In a conversation with a CIO about mitigating IT project failures, I commented that leadership can often be the required antidote in certain change programmes. I was referring to the ability to connect and communicate with stakeholders and motivate staff in particular. It's often referred to with some squeamishness by those in our industry - usually air-parenthesis - as the soft stuff.
He responded with a comment on process - that strong programme governance was all that was required.
The engineering and process-focus DNA of the IT specialist is key to what makes a great IT worker/manager. Applying process is a necessary response as much of what is required is mitigation of risk for consistency of service.
While the CIO has to have a good knowledge and respect for process, this cannot be the only lens/perspective from which they operate.
In moving from technical roles into management, competencies for the job change. Management roles require high levels of emotional competencies – the self-confidence and drive to meet challenges, the ability to lead teams effectively, to influence people and to understand group dynamics.
In addition to the business and technical expertise, these 'soft skills' are what make for a great CIO.
IQ becomes increasingly less important as you rise within the organisation. It's not that IQ is not important – it's a threshold competency to get the job. It's emotional intelligence (EQ) that is the key determining factor of successful leadership. Several research studies show that EQ is about four times more important than IQ in determining professional success, according to Maureen Gaffney's book Flourishing.
Intriguingly, some companies have this built in to the talent management process. John McKay, CEO of Whole Foods notes that when promoting people into leadership positions, it is their EQ score that plays a primary role in the final decision.
The lack of great leadership shows up in engagement levels at work – and we have alarming levels of disengaged staff. Gallup's annual survey on employee engagement reports only 13% of Western European are engaged at work. That is a truly appalling statistic.
Fellow blogger Jerry Fishenden makes a case for the benefit of a good CIO.
I would add to that that a great CIO will bring the organisation an ability to engage staff and stakeholders in a way that extends beyond what is possible with rigorous governance and process alone.
If as a CIO, you are looking to move from good to great, take a moment to reflect on your soft skills. Think back to the feedback in the last 360 review process. The good review processes will provide much insight into your blind spots. Quiz colleagues and friends that you trust will give you an honest opinion.
There is not doubt that the CIO role is evolving. There's much written about the end of the CIO as the CMO takes over or the threat of digitisation to the relevance of the CIO. It's a ridiculous conversation. The death of the CIO is greatly exaggerated. The evolution of the role is not.
The evolution of the CIO - already underway as shown by the CIO 100 - is to be great leader in the organisation. The move from manager of risk to leader of people and strategy offers both a compelling career path and valuable new voice to the senior organization leadership team for many companies.