For Carol Kline, becoming a CIO was just part of being a business leader.
“There was no ‘Aha’ moment,” she says. “By nature, I’m a problem solver, and I see the CIO role as one of a change agent and facilitator across the business.”
Kline has been in the telecom industry most of her career. While moving up through marketing and operations, she realized that technology was an integral part of the strategy for business improvements, and she made it a point to seek out leadership roles that would drive opportunity and transformation to as many parts of the business as possible.
She recognized that the definition of what makes a good CIO has shifted in recent years to reflect IT’s more strategic role. The leadership skills the CIO role requires now reflect a need to understand business goals and seek to improve services to create a competitive advantage.
Volunteering for cross-organization roles both then and now, Kline believes, is part of what makes her a strong CIO. As she worked her way up the business ladder before becoming CIO, Kline was the head of an enterprise project-management office, where she quickly learned how valuable it was to reach out to people working in all the functions her group would affect.
This interest in working across business lines follows the advice of one of her mentors—to play at the level you aspire to achieve. She has developed a reputation over the years as an IT leader who is willing to take on challenges that can’t be handled by just one business function or unit.
There is some risk, Kline admits, since the more functions an initiative touches, the more points there are for potential failure. However, you have to be willing to take on that risk, she believes, in order to advance to the highest levels. To mitigate the risk, Kline often seeks assistance from her peers to gain the deeper, functional knowledge she needs, while helping them learn how IT can make their processes and products better.
Now when she hires people for her team, she warns them that they will be stepping out of the traditional IT role. By ensuring that all her staff members have a strong base of business knowledge and leadership competencies, Kline sets her team up to take on these risky projects with her. Small wins breed confidence in the staff to go after bigger initiatives. “It’s vitally important to give them the confidence to make that jump,” she says.
And she believes that having a team that creates value through big cross-enterprise projects is at the heart of being a CIO.
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