The CIO coach

There is no single path into the CIO role

I’ve had an amazing career over 19 years as a chief information officer across Australia, Japan, USA, China and the Asia Pacific. This has included roles in the insurance, banking and pharmaceuticals sectors, and during this time I’ve met thousands of CIOs at the global, regional and country level.

It is clear that there are many paths into becoming a CIO and if you would like to join this select group then getting a coach is one way to increase your chances of success. Below I’ve posed a few of the typical questions that a coach will be able to help an aspiring CIO answer.

What is the right pathway into a CIO role?

There is no single path into the role. The position itself has evolved over the years, and as a result the requirements have changed. The CIO is now a hybrid business and technology leader: You are expected to understand both domains and be a visible leader across the transformation of the enterprise.

There is extreme diversity of the backgrounds of each and every CIO.

The most important ingredient for the CIO is soft skills — and there is a need for superior communication skills to navigate through complex structures and difficult projects. You need to have a high tolerance for ambiguity and manage stress.

These leadership behaviours are much more important than specific knowledge and skills. Although without depth in technology, it is easy for your staff and vendors to run circles around you. Being a fast learner is critical attribute and this can help you deal with any gaps in your knowledge base.

Overall, these soft skills will help you build a strong team and drive commitment.

Are there shortcuts?

In a word: No. There are no courses that you can take that can guarantee success, for example. In my view an MBA or executive management course is no substitute for real life-experience. Of course, they can help and provide greater perspective.

I firmly believe that an MBA gives you an inch-thick and mile-wide perspective. The problem is that as the CIO you have to dig deeper in order to deliver true transformation, and then be able to skip up multiple levels to drive the agenda.

How do you hide any gaps in your CV?

In truth, you can’t hide gaps in your CV; when you go for a CIO role the degree of scrutiny and screening is extreme. In my case, the record is 15 interviews before an offer. On top of this is the reference checking, police checks and vetting process.

If you think you can conceal gaps during such stringent processes then good luck! If you’re not ready, then you’re not ready. Any new CIO that does not have the right background will struggle with the role. It is largely undefined and success depends on multi-variant factors.

Getting to CIO can take you many years. As the CIO you will always be judged and measured on your success. Your outputs and outcomes may be not immediate and short term — but you will be expected to always lead the present and also drive the future.

What education or learning can help me accelerate my path to CIO?

Look to where the ball is going. Right now digital change is the key driver of many transformations, and hence these skills will be valued. There will always be good mileage in being seen as a leader of digital change.

However, I doubt that this will be enough in four to five years’ time. The CIO of the future will be expected to have significant experience with AI and analytics.

Cyber security is also becoming critical. It is not possible to be a trusted digital brand unless you have matching strong cyber security competency.

Should you be able to master these two areas at a strategic level and you will have a great career platform that can lead you to the next-generation CIO role.

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