CIOs Must Either Adapt or Step Aside

By Larry Bonfante  |  Posted 08-13-2015 Print Email

CIOs should take the time to develop strong personal and professional relationships with peers and key stakeholders—sound advice for any aspiring executive.

As a practicing CIO, executive coach and a published author, I get asked a lot of questions from IT executives, thought leaders and the trade press. Here is a sampling of the more interesting questions I get asked, and hopefully some associated answers that may add some value for you.

Do you think the CIO position is going away?

No I do not! However, I see the CIO position bifurcating into two scenarios. The first group of CIOs, whom I’ll call Utility Service Providers, are indeed at risk of if not extinction than at least losing the ability to truly impact their organizations’ bottom lines. Many of these individuals will either become part of outsource organizations, have their positions or compensation lowered or find themselves out of jobs altogether. The other variety of CIOs are business partners who collaborate with their peers to add meaningful and tangible business value for their stakeholders. For these leaders, the role of the CIO is actually growing in status and impact.

What do you see as the competencies that separate the utility CIOs from the game changers?

At the sake of sharing what can be perceived as a shameless plug for my book, Lessons in IT Transformation, and my executive coaching practice CIO Bench Coach, I see the following scenario: Almost all CIOs are experts at delivering technology services and projects. However in this day and age this is considered table stakes. Fewer CIOs understand the nature of the businesses they compete within, how their companies compete within these markets and how technology can help them compete. However the third leg of the stool that is often overlooked is having the competencies in human dynamics to be effective in this new world order. It’s about skills such as being able to develop relationships, managing through influence, communicating and marketing the value of your work, developing your staff, and partnering with others to drive successful outcomes. These are competencies that don’t always come naturally to IT executives and often are not taught in business school.

Is this gap in competencies unique to CIOs?

While CIOs are not the only executives who can benefit from enhancing their skills in human dynamics, most other C-level executives have had to exhibit these skills in order to get to the C-suite. Sometimes CIOs are able to get to an executive level based upon functional excellence and expertise without having developed these skills along the way. However, once they get to the C-suite the lack of these skills can be painfully obvious and quite frankly an Achilles heel.

Why do CIOs get treated differently from other executives?

Quite often we get treated differently because we act differently. First of all, people don’t always understand what we do or the value it brings to our enterprises. Education is a key competency required of CIOs. Not only must we educate our stakeholder on the value of what we do, but we must do it in a way that doesn’t come across as condescending or that makes people feel uninformed. Second, we often speak a foreign language, which I call “geek speak.” We need to speak the language of business and finance, otherwise we may get treated differently because we are not always speaking in similar terms. And equally important, we haven’t taken the time and effort to develop deep, personal and professional relationships with our peers and key stakeholders—a must for any aspiring executive regardless of their expertise.

Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at


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