The path to CIO

There is no single career path that leads to becoming a chief information officer, writes David Gee

If you have ever taken the time to interrogate a few CIOs, it becomes clear even from a small sample that there is no single career path into the role.

Indeed, what has worked in the past will not be a formula for success in the future. IT has been an industry that has been disintermediated in a major fashion and expecting anything else different would be perhaps delusional.

Previously on Computerworld:
Who wants to be a CIO?
What kind of CIO do I want to be?

Routes to get you there?

Most IT roles require a combination of skills and knowledge; however when it comes to the CIO job, what matters most are experience and behaviour.

The key question is then: How do you develop the experience and behaviour that matter? First remember that the overarching foundation to be a CIO is being an exceptional leader; without that attribute nothing else matters.

If you have exceptional talent with leading people, then what particular experience and behaviour is required?

My view is that you need to be able to demonstrate a strategic mindset that is customer design thinking focused.The fact that you have incredible track record in delivering transformation or digital change is clearly critical, but this is not 100 per cent prescriptive.

What roads are not going to work?

In the past CIOs were often recruited from very successful large transformation program delivery. These candidates had proven ability to delivery under extreme time, cost and customer pressure.

There was also the occasional business executive who made the crossover into the dark side. These were either geeky business types who understood eBusiness or had a track record of delivery.

Rarely have you ever met a successful data executive who transitioned into a CIO role. It does not often happen and perhaps is a testament to the limited success of information management programs.

It is also not that common to find an infrastructure executive as the CIO; this does happen but it is more to do with the person rather than the actual past experience.

Also finding CIO that used to be a CISO is extremely rare. I would expect that in 10 years’ time this will change and we will see more security executives have that opportunity.

Have you told anyone?

There is little point in having the ambition to be a CIO if no one knows that you are interested. This is a little tricky, because standing in the way of your ambition is the person who already has that role.

That being said, it is all about sharing this ambition with a timeline that is perhaps not that explicit. The upside is that once you have shared this view then you can start to ask for opportunities to get the experience and demonstrate the behaviour expected from a future CIO.

But don’t forget to casually let the HR director know that this is in your career sights and if a one-on-one opportunity arises with the direct manager of the CIO it might be useful to drop this into the conversation. One sure way to get this across in a non-confrontational approach is to ask for a business executive position that can broaden your experience and prepare you for the CIO role.

Who do you trust to help you?

I’ve mentioned a number of people that are inside your organisation. But what about outsiders that have no stake in this process? They absolutely can have a role to play. Taking the time to build a network with external parties, be they recruiters or other IT executives, will be really valuable.

You can build a background relationship and over time the requisite level of trust that you can then share your innermost secrets and ambitions.

Perhaps you will have to leave your current job to get promoted; that is definitely an option but to do that outsiders need to be aware of your experience and understand your leadership behaviours.

Your now one step closer to the CIO position.

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