CIO Leadership

The One Reason CIOs Should Not Let Their Role Evolve

We know the CIO role is changing. Do you have to wait and see what those changes are? Or is there a better way to transform yourself? Move over Darwin, we have some designing to do.

Joe Woodruff


October 19, 2023

Photo credit:
Eugene Zhyvchik

I’m not trying to stir up the pot with an evolution or creation debate, Darwin or Design. I will leave that to theories and theologies.


Words matter. I have read articles recently that talk about the evolution of the CIO role. Apparently, you aren’t ready for the demands of oncoming responsibilities because you are stuck in traditional ways of leading, and even if you are modern you are not “future-fit,” whatever that means.

The call from these experts is to be a third-tier leader who doesn’t just enable business but affects the way business actually works. You will be a partner by identifying areas where technology generates the most value. You will be driving innovation, working on business strategy by developing new products and services that drive growth.

And again, the word they use is that you must evolve into this new role.

That’s where I call time-out.

You Are Human, Which Is Great, And Can Also Be A Problem

The great part: As a human, you are wired to adapt, adopt, survive and thrive. You can react and respond to outside stimuli. You grow. Fabulous you are.

You also wait until things are established as tried and true. Your brain is wired to conserve itself and looks for shortcuts. You suffer from fatigue, and both your will and your decision-making is affected by it.

Innovation has never emerged from evolution. Adaption, yes. Innovation, impossible.

You cannot wait to evolve into a role. You must create yourself and the role.

When I talk about change leadership, I teach three dynamics: rally, craft, and drive. Pretty self-explanatory: first you call people to a need that must be resolved, then you figure out how to solve it, and then you carry the plan through to completion.


When it comes to designing your role as a crucial member of the executive team (the most crucial but we will keep that to ourselves), you need to reverse the order.

Becoming Future Fit (as you get to define it).

What is it that you are driving to?

We toss around terms as if we can evolve to the undefined. That’s just keeping up with the Jones’.

As you look at your business, what is the portrait of the CIO that will be needed in two, four, six year’s time? What are the competencies at a personal level, a leadership level, a strategic and technology level, and at an expert level?

Why evolve to words and phrases when you can drive to a specific profile? Why wait to become what everyone else will bevwhen you can begin now to be what your company will need (even if it is different from everyone else - and please be different).

A small side-note: You might envision what the role needs to be and realize it shouldn’t be you. That’s called a succession plan, and it will be good for you to recognize now rather than for others to recognize it later, with or without your agreement.

What do you need to craft for yourself to get there?

Given what will be needed, what can you do now to improve and equip yourself? Evolving into a role lacks initiative. Take initiative.

Who do you need to get you there? Mentor, coach, peer group?

What do you need to get you there? Education? Insight? Opportunities?

Crafting is all about collaboration. What answers do you need from business leaders to better formulate the solutions they will seek and the course of action you will take to be ready to deliver? Who and by when do leaders need to understand what you are preparing for?

How will you rally others to support the change?

The desired state of the business requires leaders who are already there and can show people the way.

Imagine this. You realize you are hungry. This is your current state. You want to be full. This is your desired state. In your current state, you do not look for the leader who is also hungry. You look to the leader who is full (or is a cook) and says, “I know where there is food (or a place I can cook for you).

Companies don’t need CIOs who dwell in the current state of their technology needs. They seek CIOs who, when the need arises, are able to say, “I’m already there (or, at least, ahead of you).

That’s why I encourage you to work backwards - you must define who you will be, begin to equip yourself, and then rally people to where you are headed and the needs that will be served.

I had a coaching call today with a leader who is in this situation. I am proud of him. He has already recognized what needs to be different about his role, and therefore about his own readiness, to better lead his company into an inevitable future they are not currently prepared for.

He knows he cannot evolve. He has taken the initiative to create.

Do not delay in doing the same. My gift to you, a bit old-fashioned if you will, is a blank page and a full pen for your creative mind to get to work.

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