Mark McDonald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mark P. McDonald
GVP EXP
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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The leadership traits CIOs see as significant for success. One of the ‘one’ questions you would ask of CIOs.

by Mark P. McDonald  |  February 6, 2013  |  5 Comments

As we developed the CIO survey over last summer, we asked you about the one question you would ask CIOs.  One of the questions you asked was about leadership skills or traits that drive their success.

What are the top three leadership traits for CIOs of the future?

CIOs responses were surprising more for what they did not say than what they said.  According to CIOs there are three core traits central to CIO success, a second set of specific traits related to the nature of IT and then a myriad of point skills people see as important for CIO success.   The chart below provides a frequency count of the skills mentioned by the 485 CIOs who opted to answer this question.

CIOs indicate traits at three levels: Core, Executive and Specific

Leading an organization responsible for both technology execution as well as technology-intensive innovation requires a blend of traits reported by the CIOs.  Looking at their responses these traits seem to stratify into three different levels.  The figure below highlights a model for these traits.

Core traits are those that are most commonly associated with CIO success.  While they are at the center of the CIO’s personal success, they exist in combination with other traits. Executive traits reflect the challenges associated with being the senior executive responsible for technology.  Finally, specific traits reflect point skills can abilities required for success.

Personal and Professional Demanor: the CIO as couragous leader

The first two core traits, business knowledge and communciations are easily understood.   The third classification is a bit more complex.  This category captures the personal traits CIOs saw in themeselves to be successful.   The “wordle” below captures the terms assocaited with these professional and personal traits.

The CIO is a complex character, part revolutinary and part of the establishment at the same time.  Clearly the role of CIO has changed dramatically from someone who runs the data processing center.

These traits say a lot about the role of the CIO and their sources of future success

There are two schools of thought around the CIO, what makes them successful and what drives their role in the organization.  One school sees the CIO as the lead technologists an executive well versed in IT solutions, their application and operations.  The other sees the CIO as the lead business executive responsible for technology who has technologists on their team.

Is the CIO a technology executive or executive responsible for technology? Based on the traits enumerated by the CIOs the answer seems clear.  The core traits of business knowledge, communications and personal demeanor point to the CIO as an executive responsible for technology.

These core traits are should be shared by every executive and while technology is the context for CIOs, the core remains comparable to their C-level peers.  This supports other findings in the CIO survey regarding CIO and CXO compensation structures that are largely the same.  In addition, 67% of CIOs responding to this year’s survey indicate that they have responsibilities outside of traditional IT.  One in five CIOs report being their organization’s Chief Digital Officer.

The role of technology in the enterprise is changing.  Technology is bigger than IT requiring CIOs to hunt and harvest on top of tending to current IT systems.   This requires having the knowledge to diagnose and contextualize business and technology issues, the power to communicate those ideas clearly across the enterprise and the personal demeanor to be a powerful and positive leader across the enterprise.

Answering the other “one” question you would ask of CIOs.

This is the first of a range of posts that will seek to answers the questions you asked when we were forming the 2013 CIO agenda instrument.  Please be on the look out for other posts under the category – “the one question”.

Some related posts on CIO leadership

Creative Destruction requires leadership: CIO Leadership

What makes a good CIO great?

The new myth of the CIO — a three part piece from back in 2009

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