In search of: Innovative CIOs

There are some fortunate CEOs out there seeking innovative CIOs for their organizations. Fortunate, because IT is humming for them and delivering on the tactical and strategic needs of the business—the ante of competitiveness for any business in any industry.

Now, these CEOs get to pursue something more. They don’t want to just track with competitors, they want to spring ahead. And stay ahead.

For companies ready for a truly innovative technology leader, I see three different types to consider. The good news is, one of them actually delivers the goods.

Innovative technology leader – Type S

“S” for same, or maybe even safe. You want your next CIO/CTO to be very similar to your last CIO/CTO.

There’s actually nothing wrong with this approach. It’s a proven model for your business.

You will continue to reap strong tactical and strategic benefits from IT. You won’t need to worry about losing ground. Nobody wants to backslide when it comes to technology—that sink hole opens up pretty fast and falls pretty deep.

The downside is, without infusing some innovation prowess into the profile of the candidates you seek, you may not achieve the innovative gains you’re seeking.

Innovative technology leader – Type I

“I” for individual. Think Steve Jobs. This type is based on individual personality, talent, vision, even brute force. It works, and works really well. Until it doesn’t.

When the Type I innovative leader leaves for another role, another opportunity, or to pursue their lifelong passion of goat herding in the Himalayas, everything stops.

You’re back where you were a year or two ago.

The innovation gains the “I” brought soon fizzle out. Your new-found innovations eventually fall into the legacy category, where value plummets and support costs grow.

Innovations that follow seem forced, elementary, evolutionary; they seem anything but innovative.

Innovative technology leader – Type L

“L” for leader—people, business, process, and lastly, technology.

The L leader can infuse systemic innovation into the enterprise, while also maintaining all of the tactical and strategic value that IT currently provides.

This leader won’t get distracted by shiny objects at tech conferences, no matter how much glitter there is.

Instead, they’re easily distracted by business opportunities and problems. They’re more excited about shiny objects shimmering in customer interactions, with partners, and in business operations. And they proactively teach all of IT to look for them as well.

These leaders are process-oriented, and have experience working with innovation models—the key to sustainable innovation. 

They view all that the business touches as their playfield—not just what goes on inside the data center—unlimited opportunities to improve the top line, the bottom line, and every line in between.

What to look for in Type L innovative leaders

  • They have proven experience leading an IT organization that effectively meets the tactical and strategic needs of the business.
    Ask:
    • How they make this happen
    • What processes are important to them
    • If they trust their team to execute without them
  • They have experience with an innovation model (industry norm or homegrown).
    Ask:
    • Describe or draw the model
    • Explain how the model was developed
    • Describe two successes that came from the model
  • They are an all-around leader.
    Have them describe, with specific examples, how they’re a:
    • People leader
    • Business leader
    • Process leader
    • Technology leader

Another important step in the hunt for innovative technology leaders, is to define what innovation means to you and your organization. This will help ensure you find candidates of the same mindset, that have the experience to bring about this vision.

What does innovation look like in operation? What are the outcomes you expect? How are customers/partners/employees impacted? What are they doing differently, or not at all anymore, after new innovations are released into the organization?

You want someone who has taken a company from Point A, to whatever Point you want to arrive at. You need this understanding in order to know the profile of the leader you’re after.

With a definition of innovation and a clear candidate profile, you’ll know the right candidate when you meet them.   

 John Hughes is a 35-year veteran of IT. As founder and managing partner of Gnu Talent, John, and business partner Brian Donaldson, are solely focused on guiding industry-leading companies in their successful search for influential IT leaders. John and Brian have sat in these seats themselves, are respected industry-wide, and have deep IT connections, making Gnu Talent a powerful, knowledgeable resource for IT leader placements.  John is also  author of the book,    Haunting the CEO  , a leadership fable used by universities in MIS and MBA curriculum, and by C-suite business leaders as a go-to guide for how to do IT right

John Hughes is a 35-year veteran of IT. As founder and managing partner of Gnu Talent, John, and business partner Brian Donaldson, are solely focused on guiding industry-leading companies in their successful search for influential IT leaders. John and Brian have sat in these seats themselves, are respected industry-wide, and have deep IT connections, making Gnu Talent a powerful, knowledgeable resource for IT leader placements.  John is also author of the book, Haunting the CEO, a leadership fable used by universities in MIS and MBA curriculum, and by C-suite business leaders as a go-to guide for how to do IT right.