CXO

What CEOs expect to get from a top-performing CIO

And what does outstanding CIO performance even look like?

What type of skills does the CEO want from his or her CIO? A group of senior executives discuss the leadership traits that will make you stand out from your peers. Mark Samuels reports.

The starting point, says Jardine Lloyd Thompson CIO Ian Cohen, is to understand your personal attributes or strengths and those of your team. Rather than worrying about potential weaknesses, an outstanding leader will focus on their strengths - and those within their teams - and look to exploit them.

"We spend way too much time trying to turn people into something they are not and fix their weaknesses," he says. "It's complete nonsense to think that fixing something bad will create something great. If you take 'bad' and just invert it - you get 'not bad', which is light years away from 'great'. Find the activities that strengthen you personally, and the people you lead, and look to do those activities more often."

When it comes to personal capabilities, Cohen is well aware of his own strengths. He says he happens to be good at technology because of the chronology of his career and an employment path that has included senior IT positions at media giants Associated Newspapers and the Financial Times.

Technological nuts and bolts
However, Cohen is also open enough to recognise that an aptitude for IT is not necessarily his most important individual asset. "For me, the nuts and bolts of technology do not make the working day whiz by. Sure I know how stuff works, but it's not exciting emotionally," he says.

"My real strength is creating an environment where bright people do great stuff. I'm also a story teller, painting pictures about what might be possible through the exploitation of existing and new technologies. That's when time races by and I'm at my most animated and enthused."

That sense of creation is something Cohen believes is a core feature of an outstanding CIO. Top technology chiefs, he suggests, will recognise how different members of the team contribute to the organisational whole: "You need to orient people, and the business, around individual strengths. You need to know how to combine people to create more effective teams and to develop next-generation leaders."

What do CEOs really want from their CIO?

What do CIOs really want from their CIO?
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

If Cohen is right, helping to make the most of your - and your team's assets - is crucial for the successful CIO. But what does the boss think? What type of skills does the CEO want from his or her CIO, and how can an IT chief develop the leadership skills that constitute an outstanding executive?

Customer awareness and project skills
For Vin Murria, CEO of Advanced Computer Software Group, strong customer awareness and an ability to deliver projects are of paramount importance.

She is an experienced business leader, having previously been CEO of CSG and chief operating officer at Kewill. Drawing on her experiences, she suggests the CIO's job is really no different to the CEO's.

"We're both here to help deliver benefits to our customers. It's just that, in most cases, the CIO is great with technology and the CEO is more attuned to the business," says Murria. Sceptics might suggest that the second point is the difference.

Too many CIOs are dissimilar to the chief executive because of their lack of...

About Mark Samuels

Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.

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