Five Mentors Every CIO Needs - Page 1

Feb 20, 2009

Patty Azzarello

Compared to people who have mastered the art of getting help from others, if you rely too much on your talents and energy alone, you are at an extreme disadvantage. Mentors can have a bigger impact on your success than virtually anything outside your own efforts.


There are five types of mentors that every CIO needs. Mentors that help with:



       Air Cover





Let's start with the first one and go from there:




Where do you get your ideas? Who challenges your thinking in a positive way? What fuels your imagination? Big imagination is required to do your job. As a CIO your success depends on coming up with new, more efficient, and business game-changing ways to use technology. How will you think of them all?


Most of my biggest successes have started from other people’s ideas, challenges or inspiration. Whether it’s how you solve problems, or create new opportunities, you can’t do it if you never think of it! Mentors can help a lot, because they typically have a very different perspective. To fuel your imagination, look for mentors who are:


       A CEO or a board member from another company – you need a steady personal flow of input from this level to keep your thinking at a high enough level. Because you typically deal with so much complexity it’s easy to lose focus on how IT needs to drive business outcomes.


       IT people from completely different industries – for example: one supply chain manager at a technology company I know, looked to the produce industry for lessons in efficiency. Other industries solve problems in different ways, so you can get a competitive advantage in your industry if you think of applying it first. Ford’s great invention, the production line, was actually taken from slaughter houses.

       Talented business people in other functions – you get ideas not only for leadership techniques, but “man on the street” insights about how business people work and what makes IT good or annoying.


Air Cover


Let’s face it, your budget is big and your function is largely misunderstood. You need someone from your team in the room when you are not there to defend your positions. And there are lots of discussions that go something like “why do we spend so much money in IT?”, or “why isn’t IT more productive?” You need someone in those circles who know you, care about you, and will defend your honor (and your budget).


A mentor, by definition cares about you and your success, and having someone higher up in the organization who can advocate on your behalf when you are not in the room is critical. If you don’t report to the CEO, you need a mentor that is on the executive team in addition to your boss. If you report to the CEO, try to develop a direct relationship with a board member.

This will make sure you are not alone when critical IT decisions are made.




CIOs have so much legacy to deal with, and such a big backlog of requests, it’s easy to get so tied up in what you are doing, that you lose sight of the reality of changing business conditions. Some specific reality issues for CIO’s are outsourcing and globalization, mobility, and Web 2.0 business adoption.


It would be useful to look for mentors who:


       Run an outsourcing company, i.e., understand “the enemy”. What do they do well and struggle with? What are their agendas?

       Someone who has successfully implemented globalization, cost reductions and maintaining quality service – if you can drive the plan, you can survive it.

       Someone in their 20’s who is a master at social networking – you will run the risk of others running circles around you, if you don’t follow the energy here.




You are most vulnerable when you are not connected. You have less ability to execute if you do not have a strong network. Sure, you need to be building your personal network directly, but mentors can expand your personal and professional network exponentially; not just in terms of size but of usefulness.


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Tags: XML, Microsoft, social networking, networking, IT,

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