What are the qualities you look for in an IT leader?

3.6k views2 Upvotes14 Comments

CIO in Finance (non-banking), 51 - 200 employees
The first thing I would look for in IT leaders, wherever they are in their career, is whether they understand the bits and atoms, meaning they understand the tech and they understand the people. When you understand both, that is the path to success, especially in our roles. Maybe it's a little different if you're wanting to be a technical lead, but once you start to manage people and engage with people to sell budgets or projects, you've got to have that high EQ where you’re not only able to talk at a high level about the bits, but the atoms as well. You can recognize when they're looking at you kind of strange and that something's not jiving. To me that's always been the bar. Because we're all expected to know enough about the tech. No one's going to ask us to hit the keyboard, but they want us to know at least enough about it so that we can present it. But it's that little bit of politicking, the bureaucratic part with the atoms that has been the best piece, and not only going up, but also going down. It's important to have your team all rowing in the same direction. 

The second piece that is super helpful is mentoring. Have a little bit of hubris, raise your hand and say, “I want to be like you, who can I talk to that will help guide and shepherd me in that direction?” I think folks that are coachable are the ones that succeed. Because we've all been around folks who think, I know it all, I'm 21 and I should be CIO because I know everything already, I'm born digital. But I think there's some hubris required to raise your hand and look for those really good mentors. I believe that the leaders we see coming up, they've all emailed and Zoomed with us to ask for advice: I'm thinking about making my next career move to another company that could be completely different, or I'm really into enterprise apps, I want to go to infrastructure, or product. Those would be the qualities I say indicate a good trajectory.
1 Reply
Partner in Software, 1,001 - 5,000 employees

You'll hear a lot of conversations about customer experience, digital economy, transformation, and technology, etc., but I think we forget that a large part of the CIO role is really much more about leadership of people. I mentor and coach a number of VPs of IT (and future CIOs, hopefully) and I often hear that they’re trying to figure out what it takes to be able to present yourself as a CIO, not just from an executive management standpoint but from a people management standpoint. Part of that is being able to be a leader yourself and then actually create a leadership team around you.

Advisor | Investor | Former CIO in Services (non-Government), Self-employed
If I was to distill it down to one criterion, it'd be, be a proxy for your leader. In other words, whoever that person is, you have to have the confidence that if they go into a meeting, they represent your interests. You don’t have to think, what kind of damage control will I have to do after the fact? It really speaks to identifying people that are operating at the next level. And you should give them the opportunity to demonstrate that, because in all fairness we're always triple booked at the best of times. We can't be in every meeting, so what you're looking for is a team that you can lean on. And the exciting thing about that is it gives them growth opportunities.
SVP in Finance (non-banking), 1,001 - 5,000 employees
Vision alignment is important. We don't want to be working in an environment where people are undercutting each other or have different agendas. You lose a lot of traction and momentum, and there’s confusion across the board. Ensure that the people you're hiring, who are going to be running with this vision you've outlined, are aligned with you. I had a 10-page document that said, here is what we are going to look like in 2 years. That gave us a blueprint to make sure everyone was on the same page. And then you let them run free and go and get those things done.

Second, they have to be able to connect the dots and put it in layman's terms, using examples that people can relate to on a day-to-day basis. That's how you get people to relate to you and buy-in. The ability to take an idea and articulate it in a way that a non-technical person can understand is important. Third, they have to have passion for problem solving. As a technology CIO, everyone's coming to you with a problem to solve. You must try to make sure you understand the problem before you start putting a solution in place. Be able to say, “I want to learn more, I want to drill down and find out why you are asking me to do this.” If you get that skill set, you have a really good team that can help you solve big problems.
Partner in Software, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
I am very specific about the qualities I look for because I think it comes down to 3 core things. One is that leaders have to be very good at communicating. It's important in this day and age, not just because we're virtual. If I'm looking to hire a leader I will typically ask the question, are you able to communicate? Are you able to lead? The second thing I would look for is whether they’ve gone through a difficult situation. Typically at work it’s a project that has failed or a huge mistake they have made, or maybe something in their personal life they wish to share. Experience dealing with adversity and challenging situations is something I look for in a leader, because irrespective of the situation you're in, you want someone who is able to be there alongside you in resolving some of these situations. In the world of IT, failures happen, that's just the way it is. Being able to not just experience those, but actually talk about them is important. It demonstrates that they've learned from them.

Third, you have to be likable. Having people genuinely want to work with you and follow you is an important thing. There's the counter argument that you're just here to do a job. You'll have some hard driven CEOs who don't care about culture, but they're still very likable because people want someone to lead them and tell them what they can do better, not be their best friend. I do think likability is a weird thing, but you have to get to a stage where that is not something you can fake. It requires you to have a level of self-awareness.
C-Suite in Construction, 51 - 200 employees
Vision and being practical
Director in Manufacturing, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
A good blend of practical experience but a vision to the future with risk taking that has show to pay off in results

Vision that isn’t practical for the particular business is not valuable
Senior Director, Defense Programs in Software, 5,001 - 10,000 employees
Many good answers here… vision, practicality, emotional intelligence, communication skills, the ability to staying teachable, and a commitment to inclusion all important.

It’s not something you can interview for, but high ethical and moral standards are foundational for good IT leadership. With great power comes great responsibilities, and your team and those that count on you have to have trust and you need to earn it.
Senior Information Security Manager in Software, 501 - 1,000 employees
From a qualifications perspective, an IT leader with a degree in engineering, who also has an MBA is a very powerful combination.

And a great IT leader is one who realizes effective IT required qualified and trained people behind the IT infrastructure.
CEO in Services (non-Government), Self-employed
I look for what I call the "E" skilled candidate. While T-skilled usually refers to having  the combo of technology and business skills (which I consider the baseline)  E skilled folks are also:

extroverted : builds relationships across the business and industry that bolster IT reputation and standing as a business partner.

entrepreneurial: creative, sees the big picture and the details, mitigate risks, cost conscious, seizes opportunities

experienced in the industry: brings deep understanding of what works/doesn't, understands what defines competitive advantage,  has or is connected to peers and has a sphere of influence.

experimental: innovative thinkers/complex problem solvers, not afraid to try something new in a contained and controlled manner

emotionally intelligent: builds kick-ass teams, politically astute

empathic: sees opportunities to build bridges and relationships  with staff/leadership/professional peers.
5 4 Replies
CIO in Education, 201 - 500 employees

I love this!

CEO in Services (non-Government), Self-employed

Thanks Paige. What have I missed, if anything?

CIO / Managing Partner in Manufacturing, 2 - 10 employees

Great list Joanne, I couldn’t better it.

Content you might like

Senior Director, Technology Solutions and Analytics in Telecommunication, 51 - 200 employees
Palantir Foundry
Read More Comments
6.1k views15 Upvotes48 Comments


Yes, but not enough, we want/need to ramp up39%


No, but I expect this will change soon6%


1.7k views1 Upvote1 Comment

We provide company-wide training57%

We only train certain departments/roles32%

We have a targeted individual training approach.9%

I am unsure how we handle security training.3%



Founder, Self-employed
Work travel is a privilege. Embracing your experience to meet new people, and see the beauty of nature and culture wherever you go.
Read More Comments
57.5k views48 Upvotes35 Comments