How (and why) great CIOs lead through teaching

Accidental learning delivers accidental results. Here's how six CIOs avoid that trap by leading through teaching.

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Great IT leaders have a number of qualities in common, but one stands out in particular: their curiosity and insatiable appetite for learning. And while all great leaders are learners, there is a special class of leaders who are teachers.

Longtime General Electric CEO Jack Welch was the epitome of leader as teacher. He didn’t just stop by the company’s famed Crotonville leadership institute to make an appearance or introduce a workshop. He was a regular teacher there, investing many hours personally in developing the next generation of leaders. But his lessons weren’t confined to the classroom. Great leaders know that any given moment can present an opportunity to pass on management wisdom, skills, best practices, and life lessons. Teaching isn’t an afterthought for these leaders; it’s a critical responsibility — to grow their direct reports and prepare them to take on tomorrow’s leadership roles.

With the cycle of disruption accelerating, the pressure’s on CIOs to successfully guide their organizations through these changing times, and they can’t do it alone. They need a future-ready workforce that can rise to the occasion in the face of some pretty complex challenges.

Unfortunately, the largest group of mid-level leaders today are “accidental.” They’ve never received a single day of formal leadership development.

Danielle Brown, vice president and CIO, Brunswick Corp. Danielle Brown

The CIOs who are leading and teaching are making sure their teams aren’t getting stuck with accidental learning that will only deliver accidental results. As Brunswick Corp. vice president and CIO Danielle Brown explains, “Leadership is all about creating and developing other leaders. The more people you make successful, the more successful you will be.”

Here, Brown and other leader-as-teacher CIOs approach this role. While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, there is one constant: Each of these leaders is intentional about building a pipeline of visionary leaders to follow in their footsteps.

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