A digital CIO has to be a digital visionary, a transformational leader, an empathetic communicator, a good facilitator, a great listener, and a digital game changer.
Tradition CIOs have been perceived as the tactical IT managers, running IT as a support function to keep the lights on. Nowadays, with fast-paced changes and overwhelming growth of information, contemporary CIOs face many leadership dilemmas: Being sustainable or disrupt, keep status quo or innovative? Act as a business executive or an IT manager, focus on transactional activities or transformative change etc. The command-control leadership style is no longer fit for the hyperconnected and highly transparent digital new normal. Digital CIOs today must shape their digital mindsets and develop their leadership capabilities to make multidimensional influence across the organization as well as the digital ecosystem.
Leadership influence: Today’s digital CIO is the top leadership role, and leadership is about future and direction. Hence, the skills CIOs should exercise including technology vision, strategic thinking, execution and innovation capability, etc. Digital corporations are massive, complex dynamic ecosystems, nowadays, CIO and other CXOs should stand side by side with the goals of creating new and innovative products, transforming IT into a profit center and integrate IT across all business units. What determines the maturity level of the CIO position is the impact they have made on others, and hence, their reputation as well as achievements. Gone are the days where the CIO is given a target and a budget and he/she executes. An effective CIO needs to be an independent thinker, unbiased communicator, flexible doer and global leader these days. The effective CIOs should have excellent working relationships with other business leaders. Digital savvy CIOs can also identify the formal and informal power brokers cross the boundary and establish a personal dialogue with them to identify the real problems prior to presenting the IT-enabled business solutions. CIOs who have developed influential competence seek to understand the mindset of all related parties, it takes open leadership, humble attitude, and a fact-driven communication, mixing candor with openness, balancing humility and courage.
Position Influence: Although leadership goes beyond just a title or a position, empowered CIOs with the seat at the big table and having the voice in strategy setting can amplify their leadership influence. Their position power can be evaluated based on: Do they sit at the big table (the board)? Are they members of the top leadership team to co-create strategy? Are they part of the core operating committee of the company? What has there been progression within the company? Span of Control: What’s the total team and number of direct reports. That would indicate the position-based leadership influence of the CIO. The continuous technology evolution means CIOs should be empowered to lead changes and drive digital transformation proactively, bridge the IT and business gaps, and delegate others within their team responsible for managing businesses as usual and make continuous technical deliverable. IT is the steward of the business information system, thus, the position influence of CIO can also help to break down the functional silos, overcome the office politics, streamline digital flow and maximize the digital potential of the entire company.
Expert/Social Influence: The CIO is perhaps one of the most sophisticated leadership roles in the modern business. Your title can provide you some authority to facilitate, but can't guarantee your leadership effectiveness. Knowledge is power. Digital CIOs today need to become learning agile as knowledge life cycle is significantly shortened, and technology is often the disruptive force of digital transformation. The top CIOs today should be the specialized generalist to practice expert power. The expert power can make leadership influence more profound and empathetic, to connect the minds and improve leadership empathy and effectiveness. Now more often the business is inextricably connected with technology, and the functional barriers are starting to weaken, allowing digital leaders and professionals to pursue their aspirations and to apply their skills and expertise to their greatest effect. Thus, digital leaders and professionals should strengthen their strength and build a unique portfolio of capabilities and competency, to practice expert power based on the foundation of in-depth knowledge, profound insight, and abstract wisdom. Expert power is neither equal to the title you have or the certificate you hold. your education certificate can imply that you have a certain level of learning ability, but can't guarantee you still have updated knowledge and you can co-create new knowledge, be able to innovate and develop the unique leadership competency. The highly influential leaders make the splash based on their knowledge and insight and continuous delivery, not just the follower to chase the waves blindlessly.
Leadership is an influence. CIOs and IT do need to play critical roles in the digital transformation. As more often than not, technology is the major digital disruptor today. The multidimensional influence of CIOs can be well articulated by the “I” of the CIO title - Information, insight, intelligence, improvement, inspiration, and innovation, etc. High mature CIOs are high influencers through their breadth of business knowledge and the depth of IT insight. A digital CIO has to be a digital visionary, a transformational leader, an empathetic communicator, a good facilitator, a great listener, and a digital game changer.