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When Times Change, Leaders Obtain New Skills

When Times Change, Leaders Obtain New Skills

CIOs today need a broader set of competencies to succeed in the C suite

Over the last 20 years, as the CIO role has changed, the competencies required to succeed have changed, as has the level of performance expected for CIOs to be successful. And it's getting harder for CIOs to distinguish themselves as outstanding.

As noted by Carl Wilson, 20 years ago the focus of IT was on technology only, and that technology was fragmented. The key priority for IT managers was keeping all those wonderful mainframes, minicomputers and PCs happily running in their own little worlds. Even within IBM's world, 3081s did not talk to AS/400s and definitely did not talk to PC-XTs. Thus, a limited number of relatively low-level competencies were all that was required to succeed: functional technology expertise with a dose of results orientation, a dash of team leadership and a sprinkling of people development expertise.

Ten years ago, as devices began to communicate over networks and the Web became a business tool, CIOs began to be recognized as potentially key players in the C suite. Additional competencies, such as their ability to influence decisions across the organization (the competency of collaboration and influence) and to align groups (the competency of change leadership) became increasingly important to their success.

The variety of competencies required for the CIO job and the level of performance expected of IT executives continued to increase as IT systems grew from a support function to become entwined with the business itself. In the late 1980s, Bob Crandall, then chairman and CEO of AMR, stirred controversy when he said he would rather sell the airline than the Sabre reservation system. In this new world, strategic orientation, commercial orientation, external customer focus and market knowledge became important in ways never before imagined.

In 1999, Compaq chose its former CIO, Michael Capellas, to be the CEO, awaking people to the possibility that CIOs could run major companies. But although the CEO job may be attainable for the best CIOs, the rest may actually be falling behind the performance curve. As business becomes more global and the line blurs between IT that supports the business and IT that drives the business, the expectations of the CIO are increasing both in breadth and depth. This trend is widening the gap between the best and the rest.

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