It’s tough to single out a distinguishing leadership trait that’s needed by CIOs to be successful in today’s turbulent business climate. That’s partly because best-in-class CIOs require the ability to handle multiple scenarios with finesse. These range from developing and nurturing trusting relationships with C-suite and line of business (LOB) leaders to having the capacity to adapt to the rapid pace of technological change, including setting a vision for the broader IT ecosystem.
Because IT management is so multi-faceted, “leadership” often means different things to different people. Today’s CIO must be able to communicate a clear vision for a company’s IT/business strategy – both with members of senior management in comprehensible terms that they understand as well as different functional teams (sales, marketing, service) across the enterprise. As Delphi Automotive SVP and CIO Tim McCabe recently shared with me, “if you’re too far removed from top management, things can get lost in translation and you might not get the message they’re trying to deliver. So first and foremost, you’ve got to assure what you are doing is relevant and aligns with the CEO’s vision.”
Fostering open lines of communications also extends to skillfully managing day to day operations, from having an open door policy to your staff to being available to discuss key tactical issues that can foster trust and organizational productivity.
Leadership is also about having the insight and dexterity to delegate vital responsibilities to trusted managers. Savvy CIOs know that assigning accountability to entrusted lieutenants shouldn’t be viewed as a weakness but rather strength by delegating the right tasks to the right people to help the team advance to the next level. By doing so, the CIO is also able to foster the professional development of top personnel.
Being a great leader also requires a CIO to be a good listener. Taking note and responding effectively to the needs, concerns, and challenges expressed by different stakeholders (C-suite, business and functional leaders, employee work groups, etc.) and then conveying the actions that have been taken to address those issues is critical.
Another essential leadership trait that’s often assumed but not always discussed directly is the importance of honesty. Great leaders who actively encourage their teams to operate with integrity and transparency must hold themselves to a higher standard and make this visible to everyone. More often than not, when leaders are open and frank in their discussions and actions, others will follow suit.
Of course, there are plenty of additional traits that are demonstrated by effective leaders. These include leading by example, exuding (and stimulating) confidence, and inspiring others to stretch themselves and exceed expectations.
What do you believe are the indispensable traits of a great IT leader? The ability to motivate others? Creating and sustaining a vision for the enterprise? Please contribute to the discussion and share your views.