by Kim S. Nash

CIOs Should Learn to Lead the ‘Digital Cowboys’

Jun 28, 20123 mins
IT Leadership

The co-author of a new book says younger professionals are gadget-savvy and global-minded, so they require a new leadership style

Former management consultant Pekka Viljakainen argues in his latest book, No Fear: Business Leadership in the Age of Digital Cowboys, co-written with IT consultant Mark Mueller-Eberstein, that today’s senior executives don’t know how to lead up-and-comers.

What Is a Digital Cowboy?

A younger professional with a more international and social outlook than the supervisor, but who’s a rookie at leadership. They use technology to learn and to spread ideas. They don’t think about globalization; they assume it.

Social technology is second nature to them.

There has been a lot of fuss about social media changing business processes. But the key thing for top executives all the way to CEO is to find a way of leading socially instead of being top-down leaders. Most innovations happen at the very front line, where people see clients. CIOs should develop tools for executives to sense what is going on there. Doing this, CIOs can influence what is happening at the company.

What can CIOs do better in working with digital cowboys?

CIOs need the best talent, not just for running IT but for making the future of IT. You cannot lead anybody if they don’t want to follow you. This generation will follow if you are educating them, adding value to them, making them better, making them win. The role of the leader is changing to be more like a coach. You have to be interested in developing people.

What can we learn from what’s happening in Russia and China?

The talent pool as a whole is much more digitally oriented. The penetration of iPads and smartphones in Moscow is much higher than in London. There was a 4G network there three years ago. It was science fiction in New York at that time. In China, they’re investing massively in technology. You should never think of these countries as developing. And companies can’t avoid cooperation with these countries. Although we’ll see much more diversity on our staff in terms of culture, technology unifies the different parts of the world. A few years ago, smartphones were all different all over the world in how you used it, how you charged it, how you contracted for services. Now, it’s more similar. iPads are used in the same way all over the world. Technology spreads a baseline way of working.

How can CIOs become global talent scouts?

Come out of the cozy headquarters office and go abroad. Think about where the future business growth is: It’s in emerging countries driven by digital cowboys.

You should not send out a team from your department to tell these people how to think. Go and collaborate with them. Five years ago, when I collected a team of two Russians, two Americans, two Indians and two Finnish guys for a project, it was a hassle. We had different ways of working. Now, if I were to take 10 people, they’d think in much the same way about work and be extremely global-minded. If [your] leadership is not changing in these ways, you will misuse their talents.

Follow Senior Editor Kim S. Nash on Twitter: @knash99. Or read her blog, Strategic CIO.