He is worth developing, if for no other reason than he is probably an Enterprise Architect in the making. He might also migrate into Business Process Reengineering. With growth and development, he might be capable of fixing even a broken corporation.

The Delegator does not know how to fix anything, or how to build something. But she knows how to identify people who do have these abilities and set them to work. If she can be trained to develop a vision for the business, she will be able to manage massive organizations and complete huge amounts of work. She knows how to hold people accountable. She may not be well liked, but she will be enormously successful.

The Entrepreneuri> is someone my boss calls an Idea Hamster. They are constantly looking for ways to leverage the technology to advance the Enterprise. They watch for the things that create new value for the business, and therefore ultimately create wealth. Some entrepreneurs flame out when their ideas grow larger than their capabilities to manage. Those remain useful in a forward thinking IT shop. The ones who can grow their other skills have the foundations for greatness.

With the backgrounds for potential CIOs outlined, we will, next time, explore how they move forward.

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