Stop the Drivel: The 'Really Perfect' Tech Exec

Monday Jun 8th 2009 by Steve Andriole
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Forget the fawning coverage, the truly perfect IT exec masters office politics better than tech.

If I read another article about “the new CIO” or “CIOs in transition,” or “CIO challenges” I will volunteer to be water-boarded and tell everyone what I really think about stating the obvious.

Here’s the drivel that comes out of the industry’s “press”:

• CIOs should understand the business

• CIOs should understand technology

• CIOs should practice management best practices

• CIOs should have good communications skills

• CIOs should be good leaders

Lists like these remind me of the television commercial that has the golfer Phil Michelson sitting with his fans who have agreed to offer him some advice: “I think you should hit the ball farther,” the first fan says. Then the other fan says, “I think you should hit it straighter.” “Longer and straighter,” Phil says, “got it.”

Chief Information Officers (CIOs) – especially when they are part of their company’s Executive Council (EC) – should know all of the above – and then some. Do we really need to tell them what they should already know? Do I have to read articles, year after year, that list the skills and competencies that CIOs should have to be “successful”?

It’s almost as though their editors have given every cub reporter the same a rite-of-passage assignment: “go forth and tell the world what the CIO should be able to do – and we will publish your take (the 1,000,000th take) on what the perfect CIO should look like.”

So let’s describe the really perfect CIO. I will not be providing anther obvious list of skills and competencies. Instead, I’ll profile the nuances that make all the difference in the world.

I am assuming that they already know about business, technology and management. While I realize that this assumption is flawed, I just cannot state the obvious again. So let’s go with the counter-intuitive and the unspoken dirty-little-secret-based reality of executive qualities in 21st century America.

In fact, really perfect CIOs can whiff all of the above competencies if they master the following.

First and foremost, regardless of the sex of the CIO, there must be really good hair. Bald CIOs, CIOs with hard hair and CIOs whose hair has multiple colors cannot succeed. While good hair is not necessary and sufficient for success (note Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid – even with the world’s best hair), it’s a strong predictor of success.

(Don’t believe me? How many bald presidents have we had? Reagan had great hair. Kennedy’s was even better. Bill Clinton’s hair was good. Carter’s was OK. The Bush boys also had good hair. Obama’s hair is the perfect length and color. Only Gerald Ford and Dwight Eisenhower were bald – but Ford was never elected president and Eisenhower was a war hero [who is allowed to be bald]).

Next comes the smile. It needs to appear to be genuine, exposing very white teeth. If you’re a CIO and you haven’t had your teeth whitened, it’s time to visit the dentist. Smiling faces make people happy. Frowning faces – even if there’s good reason to frown – make people uneasy.

“He’s miserable!” These are two words you do not want people to mutter when you enter a room.

Next Page: Clothes, the golf game....

Clothes are hugely important. They have to be just expensive enough to avoid envy and anger. These days, clothes should be understated but tasteful.

But what’s “tasteful”? Check out what the boss wears and crank it back one notch – a little less expensive and a little less “look-at-me.” Don’t vote for casual Fridays (or any casual days). They’re for the masses, not the bosses.

Golf is a prerequisite. If you don’t hold a 15 or under handicap then you need to get some lessons, practice hard and join the right country club. Once you get the number down to 10 you can command a significant audience on the course consisting of important members of the EC.

But the really perfect CIO knows enough to miss the five foot putt on the last hole to lose the match to the slightly better dressed CEO.

The ability to tell colorful and off-color jokes is also extremely important. A repertoire of exciting stories makes all the difference when the conversation turns boring. Really perfect CIOs keep some jokes tucked away, just in case.

The really perfect CIO must actually have a personality. They must be people who consume more than oxygen in a room. The really perfect CIO commands attention, respect and, through a modicum of charisma, generates as much heat as light.

Fun people who can hold their own in a conversation, bars and even on the dance floor are more likely to succeed than CIOs who mumble, don’t drink and can’t dance. It goes without saying that really perfect CIOs are glib as hell. They also do not speak truth-to-power, are never abrasive and make certain that their personal hygiene is impeccable.

They are dispassionate leaders who know when to keep their mouths shut (which, they’ve figured out, is most of the time).

Really perfect CIOs have broken the success code: do what you’re told by people who can promote and reward you. Never threaten them with politics, intelligence or thinly-veiled references to Julie in accounting.

You get the picture. Really perfect CIOs know a few things about business and technology but the really successful CIOs dress, talk, smile, joke, golf and smell really good. And let’s not forget the hair.

Steve Andriole is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business at Villanova University where he conducts applied research in business technology convergence. He is also the co-founder of The Acentio Group, a new economy consortium that focuses on optimizing investments in information technology, executive education, Web 2.0, technology audits and pilot applications. He is formerly the Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer of Safeguard Scientifics, Inc. and the Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President for Technology Strategy at CIGNA Corporation. His career began at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency where he was the Director of Cybernetics Technology. He can be reached at stephen.andriole@villanova.edu.

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