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Secret CIO: Live Your Dream: This Year, Become CIO

Pointers on getting a job you may one day wish you had avoided

As we begin 2004, it's fair to stop worrying about the economy and the world situation for a moment and concentrate on our personal goals. Are you one of the people who'd like to see the letters "CIO" after your name before another 12 months pass? If so, here are some professional attributes to cultivate that can help. I'm sure you can think of others and might even disagree with these, but I don't claim they are necessarily complete or applicable to all situations. (Note: A willingness to listen to differing opinions is one of those key traits I'm about to list.)

At the top of the list is one that doesn't get enough attention: continual awareness of the difference between managing and leading. Managers are the people who perform the critical task of assigning work, checking up on what's being done, and making sure little problems don't become big ones. Good managers are especially important to information-technology groups because IT is so project-oriented.

Leaders are of a different breed, although I know some CIOs who are both. A leader sets the goal and makes it real enough to everyone so that it becomes a shared vision. To paraphrase President Eisenhower, leadership isn't getting someone to do what you want; leadership is the art of getting people to do what you want done because they want to do it. Leadership, for example, is getting everyone behind that infrastructure project because it will solve problems for some, provide opportunities to others, and act as an insurance policy for yet others within the company. Most really good CIOs with whom I am acquainted are leaders. That doesn't mean they can't manage, it's just that leadership is the scarcer commodity in our IT world.

The second important attribute is the ability to listen to businesspeople and explain in understandable terms how you will help them to achieve their goals. Business alignment isn't really much more complicated than that, even though consultants and myriad authors might think otherwise. It never ceases to amaze me how frequently I've seen intelligent IT managers so intent on responding to criticism or questions that they cease listening to what their business colleagues are trying to say. What's equally bad is the tendency to want businesspeople to understand our jargon about how we're going to do something instead of explaining the results of what we'll be doing in clear and simple language.

The third and final element is to say what you will do and then deliver on what you promise. Can you think of anything sillier than for an IT person to get upset when his or her credibility is called into question when said IT person has a track record of overpromising and underdelivering? Credibility is built upon many small successes. Over the years, I've reacted negatively when someone says we need management commitment. I invariably ask, "Why should we be given management commitment? What results are we providing that entitle us to their support?"

Leadership, listening, and delivering aren't the only important attributes. There are others, such as treating your staff fairly and the critical importance of personal integrity. However, the three stated above can go a long way to helping you achieve your goal of becoming a CIO.

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty) as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company. Send him E-mail at [email protected].

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Herbert Lovelace's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Herbert Lovelace, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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