What CIOs Can Learn on Corporate Boards

Maryfran Johnson says CIOs who serve on external boards add to their heavy workload but gain a valuable new perspective

Raise your hand if this sounds like a great experience: insane amounts of work, crisis management on steroids and a crash course in strategic thinking. Do I still see hands up? Let's throw in some serious legal liabilities and confidentiality constraints.

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And did I mention you'll be keeping your day job? This experience takes place strictly in your spare time.

Welcome to your seat on a corporate board.

If you've ever daydreamed about adding an external board seat to your executive resume--and what business-minded CIO hasn't?--read our cover story ("CIOs Who Serve on Boards Sharpen Their Business Skills") to see what awaits you. You'll find an amazingly frank, deeply researched, detailed account by Managing Editor Kim S. Nash, who interviewed half a dozen current and former CIOs with board experience beyond their own companies.

While it's still relatively rare for CIOs to be invited to become corporate directors, those who manage it say they gain enough uniquely valuable business insight to make the additional workload worthwhile.

Acquiring fresh business perspective by serving on boards in other industries can help your own company as well. That happened to CIO Chris Hjelm of Kroger, who spent four years on the board of a rehabilitation services company. The knowledge he gained about how the healthcare industry operates now benefits Kroger, which has 2,000 pharmacies operating inside its supermarkets.

"I sit in a different world and experience that world and it turns a lightbulb on," Hjelm explains.

Advising companies on business-model transitions in other industries can spur CIOs to move more decisively in their own. Board service teaches executives how to wield influence and advise others without micromanaging.

Being an active participant in sensitive boardroom discussions--which may take place outside the CEO's presence--exposes CIOs to a level of strategic conversation they would never hear otherwise.

"Being on a board is like experiencing best practices every day," says Linda Goodspeed, a veteran member of several boards and former CIO at ServiceMaster, Nissan and Lennox International. "You talk about sales and growth and what worked and what happened."

Raise your hand if this sounds like a great experience.

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