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Excerpt from the book The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership, by Martha Heller, President, Heller Search Associates

Excerpt from Chapter One:

You are intimately involved in every facet of the business, yet you are often considered separate and removed from it.

I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the word “and.”  You would expect the word to function as a connector, to imply the togetherness of two entities, like “mom and pop” or “spaghetti and meatballs.”  Yet the phrase “IT and the business,” (which I continue to hear all the time, despite CIOs’ claims that they have done away with it), does not work that way at all. Rather, the “and” in “IT and the business” connotes separateness and difference, an “us and them” perception that has plagued IT organizations since the beginning of time. 

More about The CIO Paradox, by Martha Heller

We don’t say, “finance and the business” or “sales and the business” or even “HR and the business.” Why is it that IT alone is treated like a leper?  If we get out our history books and look at what traditionally causes one group to push another to the margins, we often find a healthy dose of fear and ignorance.   Clearly, there is something about IT that causes uncertainty and confusion among members of the executive committee.  CEOs, who have typically done stints in finance, sales, and operations, have never run IT and they do not understand the function, its tools, its staff, or most importantly, where all that green money goes.  This lack of understanding makes CEOs pretty uncomfortable with IT and predisposes them to separate themselves from it.

It doesn’t help that the majority of CEOs grew up without the technology grounding of today’s generation. Does that mean that any day now, when our current crop of business leaders retire, and we get an executive refresh, IT will be brought into the fold? Probably not.  In many ways, consumerization is making the situation more acute. CEOs understand what it takes to download an app, so they think IT is easy. When in reality, the more simplicity we seek, the more complicated IT becomes (a CIO Paradox unto itself).

But the culpability does not rest with CEOs alone.   There are still a decent number of CIOs – and I meet them every day -- who exacerbate the “us and them” divide. As an executive recruiter, I am often brought into companies to replace the sitting CIO because he is not working out.  Usually, there is some burning platform, like a global single instance ERP program run amok, but that is merely the proverbial straw that broke the CEO’s back.  When I interview this frustrated CEO, she will describe a scene where all of the executives are sitting at one end of the table discussing corporate goals in a shared understanding of how their business works. And far at the other end of the table sits the CIO, with a propeller on his head, spewing SOA and cloud and (seriously) banging away on his iPhone.  While, yes, I am being slightly hyperbolic to make for entertaining reading, the situation I describe comes quite close to reality. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked to replace a CIO who cannot build relationships with his or her executive peers and cannot instill trust in the IT organization. It happens all the time.

Why? Why are we still dealing with this issue? How many articles has CIO magazine published about speaking the language of the business, building relationships with business leaders, being a business leader first and a technologist second?  While a huge group of CIOs get it and are bone fide business leaders, another huge group does not.  

In the chapters that follow, we will explore the many facets of the CIO Paradox and hear from CIOs who have found a way around it. We will introduce the concept of “Breaking the Paradox,” that is, establishing yourself as a CIO who no longer worries about “getting a seat at the table,” and “talking in the language of the business” and all of the other things that CIOs spend hours at conferences discussing. We will learn the approaches CIOs take toward establishing a platform where they no longer need to work hard on credibility, and where they are considered, at all layers of the organization, to be superior executives who have made their company stronger. But just like world peace, solving the CIO Paradox is a journey. It is my sincere hope that you find something in these pages to make your own journey a success.

Martha Heller’s book, The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership, will be published by Bibliomotion in October, 2012.

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