Six Issues with CIO Leadership Development

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CIO Leadership Development is the need of the day as more and more organizations adopt IT in more and more new ways to compete and survive. Despite all the skepticism, the CIO role is emerging as a relevant and important executive role for the organizations. The CIOs certainly require development in order to cope with the increasing demands. However, a holistic CIO leadership development initiative around competencies required to play the role effectively is yet to emerge.

The current focus on CIO leadership development suffers from six issues- that of focus, paradigm, uniqueness, context, process and continuity.

Issue of focus– Organizations are coming to realization that CIO role is important, but any meaningful focus on developing the CIO leadership is missing. Though the CIOs attend many technology skill enhancement workshops or programs, there are not many serious leadership developmental initiatives they undergo.

Issue of paradigm– The CIO leadership is embedded in the traditional leadership paradigm of charisma and vision. These are certainly important, but also important are the contemporary leadership perspectives of ‘serving’, ‘empathy’, ‘influencing’ (especially when dealing with the equal peers), ‘collaboration’, ‘complexity’ and ‘inner power’ (as the CIO can have the potential of initiating a big transformation through small steps). A straight-jacketed leadership definition is inadequate to deal with the complex role of a CIO. The paradigm into which CIO leadership is embedded has to be defined in its own right. In my work, I have found the traditional leadership paradigm of male archetype very limiting, instead the female archetype bring many interesting facets to the phenomenon. The need is to explore that and bring into practice.

Issue of uniqueness– Most of the leadership theories are generic and developed primarily with the business leader in mind. Like any other functional head, the CIO role has its own uniqueness and hence a general leadership orientation to development cannot do justice with the uniqueness of the CIO role. There are aspects related to IT build up and management, vendor management, user management, complex team management consisting of in house and third party staff, dealing with multiple power centers etc., which are very very unique to the CIO role only. No other role has the kind of complexity, which arises from the issues of managing men, machines and their mutual interaction.

Issue of context- Almost all the CIO leadership development happens in a very a-contextual manner, i.e. they are generic without taking into account the country, industry or the organizational context in which the CIO is working. Context determines what specific aspects of the role are more important than the other, and in relation with other contexts.

Issue of process– Leadership development should ideally contain all the three aspects of behavior, cognitive or conceptual skills and ability to act. This requires a tri-pronged focus on self awareness, ability to conceptually assess the situation and the competency to create change generative conversations in their respective organizations. The current CIO leadership development focus is primarily on the cognitive or conceptual development. The other two are normally missing.

Issue of continuity– This point is related to the issue of process but deserves a separate mention. Leadership development is not a one-time phenomenon and it requires sustained efforts. The process needs to synchronize class room, self and experiential learning over a period of time for any meaningful development to happen. The focus of most of the development programs is on one time management development program (MDP), whereas what they need is continuous professional development (CPD).

For any meaningful leadership development of the CIOs for their respective roles, these issues need to be addressed.

To deal with these six issues, we at Coeus Age have developed a CIO leadership assessment program, which centres on a unique CIO Leadership Inventory (CIO LI) framework. CIO LI integrates the issues of current and future roles as rendered important by the contextual demands of the country, industry and the respective organization. It also integrates the aspects of behavior, cognitive and competency sides of the leadership development.

Read more blogs at Leading Digitally.

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