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3 essential CIO skills you won't see in a job description
If you're a newly-appointed CIO, the first piece of advice I would offer is to make sure you know what you're getting into with the job. There are a lot of stakeholders and a lot of things out of your control. A large part of your job will be to sell the value of technology constantly – to the Board, to the executive team, and to the frontline employees. That's how you create confidence across your organization.
To become an effective CIO over the long haul, I recommend focusing on a few core skills:
1. You have to be a strong people person. Technology, at the end of the day, is not the point of your job. As CIO, you're there to enable your business to do great things and to provide the most competitive products and services. But that involves a lot of tough decisions and trade-offs. And good trade-offs can often be improved by having good relationships. If you can really sit down with a group of people and arrive at consensus instead of just hitting the snooze button without making real decisions, you'll go far.
2. You don't have to like technology – you have to love it. I don't think this means you must have coded at some point in your life, but I do believe you need to understand why technology works and how it gets put together. Technology constantly will evolve over your career, and even if you go into it knowing something well, in five years that skill set is probably not going to be valuable to you. If you understand how something works, you'll be better off leading your teams, building great architectures, and ensuring all the pieces in your toolkit come together to create something great.
3. You have to be courageous. Being brave as a CIO means you're willing to stand up and be wrong. You have to be willing to have bad days and to make bad decisions. That's okay, because you can learn from them. There's actually a correlation between my industry, weather, and my job. When I wake up every morning, I don't know what I'm going to face. I don't know what challenges we're going to have. Trying to predict my day, I have about the same accuracy as predicting the weather, which means I get it wrong about 30 percent of the time.
I find it really frustrating when I see a CIO just not making the tough decisions, putting them off because it's going to be hard. “That system is going to be really hard to upgrade ... Gosh, I don't want to touch that ... I don't want to have to deal with it, that's going to be hard.” But the longer you put those things off, the greater the technical debt of your organization becomes. Which makes the job of the next person that much harder.
So if I had to choose one key quality for success as a CIO, I think it comes down to courage. You have to be courageous to be a great leader. When you show courage you build a sense of pride in your organization, and when that happens you encourage more investment in technology. That technology enables your teams to get the tools and the resources they need to provide a world-class experience every day, whether that's on the data, computing, or the service and operation side.
Bryson Koehler is executive vice president and CIO of The Weather Company. He is responsible for setting the strategic vision, financial planning, technical operations, direction and execution of strategic technology initiatives for the company. In the past, Bryson has worked as an operating partner in private equity and as SVP of global revenue and guest technology at InterContinental Hotels Group.