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Five Ways You Can Impress Your CEO

CEOs will increasingly demand that IT leaders excel in leadership, strategic thinking, marketing IT, business and communication. Prepare for the change

Reader ROI

  • Why CIOs have to connect technology to their CEO's strategic intent
  • The importance of getting out of the office
  • Why marketing isn't a dirty word

What do CEOs want from their CIOs, and how can CIOs build on the power gains they've built up, even as everything around them is changing?

CIO (US) magazine tackled just that subject during a panel session at the recent CIO Leadership Conference, recently held in Boston. Rajinder (Raj) Gupta, executive director and adjunct professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management; Chris Patrick, partner at executive search firm Egon Zehnder International; Robert Badavas, president and CEO of staffing firm TAC Worldwide; and Steve Merry, CIO of the Sara Lee Corporation, discussed the importance of CIOs as strategic business leaders and the changing role of the CIO.

They found five main keys to being a top-notch CIO today - and tomorrow.

ONE: Be a Strategic Business Leader

Much of the CIO traditional role is now merely table stakes. Technology itself will not set you apart; you need far more business expertise than CIOs of yesteryear did.

CIO: What has changed about what CEOs expect from CIOs?

Raj Gupta: I have talked to 15 to 20 CEOs directly, and they are looking for someone who can be a trusted business partner. Of course the CIO has to keep the trains running, but CEOs want the CIO to be a senior leader such that, when you are together with the rest of the executive team, it's hard to tell you are the CIO.

Chris Patrick: CEOs want people who can connect the technology to their strategic intent. I have clients who are investing billions of dollars in IT. They want a person who can show the team the ROI from this investment.

Bob Badavas: At the end of the day, what CIOs are paid to do is take a full seat at the strategic planning table and be an integral part of the strategic decision making - which means they need to know what business they're in. Get out of the office and find out why people buy your product or service. IT is a strategic weapon. To find out how to use it, the CIO must engage with clients and the front-line distribution or sales organization.

Steve Merry: Technology is a given; we need to get value from that by removing the clutter and making it easy to use. Then we can sit with our business partners and take the business forward, focusing on things that make a difference - growth, innovation and acquisitions.

TWO: Speak the Language of the Business.

Everyone's talking about the "strategic CIO", but is everyone ready? Maybe not. That's why you need to sharpen your communication skills - and work for a CEO who supports today's version of the CIO role.

CIO: I don't know of any CIO or CEO who would disagree with the need for CIOs to drive business value. But not everyone is succeeding in doing that. Do CEOs really mean what they say about their CIOs?

Patrick: CEOs all read the same Harvard Business Review articles. They all want "strategic CIOs". But often they are not sure what to do with them and how to best leverage the talent and expertise these individuals can bring.

Gupta: While everyone wants this strategic role, both sides are not quite sure if the CIO is ready. The test I pose to CIOs is: Can they talk to the management committee and outside stakeholders in a language that doesn't label them as a CIO? That's the test of credibility.

The CEO isn't quite ready as well. They are so engaged in keeping the business running that they have trouble finding time to give the CIO the opportunity to be a strategic business driver. They must have commitment and belief and not just talk the talk.

CIO: Bob, as our representative CEO, how do you respond to that?

Badavas: CEOs have the company they deserve. If I say get out of the office and don't give you a travel budget, who are we kidding? I can't say IT is important if I'm cutting initiatives that could enhance the value of our infrastructure. I can't pontificate on how you should transform yourself if I'm not willing to make a personal investment. My responsibility to all my direct reports is to have an environment that allows them to blossom to their full extent, and to allow them to make mistakes. I owe them the opportunity to grow and to be part of my succession plan. I have had conversations with them that start "If you want to be a CEO someday . . ."

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

More about: Dialogue, Egon Zehnder, Egon Zehnder International, Exposure, Hewlett-Packard, HP, Leader, Leader Computers, Sara Lee, Speed
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