Making the Grade

By Allen Bernard

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For those CIOs looking to take on the role of top dog in their organizations, the skills that make them good CIOs may not be the skills they need to achieve this goal.

While reaching the role of CIO is a significant achievement on its own, for some, key behavioral skills, rather than intellectual abilities, can be traced to the success or failure of these ambitions, according to a new study by Korn/Ferry International, a provider of executive search, outsourced recruiting and leadership development solutions.

The study, CIO to CEO - Aspiring CIOs Should Focus on Critical Behavior Skills, suggests that behavior style rather than intellectual ability prevents many CIOs from moving into general management positions such as CEO or COO.

While preparing this paper, Korn/Ferry’s IT Center of Expertise examined the observable behavioral differences, including leadership and thinking styles as well as emotional competencies, between CIOs, CEOs and COOs.

"This is all about behavioral skills, this is not technical expertise or knowledge," said Mark Polansky, a senior client partner in Korn/Ferry’s New York office and leader of the IT Center of Expertise in North America. "Is one's style open, collaborate, social or closed and introspective? Does one deal well with ambiguity? Does one deal well with problem solving? Those are all behavioral skills and behavioral skills that can be learned as well."

Some of the study's key findings include:

  • Behavioral style, rather than intellectual ability, can be traced to whether CIOs are promoted to higher levels. Fortunately, new styles can be learned, thereby helping aspiring CIOs to achieve promotion.
  • The key behavior skills that need to be learned by CIOs and are critical to succession include becoming more action-focused and less analytical.
  • CIOs need to learn to become comfortable with an action-focused leadership style and leave the tactical detail to others.
  • "What were saying is that there are some CIOs that are able to think in both styles and are analytical when they need to be and are action-orientated when they need to be," added Polansky. "Then are some CIOs who can be trained to be more action-orientated when they need to be."

    The key differences between CIOs and other top executives are the speed at which they arrive at decisions when placed under pressure, and the manner in which they communicate their decisions to the people around them. CIOs the study found, are more introspective and tend to make decisions in isolation. CEOs tend to be less analytical, more gut driven and make decisions faster than most CIOs.

    “By adapting their analytical thinking style to behaviors that are more action-focused and communicative, CIOs with business acumen will find new career options in the ranks of senior management," said Polansky.

    Survey Methodology

    The survey features data gathered by Korn/Ferry on more than 500,000 top executives that was mined to develop statistically validated success profiles for the positions of CIO, CEO and COO. Korn/Ferry and Decision Dynamics compared and contrasted leadership styles of the success profiles for each of these positions to support the conclusions found in the research.