10th

Do you have the courage required to be the IT leader your company needs?

A 2012 study by Ernst & Young (The DNA of the CIO) reports that many IT leaders find their roles hugely rewarding and enjoyable, but relatively few have broken out of their comfort Driver or Passengerzone to become true partners to the business and the executive team.  The study states that many CIOs are truly a C-level in title only and are not perceived to be at the same level as others in the C-suite.  For example, only 17% of the CIOs participating in the study were members of the executive team, and less than half were involved in strategic decision-making.  Further, there was a disconnect between the CIO and the rest of the C-suite as to the value of having the CIO involved in a strategic manner.  It appears that many of the C-suite beliefs about the CIO are rooted in a historical view of IT as solely a back office function – perhaps somewhat akin to facilities management.  IT is viewed as a cost-center.  As such, a primary focus is often to control the IT budget rather than to explore the additional value IT can bring the business. 

Changing the perception of business leaders is not an easy task.  It is a viewpoint that has developed over a number of years.  Many see IT as slow, unresponsive, reactive, costly, and resistant to change.  Further, they often seem to believe that IT is more focused on themselves than on the business.   

On the other hand, CIOs want to move away from being seen solely as a support function and into a more strategic role as an innovator and change agent.  However, it seems that many lack the skills and knowledge of how to accomplish this transformation.  In fact, Maureen Osborne, Global CIO for E&Y, notes “It is quite startling how few CIOs have taken steps to reinvent themselves within their business” (The DNA of the CIO).

 In a CIO Insight article (Four Courageous Conversations For Every IT Leader), Charles Araujo cites the need for IT leaders to have very frank conversations with the boss, the customers, and the IT team.  While the specific topics cited for discussion in these conversations are difficult, they are not at all unfamiliar.  However, in too many companies, the discussions simply are not taking place.  This causes the need for Araujo’s concluding courageous conversation – the need for each IT leader to honestly ask himself if he will do what it takes to have these conversations, stick with them, and live with the consequences.  Without such courageous self-evaluation, the needed transformation is not likely to take place (see Why So Many Leadership Programs Ultimately Fail).

With the prolific changes in societal norms and business basics caused by disruptive technological advances, companies must adapt and transform.  IT leaders have a choice — play a significant leadership role in this transformation process…or risk relegation to a back seat simply observing what is happening around you.

 Which will you choose?

2 Responses to “Is IT a Driver or simply a Passenger along for the Ride?”

  • John Bock says:

    It’s easy to be mediocre. It’s hard to lead, but I believe that CIOs need to take the initiative and help their organizations move forward. They need to get out of their offices and interact with their peers and more importantly the people on the front line.

    Over the years I’ve done what I call “walkabouts” where I meet with my peers, their direct reports and in my case all the branches. I bring them up to date on what IT has done, what IT is working on, and most importantly what we can do to make their jobs easier. That’s our responsibility.

    Change is risky, but to be part of the strategic team we have to be willing to go beyond “good enough” and help drive and set the course for the organization.

    • Terry Bennett says:

      John, thanks for your thoughts. Your practice of doing a walkabout can start to provide a foundation by creating the opportunity to talk with those in the rest of the business. As you share with them about what IT is doing, you have the opportunity to learn more about what is going on in their area. And from there, it is an easy step into discussing what IT can do to make them more successful.

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