If you are a CIO, do you have what it takes to be a CEO?
That's a question that seems to have gotten lots of past press, including an InformationWeek blog back in January about the background of Yahoo's new chief executive, Scott Thompson. After listing a handful of CIOs who rose to the CEO slot, author Chris Murphy acknowledges that the tech chief in the C suite isn't always in line to move up, unfair as that may be:
Much has been written about why more CIOs don't become CEOs. They're often pandering cliches, like CIOs aren't good communicators. True, a CIO likely needs P&L responsibility before getting the CEO nod, but that's not a huge leap given the importance of e-commerce, data-driven marketing, supply chains, and technology-embedded products today.
One oft-cited reason that CIOs don't make it to the top is that they don't report to the CEO, but instead to the CFO or even the COO. This not only puts them lower in the food chain than other C suiters, but it can leave the impression that CIOs aren't to be trusted as businesspeople (as opposed to as geeks).
This is a view that's been reiterated endlessly in well meaning articles, such as one posted in Forbes by Joerg Heistermann, CEO of the Americas for IDS Scheer two years ago, which states:
CIOs love technology. It's a hobby, a passion and a secret lover. At work, technology is used to improve productivity and revenue. At home, the latest mobile and multimedia gadgets are the center of gravity for leisure activities.
It's the exclusive focus on this very passion that inhibits CIOs from growing into a CEO role. To get to the next level, CIOs have to expand their area of interest, gain new communications skills and learn the language of business.
Whether or not this assessment can be generalized for most CIOs is open to question. But the fact is, the stereotype of the CIO as a geek isolated from key boardroom realities persists in many places -- as does the question of the competence of women executives. As a result, the advice given to CIOs can be just as inane as that proffered to women. (The cited article recommends, among other things, working hard, cultivating higher-ups, dressing well, and playing golf.)
Where in all this is the real help for ambitious CIOs?
Perhaps the place to look is within one's organization and, by extension, one's industry. Who is being promoted? What values and skills do those people possess? What is the overall vision of the company, and how well is it being realized by upper management? If it's not being realized or if there's a shortfall, how can you, as a CIO, improve the scenario?
No matter what your background, the CEO spot also requires specific skills. Much has been written about these, in scholarly treatises and armchair summations, but a few key points rise to the surface. In general, CEOs must have the following attributes to succeed:
Business skills. We're talking finance, management, the works; everything that goes into an MBA and then some.
People skills. Leadership capabilities are shared by nearly all CEOs. And while much may be down to personal charisma, CEOs must be good managers, good speakers, and good salespeople.
Industry chops. To really succeed, a CEO must know the nature of the business he or she is running and be thoroughly versed in its history, market position, value chain(s), key issues, and short- and long-term strategies.
Personal confidence. A strong ego and an iron will are musts for the top spot. Unless you think you're an alpha dog, you can't convince others you are.
Support. A CEO is only as good as the people around him or her -- mentors, key stakeholders, direct reports. Without the endorsement of these constituents, a CEO's ship will sink, no matter how strong it is setting out.
Do you as an executive have these characteristics? Then go for it -- whether you're a CIO or not.
— Mary Jander , Managing Editor, Internet Evolution