Want to be a CIO? Stop taking orders

An aspiring IT leader must be seen as more than an appeaser, says CIO Rob Zelinka
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[Editor's note: As part of our ongoing series in which IT leaders offer advice to the next generation of CIOs, Rob Zelinka, CIO of Jack Henry and Associates, shares his best tips.]

My first CIO job:

Jack Henry and Associates

Prior experience:

I have served as the head of IT, essentially a CIO equivalent role, for a few different organizations in the past. Most recently, I led global infrastructure and operations for FMC Technologies.

What my first CIO job taught me:

As I was serving as the head of IT in the past, I often found myself to either be taking orders from the C-suite, in a sense, or trying to appease them. As long as they viewed me as an appeaser, they would never see me as a peer and more importantly someone who was capable of running our business.

[ Successful CIOs know the value of soft skills. See our related article: Top soft skills for IT leaders and how to master them. ]

My advice for aspiring CIOs:

You need to refine and focus your business skills rather than technology skills. Chances are, you are no longer the only one at the table who brings technology knowledge to the forefront. Make sure you understand how to read a balance sheet and speak the language of finance so that you show an ability to run the technology organization as a business.

A few more things:

1. Stay well grounded, and don't forget where you came from. For me, that means finding time to meet with my team to continue to understand their challenges. You can learn a lot from people, no matter what role they play, and you will gain a different perspective than you will from your peers.

2. As the senior most person in the technology organization, your knowledge of technology is respected but it is your knowledge of the business of your company that is expected. 

3. Do not lose focus on the needs of your customers and how investments in people and technology can drive value and differentiate you from the competition.

4. It may seem academic but often times we find ourselves falling back in to "keep the lights on" activities versus driving the strategy of our business. When this occurs, you run the risk of not being viewed as a peer but rather the guy or gal responsible for the phones, network, printers, etc.

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Rob Zelinka is the Chief Information Officer for Jack Henry & Associates (JHA). JHA is a leading provider of integrated technology platforms financial institutions need to process financial transactions, automate business process & manage mission-critical customer and business information.

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