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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.


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

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

  1. Thomas Zhou says:

    So the following question is how CIOs can gain leadership ? It’s possible for CIOs to gain stronger leadership with less or no technology ingredient ?

    Yes, from Information Technology to Business Technology, but still has technology, IT is becoming more commodity, but still a special commodity with complexity and frangibility inside.

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