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The CIO – traversing the strategy of leadership with the task of technology

The role of the Chief Information Officer has become a leadership role in many organisations.  Reporting to the Chief Executive, the CIO is responsible for not only leading the information and technology requirements of the organisation, he/she is also responsible for assisting with and defining the strategy of the organisation, and is generally a specialist advisor to the Chief Executive.  However, on a day to day basis, many CIOs need to get ‘in the trenches’ with their teams and be that technical expert.

So how should CIO’s traverse both the technical, strategic and leadership aspects of their job?

It is important to recognise that this isn’t just a challenge faced by CIOs. Chief Financial Officers and other specialist roles (such as engineers) face exactly the same challenge. Our teams need one thing from us but the organisation needs another.

Generally, people are promoted because of their successes (usually technically based) in previous roles. And, before we know it, we have larger and larger teams to lead – and they, and the organisation we work for, expect something different from just technical success. In fact, our teams can be technically successful without us.

So what can we do about this?

1. Understand and recognise that different parts of our organisation need different things from us. While our teams may need our technical expertise at times, this is not the only thing they need from us. They also need our leadership skills and an approach to empowering, developing and engaging staff. However, the Chief Executive and other Senior Executive need a different skill set – they need strategy, clear and easy communication and a function that underpins the success of the remainder of the organisation.

2. If you haven’t already, consider undertaking some professional development. An MBA, or a specific leadership development program will introduce a different skills set to your base technical skills. Most organisations are happy to support leaders with their own leadership development. If you aren’t able to undertake a paid professional development program, read books and articles on strategic leadership.

3. Ask you staff and your Chief Executive what they would like to see from you. Perhaps focus these discussions on not outcomes (ie upgrading to the latest version of software) but on behaviours and attitudes.

4. Know the organisation as a whole – not just the ICT component. Understand what the key critical drivers are for organisational success as well as understand the future pressure points and challenges. Meet with each of your executive colleagues to understand their ‘part’ of the business and how ICT enables this. This will allow you to consider strategies to assist in their success.

5. Be mindful and change your ‘language’. Your technical teams will understand the technical ICT jargon. But, your Chief Executive and your senior executive colleagues will not. They might pretend to, but they won’t understand your technical language. Learn how to turn technical ‘speak’ into plain English.

6. Watch for, or reflect on a leader that you enjoyed working with and respect and admire. Determine what it was that you respected the most about him/her and model your behaviors on these traits.

Like every other skill, leadership skills can be learnt. They also take practice, so don’t be afraid of trying something new. If staff like it, they will tell you – if they don’t, they will also tell you. 

OpenGov Asia will be running an ICT Leadership forum in Singapore this May, and Australia later in 2016.  If you would be interested in knowing more about this forum, go to http://www.opengovasia.com/events/20-singapore-opengov-leadership-forum-2016

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