Graham Waller

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Graham P. Waller
VP, Executive Partner
6 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Graham Waller is a vice president and executive partner with Gartner Executive Programs. He supports CIO clients across variety of industries, assisting them in business-IT alignment and maximizing IT value. Read Full Bio

The Digital Enterprise Demands Leadership Shifts

by Graham Waller  |  March 21, 2013  |  Comments Off

Are the leadership skills you have, the leadership skills you need? Attendees at recent Gartner CIO Forum workshops in US and Europe explored this question and the answer was far from affirmative. A somewhat uncomfortable finding, particularly given the rapid ascent of the digital enterprise. Leadership shifts indentified in the workshops included. ‘Command and control’ to ‘enable and empower’. An internal focus on efficiency to an external obsession with the customer. Top-down rigidity to bottom-up creativity. Requirements driven problem solving to rapid prototyping and ‘dilemma flipping’.

While as one CIO observed “we have been talking about these types of changes for 30 years” the sentiment in the workshops was that we are facing a genuine tipping point. For if CIOs do not make the needed leadership shifts there is the real danger, indeed irony, that the immense opportunities to be derived from digital macro trends will disintermediate the traditional IT role itself!

However as also keenly noted during the workshops, CIOs who can master these leadership skills to drive digitally enabled business outcomes will be in huge demand. Indeed often rewarded with additional business responsibilities including the emerging Chief Digital Officer (CDO) role.  These themes were echoed during a panel of Executive Search Firm leaders who commented on the scarcity of needed talent and an emerging premium being placed on candidates who combine strong leadership skills with digital business experience. As I have said previously, there has never been a better time to be a CIO, at least one with the ‘right stuff’! 

Carpe diem.

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Nexus of Forces – Elevated Leadership Required

by Graham Waller  |  October 24, 2012  |  2 Comments

As Gartner CEO Gene Hall stated in this week’s Symposium conference opening keynote, the ‘Nexus of Forces’ trends (mobile, social, cloud and information) will drive the need not only for new skills, but also a new kind of leader. At a breakout workshop immediately following the keynote, CIO attendees explored how leadership will be impacted along with which specific skills, if further honed, will enable them to capitalize on the business innovation opportunities at this nexus.  The highlights of workshop were captured graphically as a wonderful example of communication.


Graphic created by Dana Wright of Take Action Inc.

The top themes from the CIO workshop attendees who explored the question, ‘what is the most important way your leadership needs to change given the Nexus of Forces trend?’, included; giving up traditional ‘control’, enabling others to step-up and lead, adopting a more collaborative leadership style and forging new levels of business partnership. A further pattern that emerged  was that the paradigms on which past success have been built will not be the path to the future.

The workshop used ‘The CIO Edge; Seven leadership skills you need to drive results’ as a backdrop, then asked the attendees if they had to pick one skill to invest time, which one would  help them be more successful given these trends? The most picked skill, by some margin, was the ability to ‘forge the right relationships to drive results’, particularly horizontal peer business and external relationships. The second most cited skill was ‘build people not systems’, developing not only the next generation of the IT Leaders, but also building IT literacy across other business partners with a focus on how the nexus of forces can transform the enterprise for business or mission advantage.  Indeed one CIO commented that the workshop sparked the realization that the critical role he now needed to play was that of ‘Innovation Ambassador’.

I would love to hear your ideas, feedback and questions regarding which leadership skills need to be elevated to enable CIOs and IT leaders to both survive and thrive in the digital economy and nexus of forces.  Carpe diem.

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Harnessing the power of everyone working a ‘level up’

by Graham Waller  |  October 22, 2012  |  Comments Off

“If I’m brutally honest the problem in my organization is we all work a level down. I’m doing too much of my VPs’ work, therefore my VPs are doing too much of their managers’ work, and so on down.” Such was the reflection from an astute CIO during a recent leadership workshop. He went on to confide the results of this dynamic. “We woefully underperform our potential, both struggling to provide desired innovation, while also lacking the delivery speed demanded by our business partners.”

If this situation resonates you are not alone, indeed there was a ripple of agreement across the workshop attendees. They went on to examine not only the numerous root causes, but more positively the impact if this dynamic could be flipped. Imagine the power if we could all work just 25% up, instead of a level down! For example if I have six direct reports and challenge them all to work 25% up, they could collectively do my job, and then some! Hence liberating me to also work up, focusing on driving business outcomes and innovation in collaboration with my business peers.

