Saturday, 29 October 2011

Seven leadership skills CIOs need to drive results

Technology is the single most powerful enabling force available in business today, but as executives and boards of directors recognize its potential, CIOs must have the right leadership skills in place to deliver on heightened expectations, according to Gartner, Inc. and Korn/Ferry.

Analysts at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo today agreed that there has never been a more energizing time to be a CIO. However, the flip side to this is that today’s most successful CIOs must deliver exceptional results.

In the recently published book “The CIO Edge – Seven Leadership Skills You Need To Drive Results”, Graham Waller vice president and executive partner with Gartner Executive Programs; George Hallenbeck director, intellectual property development, for Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting; and Karen Rubenstrunk, formerly with Korn/Ferry’s CIO practice, examine the key skills CIOs need and how to develop them. 

“CIOs understand they need to manage IT processes in order to deliver results and to meet key expectations. They also understand the need to lead people in order to deliver on those goals. However, what many don’t understand is the incredibly important interplay between the two,” said Mr. Waller. “Focusing on leadership and people skills - the ‘soft’ things that many CIOs tend to minimize in their quest to keep up with their day-to-day responsibilities of managing IT - is in fact the biggest determinate of their success, or failure.”

IT executives who have the best relationships and can earn ‘followership’, not only with their employees, but more importantly with their business partners within and outside the organization, tend to make the most effective business technology executives.

“During the course of our research, we observed the CIOs with the best people skills used these soft skills to influence expectations well ahead of when priorities were set or a project began,” Mr. Hallenbeck said. “Before a dime was budgeted, or staff time allocated, they were meeting with their colleagues and engaging in candid two-way conversations that defined what success would look like. Then they delivered against the expectations they helped set and as a result, the organization felt the investment of time and money in IT was worth it. Soft skills produced hard results.”

“The CIO Edge is dedicated to these seven leadership skills and their professional and personal payoff,” said Ms. Rubenstrunk. “Cynics might argue that CIOs who excel at soft skills might deliver soft results. However, a clear pattern from our interviews showed that the best CIOs, the ones who excel at people leadership, also set the most aggressive goals and hold their people accountable to the highest performance standards.”

Following three years of data-driven research, Mr. Waller, Mr. Hallenbeck and Ms. Rubenstrunk distilled their findings down to the behavioral patterns and key skills they believe to be the most critical to success. Specifically, high-performing CIOs distinguish themselves by mastering the following seven skills:

Commit to Leadership First and Everything Else Second.
Gartner and Korn/Ferry’s research reveals that the highest performing CIOs are effective because they embrace the idea that everything they need to accomplish will be achieved through people, by people, and with people. They don’t pay lip service to that idea. They live it. They lead.

Lead Differently than You Think.
A high-performing CIO is an incredibly complex and creative thinker. Yet when the time comes to lead, they don’t rely on their superior ‘smarts’ and analytical skills to come up with the best possible solution. They act collaboratively.

Embrace Your Softer Side.
Effective CIOs manage the paradox of gaining more influence by letting go of control and allowing themselves to be vulnerable. In turn, that vulnerability enables them to create deep, personal connections — connections that provide the ability to inspire people both inside and outside their organization.

Forge the Right Relationships to Drive the Right Results.
This skill may not be surprising. High performing CIOs spend a greater percentage of their time and energy managing relationships that exist sideways: with internal peers, external suppliers, and customers. They purposely invest in horizontal relationships which form the foundation to drive extraordinary results.

Master Communication.
The best CIOs know that their colleagues - especially the people who work for them - are always watching. These executives understand they are always on stage. They take advantage of that situation by constantly reiterating core messages and values. Through their focus on clarity, consistency, authenticity, and passion, they make sure their message is not only understood but also felt. They want to communicate a feeling that compels people to take the right actions.

Inspire Others.
In exchange for a regular paycheck, most people will give an adequate performance. But they will only give their best work if they believe they are involved in something greater than themselves. The best CIOs provide a compelling vision that connects people to how their enterprise wins in the marketplace and that their contributions are meaningful and valued.

Build People, Not Systems.
By developing people all around them, these CIOs increase their capability and capacity to deliver results. They also know that leaving behind the next generation of leaders is the best thing they can do for the organization—it will be their lasting legacy.

The three authors warned CIOs that mastering soft skills can never be a replacement for the key management aspects of the job. It is instead a powerful enabler and an amplifying force that allows individuals to exceed expectations and maximize the value from IT.

“All CIOs must deliver results. What distinguishes the best is how they do it: through people, by people, and with people,” Mr. Waller said.