Discover PerformanceHP Software's community for IT leaders // March 2014
CIO 'confessions': 5 critical attributes
of the best IT leaders
A new book profiles leading CIOs to learn how they thrive. It’s not about technology—it’s about guts.
Being a highly successful CIO today is less about technology and more about taking risks, pitching big ideas, “betting the farm,” and inspiring your people to truly understand the business. That’s what Dan Roberts and Brian P. Watson heard over and over when interviewing the world’s leading CIOs for their new book.
The book, Confessions of a Successful CIO: How the Best CIOs Tackle Their Toughest Business Challenges, out from Wiley in March, features compelling profiles of nine of the best CIOs in the business discussing how they’ve succeeded in high-stakes roles, at high-stakes times.
What got these CIOs to where they are today is simple, though the paths they have taken have been unquestionably challenging. “They’re leaders, not techies. They talk business, not bits and bytes,” says Watson, the former editor in chief of CIO Insight magazine. “The CIO of today—and most certainly of the future—needs to navigate the C-suite the same way the other occupants do.”
“The IT leadership skills gap is growing, and the pipeline of leadership talent is not keeping up with demand,” says Roberts, CEO of Ouellette & Associates Consulting. “This book will help prepare the current and future generations of IT and business leaders to succeed in an increasingly complex, ever-changing business environment, where the expectations of IT continue to increase.”
In the book, Filippo Passerini, president of global business services and CIO at Procter & Gamble, says one of his fundamental leadership principles is staying relevant, an issue he drills into his IT teams.
“The only thing we’re interested in is being relevant to the business—creating value for the business,” Passerini says in the book. “What can we do to be more relevant? This is a most critical question, and one we should ask ourselves every day.”
Roberts and Watson interviewed the selected CIOs to hear the inside story of their own biggest business challenges. Although the CIOs were from many different types of companies and vertical markets (including Raytheon, Sysco, USAA, Procter & Gamble, Union Pacific Railroad, and Centene), the stories they told reflected several common themes:
- Bet the farm. These leaders are not afraid to take on big risks. They pitch the big ideas because they know they can speak the language and justify the investment.
- Answering the call. These leaders stepped up when they were called to action—often to help save their companies’ futures. This requires a confidence in their abilities and experience that not every leader has.
- People come first. These leaders understand the value their people bring to their organization. They don’t treat them like numbers or interchangeable parts.
- Decisiveness makes all the difference. Despite their human side, these leaders understand that they need to make tough decisions that affect not only their people, but the company’s health as well.
- Results matter. Instead of pie-in-the-sky R&D or implementing the latest bright, shiny objects without knowing the business case and the long-term business value, these CIOs are more focused on measurably improving the business.
A different look at IT management
The authors set out to create a book that was more of a “let’s give people genuine examples of what’s really happening with CIOs,” rather than “let’s tell them what to do and what to think.”
“There were so many books wrapped around a prescriptive theory or a prediction of what works for every CIO—what every IT leader needs to prepare for,” Watson says. But there was a void in the marketplace for a case-study approach to an IT management book.
From the moment they began interviewing key CIOs, Watson says he and Roberts recognized that there was real value in exploring the experiences of top CIOs. “Their stories were incredible—they needed to be told.”
Roberts says that the hardest task was selecting those CIOs. “We had years of experience working with top-flight IT leaders, but we knew we couldn’t take on such a task alone,” he says. “So to decide on who to feature, we called on some of the most prominent thought leaders in the CIO universe to help us pick this elite group.” A panel of six noted authors, IT leaders, strategic consultants, and professors helped Roberts and Watson select their interviewees.
“We could have just gone to the Fortune 10 and interview their CIOs,” Watson says, “but we decided that size, brand, and revenue didn’t matter. Some come from large companies, household names, or recognizable brands, but that’s not what got them to where they are today.”
Steve Bandrowczak, another of the interviewees, is senior vice president of global business service and business process outsourcing at HP, and has served in similar leadership roles for DHL, Lenovo, Nortel, and Avaya. (We talked to him here.) Bandrowczak speaks in the book about the importance of “breaking the rules” when a tough situation demands it.
Bandrowczak was charged with leading a major business expansion at DHL, and soon realized he had a $1.5 billion problem staring him right in the face—and the wrong team working on the issues. He and two executive colleagues quickly pulled all the best people from across his IT team and other departments and created a “rogue organization” that got the job done.
“Everybody on that team was dreaded and hated because they were breaking every rule,” he says. “Whatever it took, we did it.”
Overall, Roberts and Watson paint portraits of today’s highly successful CIOs as risk-taking visionaries who understand people and business, not just IT. That’s a demanding recipe, but many of the ingredients are found in the stories their CIOs tell.
The book, Confessions of a Successful CIO: How the Best CIOs Tackle Their Toughest Business Challenges, will be published by Wiley in March 2014. For more information, visit wiley.com.
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