by Kim S. Nash

What’s the CIO’s Biggest Challenge…in One Word?

May 08, 20123 mins
CIOIT Leadership

Agility? Value? Exhaustion? The CFO? An informal poll in our CIO Forum on LinkedIn reveals as much about you as it does about CIO problems.

About 15 months ago, one of the members of our CIO Forum on LinkedIn asked a provocative question: Can you use one word to describe the biggest challenge facing today’s CIOs?


Our membership, a thoughtful and social bunch of about 48,000, rose to the challenge, posting more than 240 different words and counting. Answers are still coming in but so far, the range of feeling and thought behind their one-word descriptions surprises me. We had many instances of words you might expect, such as alignment (29 times), agility (24) and cloud computing (33). Those are common challenges. 

But other contributions concern me: Communication, with 29 mentions; leadership, with 16; the CFO, with 14; and trust, 12. 

Communication, leadership and trust must be interwoven and the degree to which any single one of those works depends on the other two. A significant chunk of respondents in this informal poll apparently feels the CIO has work to do in this foundational area. Yes, there are always cranky people online who throw around negative comments with alacrity. Still, I find these responses troubling because they reflect a persistent impression that CIOs just can’t get their message out effectively to colleagues and their own staffs. 

You can’t be an effective executive in any capacity without strong communication and leadership skills. If CIOs are continuously managing and creating change, trust has got to be there. 

And don’t get me started on the CFO. Will this CIO-CFO tension never stop? Many CIOs want to report to no one but the CEO; it’s obvious why. But even in situations where the CFO is the ultimate boss of IT, enlightened CIOs find a way to make it work. 

The top four one-word descriptions point to other problems with IT: People/talent (63), value (54), money/budget (53) and change/transformation (53). 

Another 10 CIO Forum members named the CIO himself as his own biggest challenge with 10 more citing stupidity or ignorance. I can’t analyze their thinking but I have to figure that’s bad news. So is “fear” (4), “depression/hopelessness” (2) and “sleep/exhaustion” (2). Someone give those people some attention and vacation time. 

I don’t think most IT groups are dysfunctional. But a lack of certain basics will limit the effectiveness of the hard work the IT group does. It’ll also surely stifle the CIO’s career advancement. As several smart IT leaders told me about theCIO of the future, CEOs will accept no one in the role who isn’t an entrepreneur , connector, futurist, master of business metrics and global talent scout. 

Judging by the “one words” I’m looking at, there lies a long, painful road between here and there. 

What is your one word? Let’s hear it in the comments below.

(By the way, thanks to CIO Forum member Barbara Nowak-Rowe, who is founder and managing director of Australia’s Smart Leaders Network, for asking the original question.)