Most of the CIOs I meet are overachievers. They don't stay satisfied with any situation long. Once they've worked through the alignment challenge, the architecture and systems development portfolio, and the other fundamentals facing today's CIOs, they often yearn for something more. The best leaders are usually gazing over the horizon at that next adventure.
Over the years, I've had hundreds of conversations with CIOs looking for a way to take their work to the next level. I've heard a lot of good ideas - and recommended some - for CIOs who feel they've taken their job as far as possible.
There are three ways to think about what you could do next: in your current position, outside your job but still at your current company, and somewhere else. Which route is right for you depends on your circumstances and your appetite for risk.
At Your Job
Within your current job you have the advantage of an existing platform from which to explore, but you'll have to be especially aggressive to find that feeling of adventure. So if you haven't done one of the following already, give it a try.
Prove yourself. You may think you've got the job nailed, but can you prove it to the world? Do you have ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) certifications? Have you won a Baldrige or Deming award? Pick the one that's right for your organisation and put yourself to the test.
Invent your future. Make it your goal to develop a patented technology that underpins your business strategy. Choose R&D areas that put you on the bleeding edge. Scour the world for new technology your organisation can use.
Tell everyone how you did it. If you've really made it, then write an article or even a book about it. Develop a training course internally or at a college or university. Get on the speaking tour and tell your story.
Stack yourself up against the best. Arrange benchmarking visits with five top CIOs. Then judge whether you really have done it all. Chances are you'll find some areas in which you can do better.
At Your Company
If you step beyond the CIO job but stay in your current company, you have a stable foundation but also some pretty big risks and high degree-of-difficulty challenges. These will immediately take you outside your comfort zone. Are you up for the following tests?
Lead a major companywide effort. Take charge of a major strategy project, an award competition, a pervasive problem or a little-noticed opportunity, and use it to gain notice throughout the company. One CIO I know started an entirely new business line based on new software technology his team had developed.
Conquer more territory. If your portfolio doesn't contain information, technology, knowledge and systems, work to get control over them and put yourself at the top of the heap. I know a CIO at one of Wall Street's biggest financial services companies who convinced an incoming CEO to give him control of all those functions. Then he slowly and strategically gave them away as he built his business leadership profile at the organisation.
Run a line of business. Cut a deal with the CEO that allows you to run a line business unit for a year, with a discussion taking place at the end about whether you'll stay. If after six months you find the experience to your liking, identify your replacement and make the switch a fait accompli.
Move up the ladder another rung. If you're a business-unit CIO, set your sights on the corporate job. You might even find that the person in that position is anxious to develop a replacement.
Get on the CEO track. Meet with the board members and the current CEO and tell them you want to get on the track for the top spot, and find out what the requirements will be. At the same time, work with head-hunters and with other CIOs who have made the transition to get their take. You may not make it, but you'll learn a lot along the way.
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