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

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

  • 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.

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

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