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Not all CIOs are Created Equal. Which One Hits Home?

December 3, 2012
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I have worked with a cross section of CIOs over the years and have filled the CIO role once or twice. One thing I enjoy doing is observing leadership traits and try to learn from them. Personalities and stress factors all contribute to decision making and if you take a step back, you often can get an education, as well as some entertainment value out of it. The important thing is not to get frustrated when you see someone react in a silly or immature way. I say immature because we tend to expect more from people in senior leadership positions. But sometimes people leap frog from position to position and land somewhere that is way over their leadership comfort zone.

When it comes to CIOs they have some additional challenges besides managing a budget and handling personnel issues. They have a very eclectic set of employee personalities ranging from the artistic type to the doomsday prepper. They have to keep up with innovation, but manage the adoption without freaking out operations. They must stay rooted in reality while being bombarded by vendor pitch lines of grandiose product claims.  The fun begins when you look at the various CIO personalities out there. They don’t always fit the corporate climate or mesh well with the CEO’s personality. I think this is one of the reason we have seen such a growth in CMIOs, but that’s another blog.

 I have tried to capture all the CIO personalities I have seen below. See if you can spot your own personality or the CIO that you work with now. Let me know which ones I have missed. Names and genders are withheld to protect the not so innocent.

Charlie Brown

The CEO tells Charlie Brown that he has new software that physicians want and he wants him to kick it down the field and make it happen. So Charlie Brown says; “Oh brother! I know that when I get ready to launch this thing, you will just pull it away at the last minute.” The CEO assures Charlie Brown that this time he can trust him and hands him a signed agreement with the vendor. Charlie Brown is all excited, he figures that if he has a signed document he can’t go wrong, and says; “This year I am really going to kick that ball.” Charlie runs kicks and the CEO pulls the ball out of the way at the last minute and says, “Peculiar thing about this document, it never had board approval.”

The Ostrich

As the name implies, this person is rarely seen. If you do, it’s for brief periods and it’s only a partial view. If you want some time with them, you better attend one of their meetings, because they are seldom in their office or available. When things go bad, expect them to barricade themselves in their office and let the directors run interference. When the go-live is done and the project is successful, expect them front and center basking in the sun…they need the tan.

The Politician

 The politician walks around during the appointed time on their outlook calendar. The male politician doesn’t wear a tie, because they want to look cool and just one of the guys. The female politician is all about the pant suit. She wants to look important enough to command respect, but not too much jewelry that will show off her salary. They want to know everyone’s first name, but that knowledge last just long enough to visit the next cube space. They always like to stay two steps ahead…of their next job.

The Gumby

 Their motto is “Semper Gumby” always flexible. They are a “people person” and do not get overly emotional during stressful situations. Everything fits into a compartment and they pluck it out, deal with it - put it back, and move on. Nothing surprises them and Gumby rolls with the punches. This often conflicts with senior management when they expect the CIO to wield an axe during personnel conflicts and Gumby walks in with a smile and a wave.     

The Dilbert Character

In the Dilbert cartoon there is a character called Mordac, “The Preventer of Information Services.” He is not the CIO, but I have seen many parallels to living CIOs in this cartoon. One in particular is when a user complains that files sent to her can’t be opened because their operating system is too old. Mordac’s response is that he can’t update her computer because then it will be non-standard. “By non-standard” she says, “you mean useful.”  Mordac responses with, “BE GONE, WORDSMITH!”

 I learned early on in my career that it is easy to say no, people don’t like to say yes because it involves some effort and follow-up on their part later.

Gunsmoke

 This is the “shoot first, ask questions later” type. This person thinks they have all the answers before the question is asked. My favorite example is a CIO that decided not to fill a position that became vacant. I thought there must be a good reason for this, until the next email I got was a request for information about what the vacant position did. That’s one of those moments you try to remember the cardinal rule of email, never send one in anger.  

The Want to be Techie

 Their favorite song is Janet Jackson’s “Control.” This CIO has every Apple device and is not afraid to show it off. Directors do not seem to last very long, because the CIO is constantly in the cube spaces telling the staff what needs to be done for some new product that the director has not even heard of. If there is such a thing as beyond “bleeding edge,” this is where they live…let’s just coin the phrase “Galaxy Quest.”  CEOs love the Techie at first, because they can market themselves as a technology organization. Then reality sets in and they find out that there is never an end game, no chance to say we arrived, because the metric keeps changing.  

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