by Diana Bersohn

CIOs must embrace a whole-brain approach to leadership. Here’s how

Aug 02, 2019
C-SuiteCIOIT Leadership

Leadership teams that embed whole-brain thinking across the enterprise drive greater financial results than those that donu2019t. These steps will help CIOs become whole-brain thinkers.

data science certification brain with data
Credit: Thinkstock

Exponential leaps forward in technology and innovation are forcing massive changes at a lightning-fast pace across industries everywhere. CIOs – along with the broader C-suite – are well aware of the implications of this evolving and disruptive technology landscape. In fact, new Accenture Strategy research shows that 85% of C-suite executives report that the disruptive impact of new technologies is increasing in intensity. (Note: I am an Accenture employee.)

This pressure is driving the C-suite to transform their companies and themselves personally to retain relevance and credibility as individual leaders and as a leadership team. They recognize the need for a whole-brain approach to leadership that balances traditional, left-directed skills that draw on data and analytics with non-traditional, right-directed skills that focus on human-centered capabilities.

C-level executives, including CIOs, have always been successful in their roles by leveraging well-honed left-brained skills. Accenture Strategy research found that 85% of C-suite leaders hold business school, science, or technology degrees focused on left-brain skills—such as critical reasoning, decision-making and results-orientation. Those skills will always be vital, but they are no longer sufficient. A whole-brain approach that balances left-brain skills with right-brain skills such as empathy, creativity, and intuition is critical for building diversified thinking and enabling decisions that are needed to survive in this disruptive environment.

The beginning of a shift is under way. While only 8% of C-suite leaders report using a whole-brain approach today in their companies, 82% say they plan to leverage a whole-brain approach in the future. They know they need to change, but many aren’t sure how.

3 steps to become a whole-brain leader

We’ve identified three steps CIOs can take to become whole-brain leaders:

  1. Identify the problem. The first step is recognizing the changes that need to be made. Once you have a grasp on the skills you and your team embody – and the ones that are lacking – you can use organic and inorganic ways to tackle the problem. That means investing in reskilling and training, reverse mentoring programs, and design thinking workshops to strengthen right-brain skills, as well as bringing in outside talent to fill the gaps.
  2. Hand off the reigns.CIOs can take cues from younger employees, customers, or other business line leaders that are agents of change. By giving up some traditional control, you’ll allow for more creativity and human-centric solutions. And planting seeds for the future by building this required skill set into your recruiting strategy throughout the organization will create a pool of candidates – mid and long term – to fill leadership and C-suite seats organically with whole-brain thinkers.
  3. Inspire change everywhere.This well-rounded set of skills across the right and left brain needs to be proactively and deliberately baked into the entire DNA of the organization, but it needs to start at the top. The C-suite teams that will reap the most benefits will build these balanced skills in practice and use them at both the organizational and individual level.

CIOs who adopt whole-brain leadership approaches will be able to move forward with the modern C-Suite. And the benefit isn’t just to their own credibility and viability – Accenture research shows that leadership teams that actively acquire, deploy, demonstrate, and embed diversified whole-brain thinking across the enterprise drive greater financial results than those that don’t. The time for change is now.