Skills You Need to Be the CIO

Larry Bonfante, Founder, CIO Bench Coach | 2/27/2013 | 38 comments

Larry Bonfante
Many people who I coach share with me their desire to become CIOs.

This often reminds me of a conversation I once had with an employee at Pfizer. I asked him what he wanted to do next in his career and he stated that he wanted my job. After a thorough conversation, we established that he wanted my office and my paycheck but didn't actually want my job.

For those of you who do aspire to the position of CIO, here are some competencies for you to think about acquiring. These are the key skills I use when working with my executive coaching clients to acquire and enhance.

The first is learning how to manage through influence. Even the most successful and powerful CIOs often have to drive an agenda not through direct control or authority but through their ability to get other leaders to see the value in aligning with their vision and approach. You can't force people to do what you want. You have to motivate them to want to do it on their own terms.

A second key competency is relationship management. There's an old axiom that states that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. In establishing strategic relationships, it's imperative that the people you engage know that you have their best interests at heart. Human nature makes us want to focus on our own agenda. Outstanding relationship managers focus on other people's needs and objectives understanding that helping others succeed is the key to personal success.

Communication is another core competency of an effective executive. Being able to articulate ideas in a way that people understand and that resonates with them is critical. Too many IT executives have not developed the skill of clear, forthright, and honest communication. Most of them speak the language of the IT department with its jargon and "geek speak." If you want to be a CIO, it's time to learn a new language.

Learning how to develop partnerships is another key competency. Getting people aligned around a common vision and mission and making them partners in your efforts as opposed to “employees” or “vendors” can mean the difference from getting solid results to accomplishing transformative change.

Marketing is another important skill. Many IT executives roll their eyes when I discuss marketing. But the reality is that you need to be effective in articulating a value proposition that gets people excited. People make decisions for emotional reasons as much (or more) than they do for logical reasons. Educating people as to the personal value they can glean from what you are trying to accomplish and getting them excited about taking that journey with you is critical. Marketing is not a dirty word but a critical skill.

As a CIO, you need to also develop a personal brand that resonates with your community. What is your brand? What are you known for? What adjectives would people use to describe you? What's the gap between how you are currently perceived and how you aspire to be perceived?

You also need to shift your focus from technology to business outcomes. Granted, we need to understand how to manage and deploy technology, but we need to do so with business outcomes in mind. Too many IT executives fall in love with technology for technology's sake. It's all about the business.

There are plenty of other skills you'll need, but this is an excellent start. What would you add to the list? And what are your biggest weaknesses on the list? Maybe we can put our heads together on how to help all of us be better leaders.

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tekedge   Skills You Need to Be the CIO   3/25/2013 12:54:22 PM
Skills you need to be the CIO
Are u a people person who can bridge the gap between Technology and Marketing it .You have to be able to have your feet in both boats and balance yourself. I think I look at a CIO in that role and do not envy them the pay packet!LOL
Susan Nunziata   Skills You Need to Be the CIO   3/5/2013 9:21:20 PM
Re: Good point
@Curt: Very sage advice indeed. 

My late Dad always used to tell me: Do what makes you happy.

On the surface that sounds really simple, right? But not so. First you have to really understand what it is that makes you happy, and that requires being completely honest and realistic with yourself. Not everyone can do that, so kudos to you for being able to make the  choice that was right for you.

Curious to know if any others in the community have decided to pass on career opportunities, and why? Tell us your story.
Susan Nunziata   Skills You Need to Be the CIO   3/5/2013 9:03:09 PM
Re: Having a skill without the position is not a bad thing
@JPoe: That's smart. Are there specific questions you ask potential job candidates that are designed to give you insight into their EQ or diplomatic skills? If so, I'd very much appreciate if you would share those questions with us. 
batye   Skills You Need to Be the CIO   3/3/2013 8:08:10 PM
Re: Good post.
right, if I could have $10 for each boss - who was not wired to lead... I would be reach... it not only self-awareness only but also refusal to admit... and staying unhappy while making life of subordinates hell...

it happens more often whan we know...

it sad - but it nature only strong will survive...
batye   Skills You Need to Be the CIO   3/3/2013 7:17:48 PM
Re: marketing resources
I think this days you need more and more skills as CIO, as each days technology changing, you need get education/training each six months....

even fist level of Tech.Support need to get upgrades uncluding set of customer service skills/knowledge of problem resolution...
Henrisha   Skills You Need to Be the CIO   3/3/2013 12:51:10 PM
Re: marketing resources
I think most people should have these skills if they want to move up in their field or get promoted and become better professionals, in general. Not just for CIOs, but for most other positions that will require you to deal with people and work with people. 
Henrisha   Skills You Need to Be the CIO   3/3/2013 12:50:04 PM
Re: Good post.
JPoe, you said it. Some leaders are born, some leaders are taught, some leaders are molded... But if you're not made of leadership material or you never caught on, then you're not fit to lead, sorry.
JPoe   Skills You Need to Be the CIO   2/28/2013 7:25:41 PM
Re: Good point

Exactly. Just because a person can do something doesn't mean he/she should.
JPoe   Skills You Need to Be the CIO   2/28/2013 7:24:02 PM
Re: Having a skill without the position is not a bad thing

It's funny: that's one of the things that I challenge potential candidates with--where I ask them about the relative importance of people and or emotional intelligence relative to technical stuff.
JPoe   Skills You Need to Be the CIO   2/28/2013 7:21:31 PM
Re: Good post.
@Taimoor, it's true: some people just are not wired to lead. Sadly, those people often lack self-awareness.
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