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What Does Leadership Mean for the Modern CIO?

A seismic shift in how customers interact with companies – and how companies communicate with their customers – is having reverberating effects on the CIO and their role as leaders and influencers across their organizations. According to Gartner, 40% of CIOs report that evolving consumer demands are driving their business models to change. This need to change business model will accelerate the evolution of CIOs from back office IT leadership to ongoing collaborators with their CEOs, peers, business leaders and staff as they are positioned to lead their organizations’ digital transformation journeys.

Consumer Demand Drives New Business Models

As customers, especially younger ones, interact with companies more digitally and less physically, organizations have reacted by adapting communications with them to accommodate to where and when they happen to be. And as organizations attempt to implement customer-centric strategies and operations, they are finding that they need to shift towards a more digitally-centric operation before the technologies and processes that support customer-centric efforts can take place.

This is where things can get a little messy for CIOs. Senior leadership is quickly discovering the entire culture of many large organizations needs to change just to be able to implement advanced customer-centric technologies and the resulting digital transformation efforts that must take place to support them. Forty-six percent of CIOs reported that culture is their biggest barrier to realizing the promise of digital business, according to Gartner. And this type of cultural shift is something that needs to happen across the entire organization – not just IT, with broad buy-in across all of senior management, staff and business units as well.

In order for CIOs to evolve their roles into more of a business partner and collaborator who can influence an organization at all levels, they will need to develop some skills that may not have always been top of mind when they started their career.

That is, CIOs should assess and look to grow and expand their soft skills, like emotional intelligence, relationship development, and the ability to influence peers and staff, all in order to flourish their role as a culture change agent.

Human Leadership

The trend of customer-centricity, the technologies that enable it (e.g., personalization tools), and the supporting digital transformation efforts that will be required to implement it, requires broad buy-in and participation across an entire organization, not just the IT department working in collaboration with marketing. Because CIOs need to take the lead in building trust and being able to influence peers and their own teams, they should be looking to evolve their management style from one of command and control, to one a more human leadership style.

Another way of saying this is CIOs should work on their emotional intelligence to help develop the people skills needed to develop relationships outside of the technology department. And in their role of building future technology leaders, CIOs who want the most in-demand and top talent will need strong emotional intelligence to attract job seekers who can pick any position they want in today’s competitive market. CIOs want to be the leader that people want to work for in a digital company.

To move – or stay – out of a transactional role in providing IT services for business demands, CIOs will also want to partner with other business leaders by discussing and suggesting business opportunities, taking ownership of business issues as a trusted ally and indispensable member of the executive team.

In this vein, CIOs should continuously work to develop a growth mindset to help them have the proper conversations with business peers. As a result, the CIO’s role as a digital leader can be solidified or reinforced, but it also enables them as a teacher of technology to their peers. By seeking out and cultivating relationships  with – and, where appropriate, mentorships from – business partners in both technical and non-technical functions, they can bridge the gap with other leaders and learn or polish business skills, as well.

Culture Change Agent

An emotionally intelligent CIO earns the title of leader and the respect of his or her staff and peers by having a more ‘human’ style of leadership that encourages collaboration and partnership over one of control of IT resources. These CIOs not only reach out across the aisle to their business partners and offer advice and guidance, but ask for it in the areas they want to grow into to support the business. In many larger organizations, the CIO will need to take the lead with HR as a culture change agent in order to make the transitions necessary to lay the groundwork for digital transformation, and eventually customer-centric strategies and programs.

Brian Carlson, TNCR Contributing Writer
Brian Carlson, TNCR Contributing Writer
Brian Carlson is a contributing writer. He was Editor-in-Chief of and EE Times. He is a customer engagement expert who is focused on the intersection of content, technology and marketing and how they affect the overall customer experience.
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