The skills that CIOs will need to win the game
Over the centuries,technological innovation has spawned changes in how and where people live, play, work and provide for their families. The late Harvard Business School professor Jai Jaikumar described how fire, the wheel, the lathe, the steamboat, the locomotive, the automobile, the telephone and the aeroplane were transformational inventions. But his research shows that societies generally took 30 to 40 years to understand the possibilities of these inventions and leverage their use. When Jaikumar spoke to my IT group at Frito-Lay in the early 80s, he described the invention of the computer as similar to other transformational technologies. He predicted that the computer would go through a birthing period, a childhood and an adolescence before eventually reaching maturity. He estimated that this cycle would take a full human generation. I believe Jaikumar's historical perspective was correct; the computer age is now leaving its adolescence and will enter adulthood during this decade.
Jaikumar's research on technological innovation yielded another important observation: People, companies and even national economies have risen and fallen on their ability to understand and master "game-changing" technologies. Manufacturers that didn't embrace the lathe or the assembly line, for example, perished. Countries that were slow to adopt the steamboat or railroad fell behind in commerce.
If this pattern holds for the information age, then the responsibilities of the CIO in the modern corporation are staggering. It's a very tall order to be able to recognise the game-changing nature of IT, to have the street smarts and influencing skills to navigate executive committees to the right decisions, and to then have the technical savvy and skill in execution to deliver the goods. Most IT professionals have some of these leadership skills. Acquiring and employing these skills will be essential to IT leaders in 2010.
By then, most corporations that think IT doesn't matter won't be around. The leadership skills that CIOs will need for the rest of this decade fall into three major categories: understanding the lay of the land, building a great team and having an impact. I've organised the leadership skills into a framework that I believe can help many good leaders become great leaders. (In my next few Total Leadership columns, I'll talk about these competencies in greater depth.)
Getting the Lay of the Land
The first skill that will be required for great IT leadership is pattern recognition. In essence, this is the ability to see underlying relationships and get at "the meaning beneath the surface". CIOs with this skill can distinguish the important factors in a situation from "noise", demonstrate this insight to their colleagues through discussions and decisions, and craft a compelling story of the organisation's challenges and opportunities.
Another important skill for IT leadership will be street smarts. CIOs need to learn who the important players are in their organisations and industries and know what issues matter to them. CIOs must know their organisations' full history and all the baggage that has built up over time. They have to be politically adept, leveraging their relationships with people to address problems and opportunities.
Technical knowledge is often dismissed these days as something CIOs can delegate. Nonetheless, IT leaders in 2010 will need to be technically savvy - able to sort complex issues independently and take advantage of technological opportunities while avoiding fads. Other corporate officers should view the CIO as a thought leader. One good way to accomplish this is by staying abreast of important technologies and trends.
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