CIO reveals keys to getting noticed by executive leadership

Scott Lowe

This year, I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate in the judging process for the SearchCIO-Midmarket.com IT Leadership Awards. I reviewed dozens of submissions in an effort to pick out the best of the best -- at least in the judges' individual humble opinions.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

As you might expect, judges approach such endeavors with their own criteria. That's exactly why SearchCIO-Midmarket.com used a panel of judges for its IT Leadership Awards. We all brought something different to the discussion and looked at each semifinalist through a unique lens of experience -- and yes, biases. As I began to review the nominations, however, I realized my own views would yield a pretty well-rounded result when they were combined with the scores of the other judges, Harvey Koeppel and Niel Nickolaisen. We even surprised each other with some of our choices, and with the reasons we made that particular selection.

I'm not ashamed to say that my individual bias leans toward projects that promote the "public good." I have great respect for people who spend their time developing solutions for education, health care and other "human ventures," as opposed to developing something simply to satisfy a profit motive. Profit is a good thing, but at the end of the day, the solutions that benefit people in other ways have more impact than those that simply pad the bottom line for an individual company -- in my opinion, that is.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I selected CIO Mauricio Vicente as one of my choices to be in the running for SearchCIO-Midmarket.com IT Leader of the Year. I'm a big believer in the power of communication in all its forms. Whether spoken, written or signed, communication is the underlying driving force in everything we do. Vicente implemented services that truly meshed with his organization's mission and goals and allowed it to be self-sustaining by its own efforts rather than by being dependent on a shaky partnership.

Leading the IT evolution

There were a number of projects submitted that, while worthy in their own right, didn't seem to be far enough "off the beaten path:" They were simply the next phase in what would have been the group's natural evolution anyway. I give significant points to IT leaders who embrace this evolution early and fiercely. Although it's commendable that IT leaders who allowed other companies to "test the waters" eventually did jump on the bandwagon, their risk was not nearly as great -- and the competitive advantage was gone because others had forged the path already.

For me, there are traits that get CIOs noticed, not only by IT awards judges but also by a company's top brass. A great many of them were prominently displayed in this year's slate of IT Leadership Awards nominees and are good steppingstones for all IT leaders looking to advance their executive leadership. These are the ones most important to me:

  • Focus on mission. My top-scoring nominees described a project focused squarely on the organization's mission. They all got high scores in the area of Business Harmonization, which is a must when it comes to allocating resources properly and getting noticed by executive leadership.
  • Outside-the-box thinking. Truly innovative thinking is really rare. It's sometimes a challenge for individuals to get the traction they need in the organization. I gave high points to people who demonstrated courage in selling creative -- and sometimes unorthodox-- ideas.
  • Communications skills. Innovative people need to be able to communicate clearly both their vision and the business benefits that can be wrought from their ideas. Further, they need to be agents of change in their organizations, and that also requires a high degree of communications expertise. All of the IT Leadership Awards finalists demonstrated that kind of executive leadership skill.
  • Humility. There's a delicate dance between getting noticed and being an egomaniac. It's the rare CIO that does everything alone. IT leaders who are willing to share the praise and accept the blame are the ones who show true executive leadership excellence. Whenever something transformative is happening in an organization, there is a risk that the initiative will fail. That means that being able and being willing to accept blame are equally important.
  • Self-analysis. Although projects that can transform the business are vital, it's also important that IT departments be able to look inward and see where things in the department itself can be improved or streamlined. It's easy for a CIO to look outside the organization and find things to fix, but being able to critique one's own department in an effort to find efficiencies -- that's another thing altogether.

Many of the projects submitted for this year's SearchCIO-Midmarket.com IT Leadership Awards were worthy contenders. It's telling that all the nominees were getting noticed already by their peers who submitted the nominations. All these executive leadership projects were important to the individual organizations. It was an honor to be asked to review the entries and select the ones that I felt had the most significant impact. Congratulations to all the nominees on their excellent work.

Scott Lowe is the founder and managing consultant of the 1610 Group. A former CIO, he's a frequent contributor to TechTarget, TechRepublic and other IT publications. Write to him at editor@searchcio-midmarket.com or tt@slowe.com, or follow him on Twitter @OtherScottLowe.

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