As CIOs find themselves locked in a war for talent, they’re faced with confronting multiple challenges on several fronts. Among these, as CIOs look to attract, recruit, and develop high-performing individuals and teams, they need to strike a balance between courting accomplished IT professionals who can be offered opportunities to grow with the organization, while continuing to develop valued employees and managers for leadership ascension.

In many cases, CIOs aren’t able to truly assess a potential leadership candidate until they’ve been battle tested. Until a candidate has joined the company and has demonstrated how he or she is able to perform and lead others in the face of a conflict, a CIO can only speculate about the leadership qualities that person embodies.

Part of this evaluation includes how well a prospective IT leader is able to perform as a member of a team. As I spell out in my new book, The Big Shift in IT Leadership, great team leaders are more valuable than dashing lone heroes. In the real world – and especially in large enterprises – team leaders are the people who help the organization move forward through collaboration and cooperation. They know how to work well with business executives and peers and they’re also able to galvanize IT team members to execute on shared goals.

Nurturing next-generation IT leaders also requires CIOs to gain a deep understanding about what motivates different people to become leaders. For instance, a recent study conducted by Virtuali and Workplacetrends.com reveals that 43% of Millennials are motivated to become leaders because they want to empower others while just 5% and 1% of respondents say they’re driven by money or power, respectively.

Of course, each individual has their own strengths and motivations that they bring to the table and not everyone falls under a generational classification. In fact, a recent study of 1,784 employees across 12 countries and 6 industries by the IBM Institute for Business Value, compared the preferences and behavioral patterns of Millenials with Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. The results revealed that the three generations have similar career aspirations, needs, and attitudes.

As CIOs look to develop next-generation IT leaders, they also must be visionary in helping to determine the needs of the enterprise. Where will the company be in three, five, or ten years? What types of IT, business, and soft skills will be most important while positioning the IT organization to be agile and responsive when new business opportunities arise?

It’s also useful for CIOs to candidly assess their own evolution to help guide the types of characteristics they’re looking for from prospective IT leaders. Is this person an effective communicator? Is he more reactionary or proactive? Has she or demonstrated the qualities needed to lead transformational change?

Mike Benson, the EVP and CIO at DIRECTV, shared with me the traits he looks for when hiring an IT leader.

“As IT evolves, we will be pushed further and further out into the enterprise. As a result of that outward push, IT will become less monolithic and more focused on helping the business,” Mike said. “We spend a lot of time discussing the kinds of skills and talents that we need to make a smooth transition from being an organization focused on process to becoming an organization focused on customer experiences.”

From Mike’s perspective, strong IT leaders possess a blend of technology, business, and project management skills; and he looks for people who can be IT leaders as well as leaders in the business.


Key Takeaways

  • In developing next-generation IT leaders, CIOs must strike a balance between finding external candidates who offer needed skills and competencies while continuing to reward existing top performers.
  • It’s critical for CIOs to gain a deep understanding about what motivates individuals to become leaders.
  • CIOs must be visionary in addressing the future leadership and business needs of the enterprise.