Aspiring CIO leaders urged to hone social awareness

A road map to help top IT execs do a better job

Published by Harvard Business School Press, "The New CIO Leader" is a compilation of ideas from those who think that chief information officers should have more authority.

CIOs must choose to be chief technology mechanics or senior executives, according to the book's authors, Marianne Broadbent and Ellen Kitzis. Their research is based on interviews that Gartner, the global research and consulting company, conducted with thousands of public- and private-sector CIOs. The proper role of the new CIO leader, they wrote, is to shape expectations of what information technology can do and then fulfill those expectations with cost-effective business and IT services.

The authors suggested, however, that many CIOs who seek greater executive authority will discover that they need to develop new skills to supplement their technical knowledge. Broadbent and Kitzis emphasize the importance of self-awareness, social awareness and empathy — the people skills that are often the chief technologist's weakest suit, they wrote. But someone determined to become a CIO leader, they argue, can develop those skills through leadership training.

The authors offer CIOs a road map for becoming leaders, beginning with steps to enhance their people skills. According to that road map, 90 percent of a CIO's focus should be on developing relationships with the organization's senior executives and members of the IT staff and other IT service providers.

"We've found that effective CIO communicators keep their message simple and aren't reluctant to repeat key points," Broadbent and Kitzis wrote.

In addition, CIO leaders should focus on improving IT governance and restructuring their IT organizations to deliver cost-effective IT and business services.

Broadbent and Kitzis wrote that CIOs' responsibilities should include creating an organization for making IT decisions. Various models of IT governance are emerging, including investment councils, IT policy boards and enterprise architecture councils.

In one of the book's more controversial conclusions, Broadbent and Kitzis reported that CIOs have a responsibility to restructure and shrink their IT organizations. The CIO's authority is based on influence, not how many people report to him or her, they wrote. Two organizational trends are important. One is strategic sourcing. The primary role of IT staff members should be to manage their agency's relationships with strategic sources, which include other agencies, contractors and companies that provide the agency's essential IT products and services.

In the second trend, the new CIO must be a leader in reorganizing IT work to conform to business workflows, such as processing tax refunds, rather than to IT functions, such as software programming or help-desk support. "This trend is rated by CIOs we've surveyed as the strongest new contributor to customer satisfaction," Broadbent and Kitzis wrote.

The authors recount the transformation of Tony Cicco into an effective leader as one of several examples of new CIO leaders. Cicco, the Government Accountability Office's deputy chief administrative officer, became the agency's CIO in 2000. Knowing that he was taking over an office plagued by low morale, he decided to enroll in a leadership training course.

"It became clear that I had been very task-oriented and impatient and didn't give people enough time to express themselves," Cicco said. "I had to learn to stand back and give people the space to express themselves."

Cicco created opportunities for internal communication and brought in an organizational psychologist, who spent about 30 days in one year working to improve organizational morale. According to the authors, those efforts paid off dramatically in higher morale and new confidence in the CIO and IT organization at GAO.

What it takes to be a new CIO leader

Being an effective chief information officer has a demand side and a supply side, said Marianne Broadbent and Ellen Kitzis, authors of "The New CIO Leader." Both sides, they wrote, are important aspects of public and corporate CIO leadership.

On the demand side:

  • CIOs lead by envisioning and communicating what information technology can do to improve their agencies' effectiveness.

    On the supply side:

  • CIOs lead by creating leaner IT organizations and relying on strategic outsourcing of essential IT services.

    — Florence Olsen

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