The shift to digital business has created a leadership void in many enterprises that business-oriented and forward-thinking CIOs are uniquely positioned to fill. Technology makes digital business innovations possible, and without it, the business is frozen in the past.
Few executives know enough about technology to lead a digital transformation. In addition, there are currently few large-scale digital business successes anywhere, making it hard to find experienced leaders to hire. Enterprises, therefore, face a leadership vacuum and they need their CIOs to step forward now.
Succeeding as a digital business leader will position CIOs for other business roles, including CEO. However, many CIOs have not stepped forward because they lack some of the soft skills that business leaders need. As a CIO, you can learn these skills, so start by focusing on courage, communication and credibility.
1. Have the courage to fire yourself as CIO
Capable CIOs already know technology and how to manage a department. From the enterprise-spanning purview of the IT leadership role, they also know a great deal about the business. This knowledge gives CIOs personal and organisational authority for IT themes. Leadership, however, isn’t the same as authority. Authority is granted, whereas leadership is earned.
CIOs can’t fulfil a digital business leadership role in the same way they performed as CIO, particularly if they continue performing the operational parts of the role. Traditionally, CIOs take the business objectives set by the CEO and align the IT organisation to support them. CIOs that have transitioned to a chief digital officer role, work on the digital transformation objectives of their businesses.
If you want to become a digital business leader, you need to fire yourself from your CIO role by delegating day-to-day operations to a COO of the IT organisation and embrace your leadership role in digital business completely. You need to work with the CEO to create new performance measures for yourself, such as signing up to deliver a certain amount of new digital revenue.
2. Convey a sense of purpose through communication
Of course, leaders can’t simply deliver bad news. A leader also yanks the organisation out of old patterns and reorients it in a new direction, providing a realistic path to success. This aspect of leadership comprises vision and storytelling.
Improve your storytelling skills to create clarity of digital business purpose. Take the opportunity to tell stories in your team meetings. When you give presentations or communicate via video to executives or the wider organisation, include a story or two along with the graphs and numbers you present.
Clarify your sense of audience. Good storytellers adapt the story to each audience. Make a formal list of the needs and aspirations of each audience to which you have to present the digital business vision, such as executives, peers, workers within the IT organisation, workers in business units and contacts among customers and partners.
3. Build credibility by producing steady results
Digital business starts as an intangible vision. Making it a reality is hard. The organisation will run into obstacles — promising ideas fail, the rest of the organisation resists, risk managers raise concerns and so on. At every obstacle, people will want to give up.
Digital business needs momentum to carry it over these hurdles. A leader earns trust and supplies that momentum through commitment; moving forward despite uncertainties; applying experience in a new context; being there for the team and, above all else, delivering a steady stream of results.
Graham Waller is a research vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, working with CIOs, CEOs and digital business leaders on contemporary leadership and realising business advantage via technology. Mr Waller is a co-author of two Gartner books: "Digital to the Core: Remastering Leadership for Your Industry, Your Enterprise and Yourself" and "The CIO Edge: Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results."