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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You say that successful CIOs are probably good at “legislative leadership.” What do you mean by that?

It came from some work we did in the social services sectors (education, hospitals, city management, universities) as opposed to corporations. What we found is that, unlike in business, you have leaders who get things done without concentrated power. It’s like a senator, who is one of 100, who has to somehow figure out how to assemble points of power to get something done. Whereas if you’re [Wal-Mart founder] Sam Walton or some other CEO of a public company, you have enough to power to decide things on your own.

As I listened to CIOs talk, it began to dawn on me that if you don’t have that concentrated executive power, the legislative skill set might be the same as we see in the social sector. You don’t have the power to make something happen so you have to have the legislative ability to see where the points of power are and leverage them. How do you identify the pools of power and coalesce them to get to a decision in that direction even if it’s not your decision to make? That’s a legislative skill set.

One of the interesting things about legislative power is that people have to trust your motivations. They know you’re arguing a point, but you’re looking for the best overall outcome. Frances Hesselbein of the Girl Scouts did a lot of things to make outcomes happen. But everyone knew in the end that Frances would bleed green. It was all about the Girl Scouts. The more someone is in it for larger outcomes, the more legislative influence they have.

A legislative leader is always asking what’s best for the organization and thinking about the multi-variant ways they can connect people to their vision. It’s very artful and nuanced. The interesting thing is that most CEOs are now facing an increasingly diffuse power map, too. The pure power for the CEO of a public company is shrinking, with the increased power of boards, Sarbanes-Oxley, shareholders. They have to acquire more legislative skills to complement their executive power. Those who learn how to yield legislative power–like CIOs–might be well suited to those roles.

Next: Why Good People Trump Good Money

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