Ramp Up Your IT Leadership Quotient

Advice for aspiring CIOs: Sharpening your communications skills and raising your industry presence will put you on the path to a CIO job.

I have the pleasure of meeting dozens of CIOs and their direct reports each month, often in small groups where we talk about topics of high interest to the decision makers in enterprise IT. This is one of the most rewarding parts of my job because I learn so much about your businesses and the top initiatives you're working on. I also get to know you better as people.

The one major difference I've noticed between CIOs and aspiring CIOs is the ability to communicate. I find most CIOs to be great communicators. You understand every aspect of your business and where your company is headed. You can rattle off your top business and IT priorities and talk about exactly how you are accomplishing them. You are keenly interested in what other CIOs are working on, and what problems they are solving. I also find many CIOs have a great sense of humor and are refreshingly self-deprecating.

In contrast, when I am with aspiring CIOs, I often find the discussion to be a bit one-sided. I end up asking lots of questions to draw information out of the group. The answers tend to be shorter, and the interest levels and quality of dialogue within the group are lower. I still learn a lot at these meetings and enjoy the connections, but the whole communication dynamic is noticeably different. Perhaps it's the last mile to travel from IT manager to IT leader.

On my list of leadership skills, communication goes near the top. In our 2013 State of the CIO research, we asked what IT departments were doing to strengthen their relationship with business stakeholders. Training the IT staff "to better partner with the business" came in fifth, and deepening the staff's strength in management and leadership expertise was ranked 14th. I would argue that these communication skills should rank in the top three, and I believe it's the CIO's responsibility to instill these skills in your team.

One great way to develop and refine communication ability is to encourage more public speaking, event participation or group interactions with other executives. I think that over time your people would reap great benefits from these kinds of exercises, becoming better known and respected within the larger IT community. If you or someone on your team would like to join me at one of CIO magazine's many roundtables, lunches or dinners, just drop me a line and I'll let you know when we are coming to your town next.

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