Top 10 Lessons Learned from the 2006 CIO Leadership Conference

It’s wet. We’re into the seventh day of the great New England downpour of 2006. There’s well over a foot of rain flooding roads and fields and basements. Rain makes me reflective, and today I’m looking back on last month’s CIO Leadership Conference.

The conference was a mix of inspiration, great networking and practical advice. We opened with a talk by author and historian David McCullough, closed with a practicum from Harvard professor Joseph Badaracco on how to handle ethical dilemmas, and in between there were terrific sessions with Harvard icon Warren McFarlan, Royal Caribbean CIO Tom Murphy and loads of other accomplished practitioners.

Thinking back on what I heard, a few things stand out. Here are my top 10:

10. “Failure is not an option” (once uttered by Apollo 13 project leader Gene Krantz). This, according to McCullough, was one of George Washington’s defining traits. No matter what mistakes he made, he didn’t let his disappointment in himself discourage him. Thinking about Washington in those terrible days of 1776 gave me a whole new perspective on the word dis-courage.

9. The kind of organization you’re in determines what kind of leader you need to be. McFarlan’s example of the challenges (successfully) faced both by Pete Solvik, CIO at Cisco when the company was in hypergrowth mode, and Brad Boston, Cisco’s CIO since 2002, was a great illustration of how different business conditions require different skills. It also highlighted the futility of defining a single ideal CIO profile.

8. A good leader has integrity. That means being accountable, truthful, a team player and tough when you need to be. World Wildlife Fund CIO Greg Smith led an interactive discussion on what it takes to be an effective CIO.

7. Don’t be lazy. Tom Murphy said that leaders must push beyond their natural abilities (of charm or humor or fortitude) if they really want to make a difference.

6. Make sure that everyone in your organization can articulate what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Tyrone Howard, who runs the program management office for the City of Chandler, Ariz., spoke of the power of effectively communicating your strategy and goals throughout the organization.

5. The true test of a leader is how you behave when the chips are down and things are ambiguous—including when no one’s watching. –McCullough

4. Your team is allowed to have morale problems; leaders are not. –McCullough

3. Leaders require a sense of history—not just so they can learn from the past but so they will understand that what they do matters in the long run. –McCullough

2. When faced with ethical dilemmas, apply three tests to your decision, said Badaracco: The Newspaper Test (How would you feel if you saw it as a headline in tomorrow’s paper?); The Golden Rule (How would you feel if it was done to you?); and The Obituary, or Best Friend, Test (How do you want to be remembered?)

1. Listen. McFarlan, McCullough and others agreed that listening well is one of the most essential leadership skills of all.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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