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The One Question That Determines Your CIO Leverage: Are You Setting The Pace Or Settling In Place?

CIOs who leverage their leadership embrace five pace-setting qualities: They are opportunity-focused, certain enough, influence minded, network established and resource savvy.

“We all live under the same sky, but we don’t all have the same horizon.” 

Konrad Adenauer


The C-Suite is not an end in itself. It is a captain’s chair, the overseer of a new voyage, the gift of possibility.

Not all take advantage of it. Like pilgrims who have crossed a great sea and are weary of further journey, some CIOs choose to settle. Undiscovered lands remain vacant when those who govern are content to build houses rather than railroads. 

You are not a settler. You are a pace-setter. There is a world of difference. Settlers care only about the differences that come around them; pace-setters care deeply about the difference they make in what is around them.

The CIO role is changing and growing and being redefined, but one thing is certain: The CIO has had no greater opportunity to leverage and maximize business strategy than now. A world in need of difference awaits you.

One characteristic will determine if you can leverage the moment: Will you be a Pace-Setter?

Five characteristics of CIOs who set the pace rather than settle in place:

Opportunity Focused

Opportunities don’t announce themselves. They are seen. 

Settlers wait for opportunities to be given to them. By the time it is given to you, it is no longer an opportunity, it is a test. You will pass or fail on what someone else already saw as an opportunity. 

Pace-setters see an opportunity in the crowd of needs and ideas. They get the date with the enviable girl/guy because they saw something no one else had seen. 

As IT professionals, you solve problems. But you do more than that. You provide solutions. And there is a difference. 

If your company is trying to solve a customer problem, you can provide technology to satisfy an immediate need. That is what Settlers do. Or, you can understand that a customer is never really trying to solve a problem; they are trying to become a better version of themselves. That’s what Pace-Setters do.

The immediate technology answer may work, but there may also be a better solution you can provide. Customers want more than they are asking for.

Jeff Bezos gives an example: 

Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it.

As a CIO, and lead innovator, you know what can be done that customers aren’t even asking for but wouldn’t turn away. 

And your eyes aren’t just looking at external customers. Take the issue of talent-gap. I wrote recently about the emergence of citizen development. It’s a thing you can manage (Settler), or it’s an opportunity to redefine how IT multiplies itself within the company (Pace-Setter). See here for more.

As a CIO Pace-Setter, you aren’t necessarily looking to innovate the next biggest and greatest (good for you if you do). But you are looking for what will “level-up” the business.

Certain Enough

Uncertainty drives creativity. 

I research how novelists develop characters. A number of successful writers admitted the same thing: They let the character unfold and become and tell the story. Writers will say that at some point, the characters are directing the writing more than the writing is directing the characters.

No opportunity is necessarily clear; and lack of clarity means a leader must be comfortable with a degree of uncertainty. Opportunities mature and come into their own. They come with assembly required and with incomplete instructions and parts missing. 

It is enough to know enough to begin. You have a picture and a vague idea. That will work.

The leader that tries to have every answer in advance or cover for every contingency is a Settler not a Pace-Setter. 

Setters manage backwards; Pace-Setters lead forward. Setters will return to safety; Pace-Setters will be vigilant along the way. 

Influence Minded

Settlers are concerned with what others think about them. Pace-Setters are concerned with what others think because of them. 

Leaders influence. A primary channel of influence is communication. Settlers avoid conversations that might paint them in a bad light. Pace-Setters get out in front of conversations by asking these key questions

  1. Who needs to know what I’m thinking and by when?
  2. Who needs to speak to what I’m thinking and by when?
  3. Who can help me “solve a problem” in my thinking? (It sounds like this: “I am thinking about X. I’ve encountered some problems I could use your thinking on, and it would help if you pointed out anything I am overlooking).”
  4. How do people need to know, speak into or help solve? Advocates and potential adversaries have different ways of receiving and conveying information.

One of the ways CIO Mastermind equips CIOs to be influence-minded is to offer a course called Persuasion Skills for CIOs. Contact me here for more information!

Network Established

Settlers are content with relying on past teachers and advisors, or on present learning events that come at a safe distance (conferences, seminars, etc). By safe, I mean, “I won’t feel on the spot or accountable for what I learn.”

Pace-Setters press into building their networks. Specifically, they cultivate at least three high-leverage networks:

  1. Coaching/Mentoring Network for personal and executive growth. 
  2. Peer Advisory Network for real-time help and strategic development
  3. Learning Network for educational advancement.

The best leadership advice I ever heard: “Everyone knows something that I don’t. I keep asking questions until I find what that is.”

Resource Savvy

Settlers need more. Pace-Setters find more.

Settlers make do. Pace-Setters make up.

Your job is to leverage what you have; you are measured by what you will do with whatcha got. We love the idea of unlimited resources, but we live in the world of maximizing resources. 

Every CIO interview should have the question, “Tell me about a time you made more from less.”

Inadequate is a reality; so is making good enough from the adequate at-hand. 

Just this week, one of our CIO Mastermind members reached out to the group with a need for his Infrastructure Manager. The group responded with openness to collaboration between their respective managers. Mutual benefit for all with minimal to no financial cost. A potentially expensive solution was answered instead by available people-resources. 

Leaders find a way; they also find the money. 

The most effective CIOs who take advantage of the unprecedented leadership opportunity in front of them do one thing that others don’t: They set the pace, they don’t settle in place.

The One Question That Determines Your CIO Leverage: Are You Setting The Pace Or Settling In Place?
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