CIO Career Killer: Lack of Influence

What does a CIO need to be successful? We each have our own answers. Some may
say that technical excellence and knowledge counts most, others might place the
emphasis on business awareness, relationships or just hard-core ambition.
Certainly, all of these are necessary to reach a certain level in an
organization. But to take the
final step and be accepted as someone who is truly a member of the C-suite, you
need one more thing: influence. This is the first in a series of articles on
how to position yourself as an influential leader in your organization.

Warning: Your lack of influence may be killing your career and
you don’t even know it.

Do the following scenarios feel like another day at the
office to you?

  • You have a $20 million IT budget, but you can’t get the CFO
    to approve your $150,000 data mining initiative.
  • Your group has just implemented a $5 million ecommerce
    system, but you aren’t invited to the business planning meetings for how best
    to use the new system going forward.
  • The finance group is considering a BI tool that is not the
    organization’s standard, and no one from your IT group was invited to the
    meeting with the vendor.

These scenarios aren’t fairy tales. They are real-life stories,
and they are happening every day all across the world.

Most of the time, the CIOs or IT leaders who share these
stories with me follow up with their explanation of the problem. It usually
goes something like this.

“Our users simply don’t get it. This stuff we do is really
difficult. They expect us to work miracles and yet they barely get involved — except
of course to criticize and question our value. We try to set up steering
committees and user groups, but somehow IT ends up getting pushed to the back
of the queue. Is it any surprise that they tell us we are out of touch with
what they want? They never give us the time to really get in touch with them.”

Welcome to the world of most IT leaders today. A world where
you feel challenged to keep up with the dizzying changes in information
technology and how to best apply it to your organizations’ needs, all in an
environment where your key stakeholders question your value every step of the

So, what’s going on? Why are so many IT leaders struggling
to “get aligned” with the business and to get a seat at the table? Why, at a
time when information technology is transforming the world, are so many IT
leaders afraid that their organizations are about to be downgraded and/or their
jobs are about to be outsourced?

The answer, as you may have guessed from the headline, is a problem
which I’ve observed time and again: Many IT leaders lack the influence they
need with their peers, stakeholders and bosses.

Stop. Don’t just keep reading. Really stop and consider this

Challenge yourself for just one moment to make sense of
those words: “Many IT leaders lack the influence they need.” What does that
mean? Does that perhaps apply to you too?

Of course you don’t want to think that you have this
problem. It’s not a nice feeling. It’s kind of like when the doctor first tells
you that you have high blood pressure and you have to lose 15 pounds, cut out
salt, and start taking medication. (Yes, I know from personal experience.)

In the back of your mind you are thinking: “This can’t be
right. I feel pretty good. Overall things are good. It’s just a few problem
areas. After all, everyone I talk to tells me they have these problems.”

Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s time to stop kidding
yourself. It’s time to see the reality of your situation. And most importantly,
it’s time to fix the situation.

It’s time to change this reality for you and for other IT
leaders like you. It’s time to start getting the respect that IT leaders

Why is influence so important for IT leaders?

Nobody would argue with the statement that the ability to
influence others is a useful skill. Yet, few IT professionals realize that influence is the key to success
for a CIO. Influence is what moves
a CIO from a competent technical manager to an executive whose work and
contributions are valued and who enjoys the respect of the senior leadership of
the organization.

And why is that the case? Because influencing others is what
IT leaders are paid to do. It’s one of the most essential elements of the job. Senior
executives are constantly making decisions about IT investments:

  • How much budget should be allocated to IT?
  • Which business unit or project should receive highest
  • Is it worth investing in an enterprise-wide solution or is a
    point solution more cost-effective?
  • Can we postpone the investment in infrastructure for one
    more year, when we expect the economy to be stronger?

When these questions arise, senior executives need you, the
CIO, to lead the discussion and to provide guidance. But you can only fill this
role if you have influence. That
is to say, when you speak, you need your colleagues to trust you, to believe
that you understand them, their business and their strategic priorities and not
just the technical aspects of the decision. Simply put, without meaningful
influence, you can’t do your job of directing the organizations’ investment in,
and use of, technology.

Multi-million dollar transformations, such as the
implementation of electronic medical record systems for example, touch nearly
every aspect of an organization. In these cases the responsibility for the
transformation can’t possibly reside with just the CIO. In fact, for such a
transformation to be successful, it requires broad-based business ownership
from the start. That’s why leading hospitals often choose the chief of hospital
operations or the COO to head up these types of projects.

Often, I hear IT leaders complain that they can’t get proper
business involvement. What they don’t count on is what happens whey they really
get it. In many ways the job becomes tougher than it would be if they don’t
have the requisite influence already in place.

The more involved business executives are in a project, the
more influence the CIO needs. With a project firmly rooted in the business (as
it should be), your role as CIO — to help ensure the right technology-related
decisions are taken — becomes much more dependent on your ability to
effectively influence colleagues across the business.

How do you build the influence necessary to succeed in your
organization, whether big or small? How do you create a new reality where the
value and contribution of IT is understood and appreciated; where your ideas
are listened to carefully? These are among the topics we’ll explore as we continue this series on the influential CIO.

About the Author

Marc J. Schiller, author of The 11 Secrets of Highly
Influential IT Leaders
, is a speaker, IT strategist and analytics expert. Download your free book excerpt at

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