Editorial: February 2003

By Ellen Pearlman  |  Posted 02-01-2003

In this month's CIO Insight survey on the role of the CIO, our respondents, CIOs and top IT executives all, told us that "leadership" had replaced "business understanding" as the CIO's most important personal attribute for success at their jobs. That's in keeping with their sense of the kind of year they've just had: Thanks to intensifying cost and budgetary pressures, almost three quarters of CIOs agreed that their jobs had grown tougher in the past year. Leadership counts more than ever under such circumstances, when CIOs—indeed, executives of all stripes—must make tough decisions that affect large numbers of employees, all of whom need guidance and reassurance when navigating roiling waters.

This issue of CIO Insight contains much that speaks to the issue of leadership. Virtually every CIO has had to face the problem of unwanted and growing complexity—of both IT systems and the business processes they're designed to support, according to our analysis of the issue. Excess complexity costs money—adding as much as 28 percent to the IT budgets of companies. Reducing complexity, say the experts we interviewed, involves a never-ending battle to apply companywide infrastructure and applications standards, and to rationalize and simplify business processes. But most critically, says Phil Thompson, CIO at IBM, it requires aligning the entire culture around simplicity. That's a job for strong leaders at the highest levels of the company who are willing to put in place rules of governance to support and enforce these standards.

This month's columnists—both experts in organizational behavior—also discuss leadership. Warren Bennis and Robert I. Sutton each caution against the temptation, in the wake of recent corporate scandals, to demonize arrogant leaders and lionize more humble ones. Instead, both men suggest, the true test of genuine leadership is not personality or style. Bennis advises holding to the time-honored truths of great leadership—adaptability, clear goals and the ability to inspire. Sutton, meanwhile, says it's critical to remember that the drive and determination of arrogant people can be critical to successful innovation. Two useful lessons to contemplate for strategic CIOs looking to improve their clout in tough times.

On another note, we are happy to announce that CIO Insight has been chosen as a finalist in three different categories of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award: the best subject-related series of articles, for articles on security in the September 2002 issue; the best single-theme issue, for our Alignment Gap special issue; and the best single issue of a magazine, for our July 2002 issue. I am very proud that our efforts to clarify and analyze strategies for IT business leaders continue to be recognized.