What Executive Coaching Has Taught Me About CIOs

CIOs need to actively market the value of IT, care less about who they report to and more about their results, and focus on relationship management and team building.

People, figures, yellow figure, crowd

By Larry Bonfante

As many of you know, in addition to being a practicing CIO, over the past four years I have also served as an executive coach to dozens of very talented CIOs. I’ve been asked to share some of what I’ve learned from having the opportunity to coach these successful IT leaders. This month I will focus on common themes that I deal with in my coaching practice. Next month I will write about what I’ve learned from this experience that has made me a better CIO.

As you can imagine, in working with dozens of CIOs in various industries, in all geographies, and in all sizes of companies, I have worked to support my clients’ leadership development in many areas and have helped them tackle numerous challenges. However, there are some recurring themes that are both worthy of mention and are common across clients and industries. Here are four of them.

1.    The importance of actively marketing the value of IT. Many CIOs view marketing as an unsavory exercise that they are both uncomfortable with and unskilled to perform. At best, they view their own marketing efforts as something they will do after they do their “day job.” I’m here to tell you that articulating the value of IT and how you are leveraging your company’s investments in the human and financial resources required to drive IT operations and projects is your “day job.” If people don’t understand the value of what you do and how it impacts the bottom line in business terms that resonate with them, your likelihood of getting the support you need to be successful is pretty slim.

2.    Who you report to is less important than the results you deliver. In my opinion, the trade press has done CIOs a great disservice by leading many of us to believe that for a CIO to be impactful, he or she needs to report to the CEO. It’s not true. Who you report to (for 10 of my 12 years as a CIO, I have reported to the CFO), is less important than the results you deliver, the relationships you create, and the influence you develop as a business executive and a problem solver. A lack of direct reporting structure is not an excuse for failing to drive transformational value.

3.    Many CIOs have a chip on their shoulders. Yes, we feel that we are held to a higher level of scrutiny than other functional executives, that people don’t value or appreciate what we do, and that they don’t care to take the time to understand the impact of our efforts. In the immortal words of Don Henley, “Get over it!” We need to spend less time feeling sorry for ourselves and more time educating our key stakeholders. They need to know about the things we do that make a difference. And even if we are held to a higher standard, guess what… life isn’t fair! Less whining and more communication are in order.

4.    Relationship management and team building is everything. It doesn’t matter if you are a superstar in your functional area. Unless you make everyone around you better you are not maximizing your impact. Wayne Gretzky is recognized by many as the greatest hockey player of all time. He wasn’t the fastest skater. He didn’t have the best shot. What he did have was the ability to raise the playing level of everyone around him so that his team won championships. Remember: success is a team sport.

Next month I will share some of the ways my coaching experience has impacted how I look at and perform my own job as a CIO.

About the Author

Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@CIOBenchCoach.com.

This article was originally published on 10-04-2013
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