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Leadership in a time of change

David Bartlett
David Bartlett is former Premier of Tasmania and one-time CIO. He is chairman of Asdeq Labs and works with communities on the NBN through Explor Digital Futures. He also likes to go fishing.

In a recent reference to the catalytic and transformative leadership of the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Israeli president, Shimon Peres, said: ‘You may have the strongest army—but it cannot conquer ideas, it cannot conquer knowledge’.

It seems to me there are many Australian CEOs that still think having the ‘strongest army’ will win on the competitive battle field of modern commerce. And despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, too many Australian CEOs still view their ICT function as a cost centre and their CIO responsible primarily for stripping costs from within the business.

Yet as evidenced in a recent number of studies, the difference between these types of corporate leaders and transformative, game changing, ICT literate leadership can be clearly seen in stock price, return on investment and overall financial performance of the companies they lead.

A recent Dell sponsored report for example, subtitled New Expectations for Business Value, concludes that CIO involvement in setting business strategy appears to go hand-in-hand with superior financial performance.

The report surveyed over 500 c-suite executives on the changing role of CIOs in their business. Of the respondents who said their CIO is actively involved in business strategy, nearly one-half (47 per cent) described their company’s financial performance as superior to that of their industry peers.

On the flipside, of the CEOs who said their CIO has no role in business strategy, only 28 per cent claimed to be performing better than their peers.

If CEOs involve CIOs in not just cost reduction and operations but at a strategic business level, the business is far more likely to perform better financially. But do Australian CIOs have the leadership skills to perform at this level?

Brian Donovan of Donovan Leadership puts the CIO leadership question in a development context by arguing that technology leaders will be crucial in enabling organisations to take advantage of a knowledge-based future. CEOs must therefore invest in the CIO’s leadership development.

Donovan’s recent Big Kahuna Leadership Survey asked 60 highly influential Australian business leaders about the leadership skills needs among CIOs.

Donovan believes leaders need to address two key factors to drive the success of their businesses in the challenging times ahead. The first is to generate conversations based in the future; a vision of what is possible for the business.

The second success factor is to elicit strong ownership of those future-based conversations from within the organisation; people aligning themselves with the vision and strategy.

So how can CEOs and CIOs develop better together? Having been both a CIO and a CEO, I offer the following advice to those wishing to provide the sort of transformational and catalytic leadership Perez refers to.

As a CEO, you need to make your CIO your very best friend. Become his or her mentor, and devote time to understanding their world. This is the most important relationship for the success of the business in the next five years, if not longer.

Secondly, CEOs must take ownership of the information technology driving the enterprise but consider it through the lens of mobility, personalisation, social media and consumerisation rather than as systems, data and devices.

And lastly, CEOs should get in a ‘reverse mentor’. They should ask a fresh-faced, 20-year-old digital native to observe them at work and tell them how to can apply principles from the new consumer-led, technology-enabled world to do things better.

As for advice to CIOs, they could do a lot worse than referring to the conclusions Donovan draws from his Big Kahuna whitepaper, namely: Our leadership potential is constrained by our view of the world.

Just as business strategy is constrained by organisational culture, simply adding a few leadership ‘skills’ to our CV will not transform our leadership style.

CIOs need to expand their world view to one of seeing opportunity, and describing new possibilities to the organisation they serve.

Tags: David Bartlett

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