September 16, 2011

The 5 Secret Characteristics Of A Truly Great CIO

There Are Leadership Qualities That All CIO's Must Have...

There Are Leadership Qualities That All CIO's Must Have...

In all honesty, there are a lot of people who become CIO who really should never have been promoted to that position. There are too many IT folks who are only good at ensuring that company IT resources are properly and efficiently used. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, only that this kind of skill set is not what it takes to be a really good CIO. Do you know what it takes to be a good CIO?


When we start to think about what kind of qualities that a CIO needs to have in order to do his or her job correctly, hopefully the quality of being able to generate and communicate a clear sense of direction to others is one of the first ones that comes to mind.

Businesses never stand still – either they are moving forward or they are falling behind. A CIO does not lead the business, that’s the CEO’s job, but the CIO is responsible for showing the IT department the way that they are going to move forward. This involves creating two important things: goals and a vision.


Just knowing where you want the IT department to go to is not enough. As CIO you are also going to have to be able to get everyone in the department to get off their behinds and start to move in the correct direction.

It turns out that everyone is already moving, it’s just that they are moving in a whole bunch of different directions. A CIO that is able to inspire an IT department will be able to get everyone to line up and work towards making progress in the same direction.

Team Building

A great CIO realizes that although some people can be fantastic individual contributors, that’s not enough for an IT department to be successful. What is needed is for people to stop working by themselves and for them to start working as a team.

Although this may sound rather intuitive, it turns out that it runs counter to what most IT workers want to do. We all want to be recognized for our individual accomplishments and when you are working as part of a team, this can be much harder to do.

A great CIO has the ability to make people want to work as a part of a team because they realize that that is the only way that big challenges can be met. A great CIO will take the time to acknowledge the accomplishments of a team, but at the same time he / she has the ability to look within the team and understand who contributed what to the outcome.

Lead By Example

All too often, what the CIO says is not what he / she ends up doing. If the CIO is still throwing lavish brainstorming sessions for upper management when budgets get tight, then this will not go unnoticed.

A CIO who physically shows up when a big cut-over is being performed, or works a weekend when the rest of the team is struggling to meet a big deadline will earn the respect of the department.


Great CIOs realize that they have been appointed to manage the IT department by a higher authority, but they are not truly a leader until their people accept them as such. This is the kind of acceptance that can’t be commanded, it has to be earned.

In the case of a CIO, it will be a combination of things that cause a department to accept their leadership. Specifically, their staff will be looking for proof that the CIO is up to the job. It will depend on the CIO’s performance during a few fire drills, a demonstration of how the CIO handles a situation in which he / she has clearly made a mistake – do they admit it or do they blame someone else, and finally it will take time.

What All Of This Means To You

Potentially anyone can become a CIO. Only a very few of us can become a great CIO. The difference between the two types of CIOs comes down to one word – leadership.

We all like to talk about just what it takes to be a great leader, but what we all too often forget is that it’s not just about the CIO, but rather about the IT staff – is this a person that they want to be lead by?

A great CIO can be clearly recognized by five distinct characteristics: the ability to provide clear direction, the ability to inspire, the ability to build successful teams, commitment, and finally, being accepted as the leader by the rest of the IT department. Now you know what you have to do, go out and do it.

Contact Blue Elephant Consulting

Contact Blue Elephant Consulting to find out how your team can be trained to be ready for their shot at the top spot. We’ve can lay out the skills that they will need to develop. By working with Blue Elephant, your IT team can be ready for the day that they call their name to become the firm’s next CIO…!