Chris Eversfield

Few of us would want to be lonely in our personal lives and this is equally the case in the field of play for our professional lives.  But when you explore the unique challenges facing the 21st Century CIO, a role that requires continuous high performance, it is very easy to become isolated.

A lot has been written about the Chief Executive’s position being a lonely one, but the parallels experienced by the CIO or IT Director are worthy of exploration. We’ll highlight some techniques that have helped successful leaders and may help you go on your journey to CIO enlightenment! As the boss, you are expected to be the font of all knowledge with regards to cyber and technology matters, but as we can all recognise, the vastness of the agenda before you is growing exponentially, making life continually challenging. Unlike most middle managers, no one is encouraging you to turn to peers for advice and you are still expected by your Chief Executive or Board colleagues not only have to a clear and informed position on an issue, but a thorough understanding of the latest innovations.

Here are five techniques that may help you to perform at your best and avoid turning into a lonely CIO:-

1.    Find safe spaces where you can be fallible:

Developing your own support network within your organisation can be an incredibly powerful and fulfilling technique. We’ve all found a soul-mate with whom we can confide in, but choose carefully and ensure keep some basic ground rules for confidentiality. None of us can be expected to make the right decisions all of the time, but simply having someone available who understands your industry, customers or the business context with who you can turn to can be invaluable.  

If you don’t have a peer group with whom you can confidently share with you need to invest time in building your network. Start by making a list of respected leaders that you’d like to learn from. They might be acknowledged for their innovative methods or one that’s been heralded as sector leading. Contact one or two of them asking them to meet over a coffee to share experiences and challenges. You’ll be amazed at how many CIO’s are will to share the hand of friendship.

2.    Keep your agenda broad:

Whilst holding the IT agenda means having a natural interest in technology, don’t overlook the isolation that can be created amongst your board colleagues through such a focus. As IT becomes an organisation’s raison d’êtr? your role will evolve from solutions provider to business partner; this reduces the likelihood of functional loneliness, but ensure you develop an interest in and thorough understanding of your end-to-end business models, industry dynamics, customer motivations and consumer expectations.  

3.    Don’t get isolated when you’re at the top:

Keep close to your own team and work extra hard to strengthen relationships with both your direct reports as well as those up and coming bright young things within your wider team. That being said, when people come to see you they are coming to see the you as the CIO first so they’re not going to naturally tell you what they really think so you have to work extra hard to communicate on a personal level. The added engagement that a junior member of the team gets from what could be considered as mentoring by the CIO can in-turn lead to significant benefits for you personally by keeping your finger on the pulse of emerging technologies and trends.

4.    Invest in yourself!

However much your performance is enhanced by confiding in your newly developed peer groups, there will be times in your career where you may need some additional guidance from someone that isn’t at risk of trying to trip you up or for that matter compete for your job. Don’t overlook yourself when apportioning your development budgets and consider investing in yourself as you would your team. The services of a discrete and non-judgemental advisor with whom you can bounce plans off can be incredibly cathartic as well as then helping you to live with the consequences of a difficult decision.

5.    Information, Information, Information:

If you’re reading this article you’re already one step ahead of many leaders by opening your mind to new techniques and feeding a desire for insight and knowledge, but don’t get restricted to IT-related publications alone and go and borrow the journals that hit the desks of the Marketing or Distribution departments. There are also significant learnings to be gained by participating in CIO forums and events, but ensure they are pitched to your interests. Wherever you get your insight, try and reserve a small slice of your increasingly busy week to absorb emerging thinking however challenging it might first appear.

Whilst your role is increasingly challenging and at risk of greater isolation, you are ultimately in a unique position to be able to take control of the very factors that breed this isolation by following the steps outlined above. Keep an open mind, evolve and adapt and your journey towards CIO enlightenment will be one that reaps considerable professional and personal rewards.

About the Author:
Chris Eversfield has worked in IT leadership positions across a number of blue chip organisations over the last 20 years, most recently as Adidas Group’s Senior Director for IT covering Northern Europe before setting up his own boutique firm, Attitude Advisory. He works with business leaders and CIO’s alike helping IT professionals go from ‘good to great’ through coaching as well as providing advisory services covering IT strategy, change programmes and operations.