CIO Careers: Why You Don't Get What You Want

If you're struggling to identify what you really want from your professional career, you're not alone. In fact, it's been my experience that this is a very difficult question for nearly all CIOs to answer.

The reason CIOs (and most IT professionals for that matter) don't get what they want is because they don't know what they want.

Think I'm pushing it?

Does it feel to you like I'm being a bit heavy handed? OK. Go ahead. Ask yourself. What do you really want from your professional career? What do you most want to achieve for yourself in the next 12-18 months?If you're like most CIOs you were about to answer something like:

  • I want to successfully transition my key infrastructure to the cloud
  • I want to come up with a way to effectively deal with my security challenges
  • I want to find a way to finance a major infrastructure upgrade

But these responses don't really answer the questions I asked. That's because the questions I asked was about YOU and your professional career, not about your department or your company. It turns out that answering these questions is much harder than you might think.

Don't worry, you're in good company

If you're struggling to identify what you really want from your professional career, you're not alone. In fact, it's been my experience that this is a very difficult question for nearly all CIOs to answer. Time and again I have seen very thoughtful CIOs rattle off their department's key objectives and initiatives-initiatives that serve the profit and compensation objectives of the CEO and the shareholders. Yet, when asked to articulate their own professional needs and wants, these same polished CIOs often stumble.

So, what gives?

After many years of researching this phenomena and seeking answers within the IT community and beyond, here is what I have learned: First and foremost, the challenge of identifying your own career objectives is not purely a CIO phenomena. It may be a little more pronounced with CIOs, but it's a pretty common human characteristic. Most people have difficulty expressing what they want professionally. They simply are not in touch with what they really want. Here's why:

It's easy to convince yourself that your company's needs and wants are your own. Your company's senior management works hard to inculcate the company's goals and objectives into your blood. It's only natural that achieving these objectives would become important to what you want professionally. After all, your professional life is largely bound up with your company.

People favor a reactive, problem-focused view of the world. Expressing your goals in terms of solving the most pressing problems that surround you makes you feel relevant. It makes you feel like you are a team player who is well aligned with your company's strategy-which you are. And that feels good.

It can be very scary to really want something. Once you say you really want something for yourself professionally, you run the risk of disappointing yourself. It makes you vulnerable to failure in your own eyes. And that's stress inducing. So, you avoid the issue. Or more precisely, you sublimate your professional wants and needs to those of the company.

I'm not preaching revolution against the corporate executive who's taken over your ambitions and put them to work for the company. I am trying to draw your attention to the fact that if you want to prosper professionally then the first, and most basic step, is to have your own professional goals-independent of your employer's goals. Know exactly what you want to achieve for yourself. Know what you are working for beyond just serving the needs of your company.

Now comes the hard part

Don't worry about being selfish. What you may not realize is that once you get clarity on your professional goals, it energizes your work for your company as well. To help get you started on this process, and to further stimulate discussion on this topic, click here for a list of the most common items we've heard cited by CIOs and IT professionals when answering the question "What do you most want from your professional career."

Take a moment to review the list and cast your vote for your top three choices. We'll publish the results next week so you can get a perspective on how you compare to the broader IT community. Who knows, perhaps if enough people participate I'll have to withdraw this article because we will know what CIOs want -- which is surely the first step to getting it.

About the Author

Marc J. Schiller, author of "The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders," is a speaker, strategic facilitator, and an advisor on the implementation of influential analytics. He splits his time between the front lines of client work and evangelizing to IT leaders and professionals about what it takes to achieve influence, respect and career success. Download a free excerpt of his book at http://11secretsforitleaders.com

This article was originally published on 02-13-2012
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