There was optimism that flipping the ‘working down’ to a ‘working up’ pattern can be harnessed for an exponential impact. Particularly if we surround ourselves with great people. For they will relish the extra responsibility, thrive on the empowerment and be fulfilled by the opportunity to deliver great results. All while enhancing their ability to be promoted, a further factor that can fuel the behavior. If you are a skeptic and all this sounds too good to be true, consider if it can only be partially realized. What if you can flip the dynamic in your organization, unleashing the power of the people so everyone works just 5% up? And isn’t that essence of leadership and your role as a leader?

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Reactions from Cannes and Orlando Symposia to ‘The CIO Edge’ Book Launch

by Graham Waller  |  November 15, 2010  |  Comments Off

“This session alone has paid for my trip to Orlando Symposium”.  Such was the reaction of one South American based CIO after attending the presentation entitled ‘Combine Strategy and Leadership to Maximize IT’s Contribution’.   

As I reflect on The CIO Edge’ book launch at the recent Symposia events, I’m invigorated by the numerous times people made a point of telling me how they personally related to the core messages of the book.  Soft skills yield hard results.  It is people leadership skills that distinguish, and enable the success, of high performing CIOs. 

A CIO from a major European city who is tackling a tough transformation agenda, came alive as she embraced how changing her approach to emphasize the human dynamics, rather than procedural steps such as governance, was the key to achieving the desired business outcomes.  A CIO from transportation sector immediately connected how specific skills, such as a ‘Social and Participative’ leadership style, would make or break the success of the next phase of his IT strategy. He now plans to in incorporate these specific skills into upcoming talent reviews.  

During workshops I asked attendees to conduct a simple self assessment to identify which of the seven skills has the potential to most positively impact their future success.  In Orlando the clear number one was ‘Being a Leader First and Everything Else Second’.  The workshop attendees readily embraced its importance, however simultaneously acknowledged just how hard it is to live this as their primary role everyday. While in Cannes the skill of ‘Forging Right Relationships’, particularly with horizontal business partners, was the skill ranked number one by those attendees.   

At both Orlando and Cannes attendees continually stopped me to say just how much they enjoyed the candor and perspectives from the great CIOs on the panels I had the privilege to moderate.  I cannot do justice in the short space here to the wealth of leadership insight the CIO panelists kindly shared, so therefore plan to make this the focus of upcoming blog posts. 

Having worked for nearly three years, along with my co-authors of ‘The CIO Edge’, it is immensely fulfilling to witness the connection people had to our research findings.  If you attended any of the sessions at a Symposium event, or have had the opportunity to read the book, I would love to hear which aspects connected with you and why.   

                                ‘Carpe diem’ my friends, Graham

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Why “Leadership First, Everything Else Second” for CIOs?

by Graham Waller  |  September 17, 2010  |  1 Comment

After three years of research, a pattern and mental model we observed in high performing CIOs was a passionate belief that their primary role is people leadership. As Filippo Passerini (President of Business Services & CIO – P&G), explained to us when we interviewed him as part of our research:

“No amount of technology can replace the power of motivated and energized people. That’s particularly true if your mission is to make a real difference as CIO, to create value via applying IT, to becoming a true strategic partner for the company versus having IT be relegated to a ‘commodity’ function. If that’s your goal—and it is mine—people are central to transforming the way we do business. IT becomes more of a people business than a technology one. That’s why my first focus is on people.”

However from our experience this is not a universally held belief. While just about everyone we spoke to agreed people leadership (and the requisite soft skills) are important, the skeptics’ view is that these are subordinate to the ‘real job’ of a CIO to drive results. In contrast, a pattern we saw in the highest performing leaders was a fundamental belief that their role is all about people leadership, and through that lens they will be able to achieve far greater results via people, by people and through people.

While this distinction may appear subtle, our research indicates it is pivotal to a modern CIO’s success. I would love to hear your views on this point:

Is people leadership the primary way you define your role? Should it be? What advice would you give aspiring CIOs on this topic?

This is all the result of extensive research that I’ve been working on along with fellow co-authors George Hallenbeck (Director, Intellectual Property Development, for Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting) and Karen Rubenstrunk, that will result in a book to be published in November by Harvard Business Review Press – The CIO Edge: Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results .

It has been a true privilege to have worked on this research along with my co-authors, numerous wonderful colleagues across Gartner and to have the opportunity to interview and get to know so many high performing CIOs. I plan to utilize this blog to share on-going insights into leadership in the CIO role and to keep the research process alive with your help. I sincerely hope that you will find this of interest and would value your feedback, ideas, opinions and engagement on the topic of leadership in the CIO role.

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