What a CIO Needs in a Director

Larry Bonfante, Founder, CIO Bench Coach | 11/5/2013 | 22 comments

Larry Bonfante
Hiring quality leaders is a tricky business. In my mind it's as much art as science.

I have been very fortunate to have surrounded myself with exceptional leaders on my teams throughout the years. How much of this is dumb luck vs. skill can easily be debated. However, there are some key characteristics I look for in leaders that may be of value to you in considering your next hire.

Most of the people I know recruit for talent and knowledge. Certainly surrounding yourself with highly skilled staff is always a good idea. However, I have a slightly different focus. I believe that while innate intelligence and skills are important, that attitude is more important than aptitude. First of all, technology and business change so quickly that what you know today could be useless in a few years. Having current technical skills or understanding the existing business process is valuable but has a limited shelf life.

I think it is more important to have an open and inquisitive mind. Can the person learn new things? Are they open to thinking about how to do things in different ways? Are they inquisitive about new business processes and functional areas of responsibility? I want people who have the ability to learn and the desire to learn. I don't need people who already "know it all" because they aren't open to re-thinking things in a different context.

I recruit people who are excellent communicators and relationship builders. To be effective we need to create an environment of partnership and collaboration. I need people who can flourish in an environment where you accomplish things through influence and communication not through “brute force” or the weight of your position.

I also want to surround myself with leaders who have a passion for developing people and supporting their success. I'm interested in team leaders not dictators. I need people who can be seen as members of the team and contributors to their people's success.

Perhaps most importantly, I need people who fit into the kind of culture I am trying to build and maintain. I have witnessed over the years that the worst hires are people who simply don't fit into the organizational culture you are trying to create. I'm not a fan of "lone wolves." I want people who can work as part of a team and check their egos at the door.

I also want people who are willing to subjugate their personal agenda for the team's agenda. No one person, no matter how talented, is bigger or more important than the team. It takes a certain type of personality to debate their perspective but be willing to align around the team's decision even if it doesn't jibe with the way they would do things.

Finally, I want to surround myself with people who have the integrity and the intestinal fortitude to tell me when I'm wrong or full of boloney. The biggest risk a leader has is that he or she becomes somewhat separated from the reality of what happens at a grass roots level. I need people to tell me when the emperor has no clothes, so that we can address challenges early on before they become disasters.

It isn’t a short list, but people who fit that description make excellent leaders for your department. What do you think? Have I forgotten any traits you think are important? Do you think my standards are too high? Comment below.

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kstaron   What a CIO Needs in a Director   11/22/2013 4:57:35 PM
Right in Line
I think your standards are right in line with building a great team. A skill set can be augmented, an attitude rarely can. And having someone that work both as an independent with their own ides and processes that can also play nice with others and work well as part of a team is like striking gold. Someone with a good attitude that can fit into the team dynamic can always be taught how you do things.
SunitaT   What a CIO Needs in a Director   11/21/2013 12:48:59 AM
Re : What a CIO Needs in a Director
The process of selecting the right leader for the right department varies from person to person and board to board. While one may want skilled technical experts in R&D, one may look for management skills in Mergers & Acquisitions. A leader should take risks, not be afraid to open him up and share with people superior to him, help his juniors with any task, be tactical, and at the same time be able to adapt him with the changing present. However everyone has a limit up to which he/she can handle changes. But what happens when one crosses that limit? Does he become a liability? Are his days as a leader numbered?
nasimson   What a CIO Needs in a Director   11/10/2013 5:40:03 AM
"When the king is naked, say it"
> The biggest risk a leader has is that he or she becomes somewhat
> separated from the reality of what happens at a grass roots level.
> I need people to tell me when the emperor has no clothes, so that
> we can address challenges early on before they become disasters.

In our team, we promote this phrase: "When the king is naked, say it!".
It takes some courage & guts. Some people do not feel comfortable
pointing their boss' mistakes. But it has helped us raise some warning
signals early.
Shamika   What a CIO Needs in a Director   11/7/2013 10:14:45 PM
Re: Changing aptitude
"I also want people who are willing to subjugate their personal agenda for the team's agenda". This is the commitment towards work.  I think many people are lacking in this area where they are given priority for the personal agenda.
Shamika   What a CIO Needs in a Director   11/7/2013 10:14:25 PM
Re: Changing aptitude
I agree with you sara. When you understand the person is not the "Right" match you are so late. This will lead towards many issues for the employee as well teams that get along with that employee.
jastro   What a CIO Needs in a Director   11/7/2013 9:27:24 AM
Re: Balance
@sara - Yes, it's a hard road to ponder. If you are being hired as a "change agent" or as a "troubleshooter" then the path is much more clear. But being hired as a team member or a team manager, I've always found realistic suggestions refreshing. Not too many choices, and not too expensive, but thoughtful and within the realm of the possible, and showing value.
Shamika   What a CIO Needs in a Director   11/7/2013 6:17:50 AM
Re: Needs for Director
Desire to learn is an important aspect. It help in enhancing knowledge and doing research on new things.
Shamika   What a CIO Needs in a Director   11/7/2013 6:17:23 AM
Re: Needs for Director
Interesting article and this is what is not happening in most of the organizations. As you correctly said attitudes is more important. The technology can be changed, however the mindset of the person should able to handle the change and act with the same.
zerox203   What a CIO Needs in a Director   11/6/2013 9:40:57 PM
Re: Needs for Director
Thanks for this, Larry. We talk often about Cloud Computing and Big Data, but the truth is those are topics most IT people probably already know the nuts and bolts of. Of course, coverage of upcoming news on those fronts is great, but much more rarely do we get to discuss something like this that might be a couple more steps away from our core activities. For that very reason, I think it's an area where a lot of IT pros could use the tips, though, and some of them may not even realize it. A little coverage here goes a long way, In my opinion.

IT has evolved far behind a simple team-manager hierarchy, and now there are teams upon teams reporting to one another in different and complex ways. I've heard article (right here on E2, in fact) talking about how at some organizations CIOs report to marketing officers or CFOs, at others directly to the CEO, and at still others work indepedently. In that same way, it goes double for the managers and directors beneath the CIO - some report to one another, some to him, and some independent. It's a complicated web that we could all use some help navigating.

Sara Peters   What a CIO Needs in a Director   11/6/2013 4:58:40 PM
Re: Changing aptitude
@Pedro  Do you think maybe companies also tend to look for "skills" because they're easier to identify than attitude? Most skills can be found on a resume, while the right attitude might not be evident until an interview.
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