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So, would CIOs be better off creating in themselves a degree of emotional detachment, basically making them into functional psychopaths? Or, intriguingly, do many of them already fit that description?
Despite the high-stakes decisions CIOs have to make about headcount and layoffs, multi-year commitments to technology that changes by the month, and dependence on software so complex even its creators often don't understand all its permutations, the answer to both questions, say researchers and industry experts, is most likely no.
In fact, most CIOs display nowhere near the kind of non-emotional responses typical of near-psychopaths, said Doug Berg, founder of techies.com, and now chief executive of HotGigs, a contract talent firm that specializes in IT staffing.
"Over the past decade, the role of the CIO has changed tremendously, and that's driven change in what type of person is chosen to take on that job," said Berg. "The good ones have a balanced view of people, process and technology. They care about how the company meets its goals while embracing technology. They have to be emotionally invested to do that."
However, all is not chummy and emotionally homogeneous within the IT department. CIOs, as well as CTOs, share more personality traits with their fellow executives than with the rest of the IT department, according Gretchen Cook, spokesperson for IT industry association CompTIA.
"I think I've met a few psychopaths, but they weren't CIOs," she laughed. "Today's CIO has to have good, healthy social skills because they have to convince people that they need things. Like CFOs or other chief executives, they have to be able to present a case for why their department matters and what it needs in the future."
To create that kind of continual justification, a CIO has to be extroverted, flexible, and creative, Cook said.
Although technical savvy is appreciated in a CIO, companies have started to realize that finding an executive with technical insight and experience is not the same as hiring someone with a more technology-focused personality type.
"CIOs tend to love technology," said Berg. "But not in the same way as programmers or system administrators, who gravitate toward technology because they think it's cool. CIOs are much more interested in what technology can do for a company than simply what it can do, period. That's an important distinction in terms of personality."