What kind of CIO do I want to be?

David Gee offers his insights on chief information officer archetypes

It is arguably the greatest job in the world – so what kind of CIO do you want to be?

[Read part 1 of this series Who wants to be a CIO?]

Well, I’m sure that like me you have observed some really good ones and some poor ones. To protect the innocent, I’m not going to mention any real names or ‘pseudonyms’.But I have to use some actual stories to illustrate.

In my 18-year career as a CIO, I have observed leaders that had qualities that I admired; frankly every one had some good attributes. The question is always: Do the good attributes overshadow the bad?

It is only by reflecting on different characters that you can try to distill what is the real essence of that leader and what makes that person great.What kind of CIO do you want to be like?

There are many types but let’s try to summarise these into a few categories:

The Machiavellian CIO

Let’s start with the one you don’t want to emulate: The Machiavellian CIO.This is the one who has read The Prince and actively re-models him- or herself on it.This CIO is all about allegiances and alliances, and is willing to cross over to the dark side willingly and without any conscience.

Machiavellian CIOs can be either male or female. It is not about testosterone but more about the survival behavior.The trait to observe is if ‘fear’ is used as a weapon on a regular basis. When you see that then, I suggest you have found one.

It is not a bad thing, to want to survive. The question is more about personal integrity and what you stand for. There are times as a CIO that you have to wear this ‘hat’, but I personally think this is old school management.

The Transformational-Entrepreneur CIO

A rare species. They are always looking at the bright and shiny objects.You can learn some great habits from these CIOs in terms of how they think or even ‘think about thinking’.

Entrepreneur CIOs are all over external ecosystems and focus on digital, big data, cyber security and customer experience.They do care about operational IT, but only that it runs smoothly and is a platform for their new ideas.

Often their weak point is around attention for details; they love to have staff around them to fill in this gap.

By nature, this CIO is about inspiration and vision and rarely uses the ‘fear’ approach.They are collaborative and want their staff in the world to also be inspired.

Working for this boss, will be exhilarating and fun (at times) but can be stressful as they push the boundaries and make you stretch. They think abstractly and are hard to keep up with.

The Professional CIO

A much more common species, these are solid citizens who get on with supporting the business and getting things done. They do not have the high highs or low lows, are much more consistent and balanced.

The Operational CIO is perfect for ‘Run IT’ and can sometimes stretch into ‘Change IT’. However, they tend to get uncomfortable with truly being the leader for a Transformation.

They are organised by nature; you will see that they have strong governance in place, with weekly operational staff meetings. The Professional CIO is in control and manages the whole portfolio.

They have good staff coaching skills and are very effective at managing their team and the customer’s demands.

Got-there-by-chance CIO

Then there is the CIO that doesn’t really fit any of these categories. They have come from an unusual background via the business or after completing a major program of work.

Their career path has not been aimed at reaching this role, but nevertheless they found themselves in this senior position.Typically, their experience is quite narrow in terms of IT, but they usually have other attributes that can compensate for this gap.

In some cases, they have excellent interpersonal skills or great ability to analyse and drive programs of work. The ‘got there by chance CIO’, is never that comfortable in the role but will become more at ease over time.I’ve seen brilliant CIO’s that have come from strategic business roles and been elevated into global CIO positions.

What happens is that their strength is also the weakness. In some cases, being naïve and curious can be valuable; it can also mean that you don’t have any context to understand what has gone before.

Frankenstein CIO

Yes, technically Frankenstein was the scientist, but with this category I am more interested in evoking a creature created out of an assortment of different parts.

My view is that the best CIO is a combination of all three of the three preceding positive CIO archetypes.I have worked for all of these different types of CIOs in the past.Taking the ‘best’ parts and rejecting what I consider to be their ‘worst’ attributes has been the approach I have adopted.

I’ve had an unusual career with 18 years as a CIO in a 28-year career; I was elevated earlier than many of my peers. Because of this I really wanted to be the best CIO and observed others in action.

In many ways I believe that I am myself a Frankenstein CIO. If your ambition is the top job in IT, the question you need to ask yourself is: What kind of CIO do you want to be?

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