As an enterprise journalist, I have been very inspired by many CIO success stories, especially if they were to do with innovative technology applications, learning to marry business with technology and showing RoI. It meant we are seeing a technologist‘s brain with a businessperson’s instincts- a lethal combination by any standards.
But equally hard-hitting stories are about where the bolt came from the blue, and despite every sign of a successful career, a CIO finds a pink slip. Or discovers a straight-line career graph- or worse still, is sidelined by the leadership team of which she was a part a short while ago.
What went wrong?
Many career crippling moves are inadvertent. The biggest one is, getting consumed by technology, and believing IT can solve every enterprise situation. To stay on a high career growth path, CIOs need to see beyond the obvious- beyond the KRAs, beyond the IT responsibilities. They need to focus on the business aspect more than the technical aspect. With digital transformation well into the industry, technologies are set on an advantage already. The CIO does not need to limit herself to just IT. Now the role will need real leadership strength- that of a team lead that carries the whole team into a digital culture. Beyond IT – with a higher understanding level of the business pain points and a clearer insight into the impact these points can have on the bottom line. This understanding will steer a new thought process, for finding a solution that helps business. Technology then is just an enabler of the business solution. Remarkably, this is one of the reasons most CIOs don’t manage to garner a seat at the ‘Table’- because they usually have nothing to say beyond the technology!
This brings us to the second, but equally important shortfall that CIOs fail to notice on their resume- being short on EQ, communication and other skills. Essentially, most of them wear blinkers to the need for non-IT skills. And this subjects a very large number of organizational leaders to the ‘Peter Principle’ which says that “every position in a given hierarchy will eventually be filled by employees who are incompetent to fulfill the job duties of their respective positions’. It also means that they will “rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach a level of respective incompetence’. In the case of a tech position like IT, climbing up the ladder must mean non-IT competencies like marketing, business planning, and even collaboration. If a CIO only excels in technology, she will only lead in technology implementations, and not be able to manage business expectations- making her unfit for growth into leadership cadres.
In today’s hugely competitive environment, growth is driven by not only one’s competencies but also one’s connections. Networking is thus another skill CIOs need to excel in, to stay on top of a career graph. As business relationships, it’s a mutual growth curve- with peer connections, peer learning, and support- that can drive successful careers. Being insular is not a good idea for a CIO or any CXO, at any stage of their career- it can only lead to isolation, and it’s lonely at the top!
And finally, a pitfall all leaders see at some time if they are not too careful- failing to perceive change as a forward movement. Their failure to understand that not moving with the times will mean a certain stagnation. The inability to change leaves many CIOs stuck in a non-existent era- whether it is about technology or about team structure- or even team dynamics. Every decade the corporate behaviors of the newest generation, change. Technology is easy to read up and stay updated with- it is behaviors that complicate socio-cultural and finally professional stands.
It pays to keep moving – stay ahead of technology, stay abreast of social and popular changes, and stay in line with your peers- use connections for growth.
Ensuring these few things will make sure CIOs can protect their career until they are ready to hang up the proverbial boots!