Book Review: The CIO Edge

September 6, 2011

The CIO Edge: Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results The CIO Edge Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results

What gets a CIO fired?

Based on the research of the authors (Graham Waller, Karen Rubenstrunk and George Hallenbeck), it isn’t due to a lack of technology chops on the part of the CIO. According to The CIO Edge, CIOs get fired because they fail to build effective peer relationships. The authors state that, “Despite knowing how important horizontal relationships are, many CIOs we observed still gave them insufficient time and attention (typically being all consumed by management activities and by knocking off all the things on their to-do list) and consequently found themselves swept out of a job by this powerful force.”

Are you someone with great analytical skills, perhaps frustrated because you frequently fail to obtain the support of others? The CIO Edge asks you to consider whether your leadership style is too focused on creating the perfect solution instead of facilitating a solution that will be embraced and executed on to drive results. The CIO Edge reveals a trick that the best CIOs use: they lead in ways that are very different from how they reason.

While the best “… use their superior analytical abilities to help derive the best possible solution, they act in a collaborative style. They seek out people to gain additional ideas that can help reinforce, refine, and improve the conclusions that emerged from their own analysis.”

For the best CIOs, the mantra is: “…through people, by people, and with people. “People simply will not give you their best efforts if they feel coerced or cowed into taking a position because you have argued them into it. It doesn’t really matter how compelling your argument is; people want to feel that they are part of the problem-solving and decision-making process, not as if they are just being given the solution to execute.”

Convinced yet? The CIO Edge asserts that, the best build people, not systems. Taking this one step further, The CIO Edge says that the best not only believe this, but they raise their people skills to another level. The advantage to this is that by developing people all around them, the best CIOs increase their capability and capacity to deliver results. As The CIO Edge points out, “Everyone has access to the same technology. It is what you do with it that makes the difference. And it is people who decide how that technology is deployed effectively.”

A terrific sound bite from the book that sums this up nicely: soft skills yield hard results.

The collaborative, people side of the equation continually surfaced, even when talking about inspiring others. Inspiring people does not require you to solve the problem, but you do need to set meaningful direction and allow them room to operate: “People are rarely moved by someone else’s elegant solution. They are inspired when they feel included and connected to a vision they can relate to, when they believe they are contributing to something worthwhile, something that is bigger than them.”

Inspiration is considered vital by the best CIOs. The CIO Edge points out that this is, “Because it is the best and most efficient way to move from vision to execution—it motivates people to obtain results.”

Connecting inspiration and collaboration, The CIO Edge says that, “success can only come if people want to go in the direction you want them to. That means you need to establish a collaborative vision, so that people feel part of it, and then you must manage and maintain it to make sure people stay on course. With the vision firmly established, you nurture it by motivating people all around you to fulfill it by educating, encouraging, and lending support, and then you build great teams to execute it.”

A big part of that educating and encouraging comes from communication. In fact, The CIO Edge says that constant communication is a must to create an “organizational memory.” The authors provided advice that was frequently repeated to them by successful CIOs: “… it is impossible to deliver the same message too many times. This can be a difficult idea for many managers—especially those who came up on the technical side of the organization—to comprehend. They don’t understand why repetition is necessary. They think if they say it once, it should be enough.”

Why? Because, as The CIO Edge reminds us, “People are simply not hanging on to your every word or committing your e-mails and memos to memory.” (Imagine that!) ”Their lack of attention is not malicious. It is just that they are distracted. There is that project that was due yesterday, the fire that needs to be put out now, and the unhappy colleague who has just sent off her third e-mail in twenty-three minutes…”

Are CIOs with soft skills actually “soft?” The CIO Edge makes no bones about this: “The first misconception we need to clear up is that people with great soft skills are soft themselves. The data shows the exact opposite. Great CIOs take on the toughest challenges, are accountable, and do not tolerate a victim mentality (e.g., ‘no one knows how hard we work’; ‘we would be successful, if only they would let us’).”

The CIO Edge points out that successful CIOs pay attention to every aspect of their communication. One common theme is that they rarely engage in negative humor, including sarcasm. “I’ve experienced how draining a sarcastic leader can be, and I don’t want that for my people,” one CIO interviewed for the book said.

Not that I’ve gone this far, I’ll outline the seven skills that The CIO Edge says you need:
  1. Committing to leadership first, everything else second
  2. Lead differently than you think, using soft skills to lead
  3. Embrace your softer side – being open
  4. Forge relationships and leveraging those relationships drive results
  5. Constantly communicating and refining your ability to communicate
  6. Inspiring others through a compelling vision and translating that vision into their terms
  7. Building people, not systems
Don’t let the title of this book fool you; it’s not just for CIOs! If you are looking for a great, practical leadership guide that is based on the wisdom and experiences of real leaders, I highly recommend this book.