The 4 Dimensions of the CIO’s Personal Leadership

February 24, 2020

Contributor: Katie Costello

Digital business trends disrupt markets and what it means to be a successful leader in today’s fast-changing context.

Digital society requires a CIO mindset shift away from striving for stability and toward leading through constant uncertainty. This means leading in all directions to address ever-changing IT and business demands. 

The role of the CIO is even more integral as enterprises shift from tackling digital transformation projects to living in a fully digital society. At times, CEOs embark on such journeys with little to no regard for the impact of digital. Enterprises are unable to make progress in areas such as talent, strategy and infrastructure without an organization that has been revamped to support digital business.

In response, Gartner developed a leadership compass that helps CIOs identify how to remain nimble and rally the larger organization to become digital leaders.

Read more: The Gartner 2020 CIO Agenda: Winning in the Turns

Push up through any resistance by leadership

Half of CIOs state that they are considered partner CIOs by their business counterparts. In the digital business era, CIOs will need to become trusted allies instead.

Push through organizational resistance by selling senior leaders on the benefits of collaborating around digital business. If a colleague is stuck on the belief that an initiative won’t work based on past attempts within the organization, acknowledge their hesitation. Ask for a list of reasons why the previous efforts failed so they can be avoided this time. 

Start to change your organization’s culture by having leadership talk about what needs to change and identify root causes of resistance to bring digital strategy forward. CIOs have a unique opportunity to use IT to drive competitive advantage and become digital businesses.

Read more: CIO Agenda 2020: Is Your Culture Adaptable?

Lead down to develop the skills of current staff

CEOs expect digital business initiatives to make an immediate, material difference to the enterprise's financial performance. However, an impact this big does not happen overnight and it requires the whole organization to participate, rather than just a handful of data scientists.

Start with strategy, and ensure that IT leaders and managers have learning as a key performance indicator. Develop and support Connector managers, who improve employee performance by up to 26% and triple the likelihood that their employees are high performers. 

Gartner finds four dimensions of the CIO's personal leadership.

Partner with peer and nontraditional entities

An enterprise cannot launch a significant digital business by itself — at least not fast enough to get to market before competition. Look to partner with nontraditional sources that will bring innovative solutions to the enterprise and help create business value more quickly. 

“If you're a bank, for example, the credit rating agency you traditionally work with won’t give you much help with loans to small businesses because they are too small to rate,” says De’Onn Griffin, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “But fintech companies that put together credit ratings from other sources of information can boost the success rate of your small business lending.”

Ecosystem partners accelerate the digital business timeline. In effect, they enable CIOs to disrupt themselves and adopt an outside perspective that will resonate with business leadership. 

Lead within to further develop your leadership capabilities 

CIOs typically promote complicated concepts when attempting to inspire and engage enterprise partners, only to face confusion and resistance. Modify your approach to fit the particular audience or situation. 

Everything a CIO communicates must be clearly linked to business outcomes. Embrace the natural language of business and use storytelling to compel others to get onboard with the vision. CIOs who leverage their years of experience in IT rather than listening to business needs first are no longer effective digital business leaders.  

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Recommended resources for Gartner clients*:

The Leadership Compass for CIOs by De’Onn Griffin. 

*Note that some documents may not be available to all Gartner clients.