IT Leaders: What’s Your Next Move?

Communicating value and creating value have a direct connection, say the authors of the new book The Real Business of IT (Harvard Business Press; available Oct. 20, 2009). Those IT leaders who find the sweet spot can find limitless opportunities as CIOs–or much, much more–as Gartner Fellow Richard Hunter and MIT Research Scientist George Westerman illustrate via real-life examples of CIOs who have climbed the ladder. But they can’t sit back and wait; as Hunter and Westerman describe in this chapter, IT leaders need to carefully prepare to seize opportunities.
If you’re a CIO, you should start planning your next step now. If you’re an IT manager, plan how to gain the experience you need. Do you want to move into the CIO role? Or move to a business role and consider moving to CIO or CIO-plus later? And if you’re a businessperson considering a CIO position, congratulations on your foresight.
Where you can go depends on what you enjoy, what you’re good at, what you can improve through new experiences and what your company needs. These factors don’t always come together to make you a CIO-plus, or they may not come together in your current company. But as our stories show, they cannot come together if you do not perform your role well; and if you perform your role well, additional opportunities are likely.
To increase your chances, take steps now to plot a course. Start by understanding what roles may be possible for you (CEO, CFO, COO, CSO, CAO). Consider the descriptions and ask whether your experiences and interests are a good fit for these positions. Keep in mind that there are plenty of rewards and challenges available to successful CIOs, and plenty of opportunities to take on wider responsibilities in the business without changing jobs.
We’ve seen examples of CIOs doing all these roles (and shared the stories of many of them). But people are not interchangeable. So consider whether the role is something you’d like and would be good at with practice and experience.
Next, start planning a path in the business/technology responsibility map. The CIOs we profiled in this chapter took a variety of paths. Note that none of the career paths was completely planned. You can’t dictate the future, but you can take steps to improve the chances that your future will be what you want.
Each of the people asked for, or accepted, a role because it was important for him or the company. Then they added to their credibility and options through a combination of planned action or unplanned opportunities. But they built on their skills and interests to do more than they had been doing before. And they all proactively reached out to do something more than they were originally doing.
But always remember that blind ambition is neither useful nor pretty. Every one of the CIO-plus people we interviewed found that they gained their extended roles through collaboration and helping others succeed, and not through political wheeling and dealing. In most cases, they were asked to take on extended roles, either by the company’s senior leaders or the leaders of other firms. And when they did push for an extended role, they gained the role not through politics but through their knowledge, credibility, relationships and hard work.
No executive wants to work with someone who is maneuvering to take his job. But nearly every executive, when looking to fill an open position, will reach out to trusted colleagues who have helped him (or others) be successful in the past.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Press. Excerpted from The Real Business of IT: How CIOs Create and Communicate Value. Copyright © 2009 Gartner, Inc. and George Westerman; All Rights Reserved.

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