John took on the new CIO role at an oil and gas company fully expecting to succeed. He had successfully climbed the rungs of leadership ladder, and been vetted, tested and proven through much of his career. He was, by all accounts, destined for success.
Within a few months, however, he became just another statistic. Another one of the 30% to 50% of qualified executives who are asked or forced to leave a new role within their first 18 months.
CIOs who fail tend to exhibit one or more of these negative leadership traits: control, boastfulness, eccentricity, reluctance, detachment or mistrust
John did not fail because he lacked talent, or underperformed. His promising career was disrupted too early over something that could have easily been avoided, if only he had known.
“Our hypothetical CIO John did the right things, he just didn’t do enough of them,” says De’Onn Griffin, Senior Research Director at Gartner. “John’s failure must be seen more as a derailment, rather than a failure. This derailment is the result of placing a leader in a role they don’t adjust to, and causes John, and anyone else who steps into his shoes, to fall into three avoidable traps.”
Such failures are not just detrimental to CIOs. The company suffers from lost investment in the executive, reduced employee engagement and morale and decreased customer satisfaction, all of which can lead to weaker business results.
CIOs who are hired into a new role need to identify these traps in order to keep their careers safely on track.
Read more: 5 Pitfalls to Avoid as the New CIO
No. 1: Misuse of leadership traits
All CIOs have personal leadership traits that enable their success. When CIOs move into a new organization, and continue to rely on the skills that made them successful in a previous organization, they put themselves at an enormous risk of derailment.
CIOs who fail tend to exhibit one or more of these negative leadership traits: control, boastfulness, eccentricity, reluctance, detachment or mistrust. They don’t tend to recognize these traits in themselves because they’re the flipside of the positive traits that powered their success.
Much of your success will depend on the context of whether your leadership style will fit in with the style of the other executives
Self-awareness is a key skill that aspiring CIOs should develop. Examine the negative consequences of your positive leadership traits and build an “inside-out” IT-business strategy — inclusive of the new organization’s philosophy — to optimize business and IT processes and help deliver business growth.
No. 2: Mistaken work priorities
Tasks that CIOs believe to be important from their previous engagements may not necessarily be aligned with the new organization/team’s priorities.
New CIOs need to pay special attention to the reactions of those around them including superiors, peers and direct reports — for the first six months. If they react in unexpected ways, then the CIO needs to be patient and not try to push through the resistance right away. The first point to consider is whether the CIO is making an error in interpreting the behavior of others. A slight modification behavior or improving communications with others might deliver the desired results.
Prioritize your team over financial goals. Get to know each member and their strengths, weaknesses and career ambitions. Help them achieve their personal and professional goals.
Read more: Why Some Leaders Succeed
No. 3: Changing organizational context
The business environment changes very quickly. The strategies and initiatives that were successful in a previous role may no longer be relevant to the new organization. Goals, responsibilities, relationships, culture, competitive landscape and other factors collectively shape the environment in which new CIOs do their job.
“As a new CIO, you need to protect yourself from walking into a situation where you are set up for failure. Much of your success will depend on the context of whether your leadership style will fit in with the style of the other executives you will collaborate with, or if your character suits the culture,” Griffin says.
It will also be worth requesting support upfront — such as from a mentor, executive coach, trainer or assistant — to help in adjusting to the context of the new role.