What Moving from Good to Great Means for CIOs Who Want to Lead

Author Jim Collins explains why he sees CIOs as quiet leaders, and what challenges they face in their drive to be the best.

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What implication does that have for individual leaders, like the CIO?

Focus on building your organization into a pocket of greatness. Those who rose to senior leadership in the good-to-great companies focused first and foremost on delivering exceptional results, building the best accounting department or law department or whatever they had responsibility for, and letting those results speak. They became chief executive because they proved themselves as Level 5 leaders within their organizations, and others took notice. (Editor’s note: In Good to Great, Collins defines five levels of leadership, from level one, the highly capable individual, to the level-five executive, who is capable of building enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.) And even if they didn't become CEO, they became key members of a Level 5 executive team. A Level 5 team lives by the idea that "no matter how much we achieve, we are always only good relative to what we can do next." One of the keys to sustained performance is to remain productively neurotic about how you could lose your position, about how you need to make yourself stronger tomorrow than you were today as a hedge against an uncertain future, about the need to be aware of the brutal facts. Perhaps CIOs can play an especially helpful role in tracking and presenting data, facts and trend lines—indicators of concern—so that the brutal facts might be confronted long before events mushroom into a significant setback.

Based on your interaction with CIOs, which you warn is relatively limited, you described IT leaders in your keynote speech as socially adept introverts. Why is that worth noting?

I’m a socially adept introvert.

We have a mythology of leadership that leadership and personality are the same thing. They’re really not. Yes, some leaders are very extroverted. Some are very charismatic. There are some advantages to being charismatic, but here’s the danger: It’s very dangerous to be charismatic and wrong. If you’re wrong and charismatic, you can convince everyone else you’re right, which isn’t in your best interest.

Our work has found that that tends to be more of a liability. The executives we studied were very good listeners, very good at asking questions. They weren’t necessarily good at giving speeches or standing up in front of a room, although some learned well how to do this despite their shy nature.

If you come from a background that is more analytic, it’s likely not your nature to be the extrovert. And it’s worthwhile noting that many of the very best leaders and chief executives are exactly like that.

Next: Why CIOs Are Good at “Legislative Leadership”

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