Notes to my newbie CIO self

So, your CIO has left, and the Chief Exec is talking to you about potentially stepping into the role. It’s the first time you’ve had the opportunity, and it sounds both exciting and terrifying all at the same time.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22: very few CEOs recruit someone for a CIO position unless they’ve already been a CIO. However, we muddle through somehow, learning from our mistakes, and hopefully the CEO can deal with a couple of mishaps because they’re investing in their team.

But what about those who come after us? We shouldn’t really expect them to go through the same type of initiation; surely, we should be helping them instead, so they can be successful sooner with less risk to their CEO and their business.

So what does it take to be a CIO? What would you tell yourself on that first day in the CIO chair that would be helpful going forwards?

I gave this some thought and came up with the following:

✅ Invest in your team. Always recruit people who you think could do a better job than yourself.

✅ Find the right mentor or coach. It’s lonely at the top, so there’s no shame in seeking guidance. For a while I had a coach, but they weren’t an experienced CIO, just a business coach. I wish I’d had a coach and a mentor that had previously been a CIO.

✅ Get to know your CEO. Find ways to spend time with your CEO. Find out what makes them tick. Don’t be afraid to go and chat with them. Spending time with them early on enables you to develop a stronger relationship than if you just leave it.

✅ Don’t assume that your output will demonstrate your value. If you’ve managed to get to the lofty heights of being a CIO without playing the political game, then well done. But, sadly, now you really should engage with a certain amount of politics in the most positive way you can. Fundamentally, you have to blow your own trumpet, and you have to make sure that you’re on the same wavelength as the rest of the Board.

✅ Spend time with other CIOs. Find a network of CIOs, talk with them, share what you’re doing, listen to feedback and different views, and then shape what you’re doing based on that feedback. I’ve yet to come across a CIO who wasn’t interested in what other CIOs were doing and had a viewpoint, idea, or way to help.

✅ Keep in touch. Don’t take yourself off to an ivory tower. Make sure that you’re still in touch with everyone in your team. Some may resent your promotion; they may feel that it should have been them. They need to feel they’re still valued and that you want them in the team. Equally, those at the bottom of the pile also need to have some engagement with you, and it’s important that they have that opportunity.

✅ And, finally, wear good clothes. Get yourself some decent clothes from decent shops. You need to look the part. Personally, I’d recommend a tailor making you some bespoke clothes, but that’s me! And good shoes are a must.

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