A Blueprint for Becoming a CIO

Business AgreementLooking to advance your career and become a chief information officer either in your organization or another? There are certain steps you should be taking to making becoming a CIO a reality.

Dennis Hodges, CIO, Inteva Products, wrote a blog post for Heller Associates, a professional search company. Right up front he makes the statement that the skillset that brings people into technology management does not prepare them for the CIO role.

He relates how before becoming a CIO of a global manufacturer he worked for one who had no IT experience. Instead the man had come from the business side of the organization. And Hodges got this career tidbit from him,  “to move up in IT, you need to move out of IT.” Hodges doesn’t relate how that must have made him feel because he has both a masters in computer science and an MBA. His pedigree seems tailor made for getting that corner office as a c-level executive.

Yet, in his case he feels a lot of his success came from understanding the language of business and not technology. “When I speak to the CFO at our company, he often says that he knows I understand him since I was a Controller before,” Hodges writes.

He has developed what he calls the Hodges Theory of Leadership Potential. (He didn’t actually proclaim it in capital letters. I did because it seems worthy of being a formal thing with a proper title.) At the top of the theory is this belief: “the deeper your technical skills, the more you need business exposure.”

Not surprisingly, Hodges advocates somewhat the educational path he took. He probably wouldn’t have gone for the masters in computer science in hindsight. Education isn’t a bad thing but must CIO aspirants need business education at the graduate level – not computer education. Hodges says business “finishing school” is more important because you already have all the technical education you need.

That’s an opinion shared by Paul Munslow, IT program manager at Tennis Australia. He describes himself as “an aspiring CIO” in an interview. He said, “My recipe for respect and success is to become knowledgeable in IT and business, and I see an MBA as a vehicle for achieving this. The modern CIO needs to have many skills in the arsenal. It is my hope that an MBA will give me a competitive advantage in the future.”

Hodges also said potential CIOs with technical backgrounds need to learn to listen. Sounds kind of harsh but what he’s really saying is simple: let people finish discussing their needs before suggesting a solution. That reminds me of the famous quotation, “When you’re talking you’re demonstrating what you know. When you’re listening you are learning.”

As Hodges puts it, “the more technical you are the more you need to throttle yourself as you discuss options. Let the other person finish their requirement definition before you give a solution.”

And giving solutions is going to help you get ahead. Polish your skills as a troubleshooter, Hodges advises. Take your technical skills and solve business issues that need addressed. As he says, “Focus on the problem and process first, not solutions – even non-technical people tend to jump to new software as the solution for a problem that hasn’t been fully identified yet.”

This may be the most important piece of advice he offers for advancement: see problems through to their solutions. He said that shows resolve and determination. He doesn’t mention this (and he should have) but that also demonstrates you are a problem solver during an interview process. After all, one of the most common things in an job interview is identifying problems you have solved.

 

Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping, About.com, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.