8 special qualities CIOs will need in 2020

Chief information officers are fast becoming entrepreneurs, not administrators.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

There's a fine line between a tech startup chief executive officer and a corporate chief information officer. In fact, that line may even disappear within the decade. Future CIOs will be entrepreneurs in their own right.

Staircase spiral-Gettysburg Pa-photo by Joe McKendrick
Image: Joe McKendrick/ZDNet

That's the prediction of Joel Dobbs, CEO and president of The Compass Talent Management Group LLC, who pointed out in a recent post at the HP blogsite that CIOs are part of the "creation of a game-changing technology that reshaped or substantially altered their company's business and, in almost every case, the technology focused on directly impacting the organization's end customers."

More than being tech leaders, CIOs have to conceive and sell ideas, identify and secure resources, and be leaders: Marshaling and leading a team to create a new product or service "and successfully introduce it into the organization and the marketplace", Dobbs added.

That sounds like the role of entrepreneur.

Along with Dobbs' observations, it's notable that with the rise of cloud computing, IT organizations are either brokering or competing with outside services, or even becoming cloud providers themselves to given markets.

For anyone who wants to become a CIO at some point in his or her career over the next few years, Dobbs provided some of the prerequisites needed:

  1. Vision: "An entrepreneurial visionary sees not a new task, technique, or technology, but a totally different way of doing business. Yes, this is likely enabled by technology, but the technology is simply an enabler. The vision encompasses more than projects; it involves disruptive and transformational change."

  2. Passion: "When I speak with entrepreneurs, their eyes light up, their speech quickens, and they become much more animated as they explain their idea or the mission of their new company. Entrepreneurial CIOs are passionate about the mission of their company and the value their products and services provide. This passion is channeled into making the company better, not just improving its efficiency. Their passion is not just to make the IT function better, it is to make the whole enterprise better."

  3. Confidence: Entrepreneurs need the self-confidence to see ideas through even when others are saying "no". Confident CIOs "are self-aware and are equally comfortable giving advice and counsel and taking initiative in areas of strength", said Dobbs. "They are also comfortable seeking advice and input from a variety of others. Confident CIOs have no problem accepting responsibility and being held accountable for their actions."

  4. Comfort with ambiguity: This is also one of the tests of a successful entrepreneur, said Dobbs. "New ventures are inherently messy and uncertain, especially in the early stages. Entrepreneurs know this, learn to get comfortable with it, and lead themselves and their organizations through it. IT folks have a natural tendency to be inflexible. IT folks like 'process'. They like standards and detailed project plans. They like predictability. CIOs need to learn to deal with this uncertainty and learn to lead their organizations through periods of ambiguity."

  5. Risk tolerance: "Risk is a constant companion for the entrepreneur," said Dobbs. "One of the complaints most frequently leveled at IT organizations is their aversion to risk. Entrepreneurial CIOs understand that risk is a part of the job."

  6. Creativity: "Entrepreneurs find creative ways to solve difficult problems or create products that allow people to do things they couldn't do before or enable them to do them in radically different ways. Entrepreneurial CIOs are creative. They transcend traditional ideas, and traditional ideas about the CIO role itself. They truly think, and act, 'outside of the box' and create organizations that do the same."

  7. Self-motivation: Successful entrepreneurs relish the "chance to do something that could change the world, or change people's lives. An entrepreneurial CIO has this same drive to do something big and meaningful, and this drive gives them the energy to push ahead when others lose focus and give up."

  8. Energy, restlessness, and persistence: "Most of the successful entrepreneurs I know are never satisfied. They always believe they can do better. They "persevere through hardships, around obstacles, and over setbacks. They don't give up without a fight. Entrepreneurial CIOs must be persistent, because all of the easy stuff has already been done. The game-changing stuff is difficult, and only people who persevere through challenges succeed at difficult things."

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