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The secret to being a superhero CIO? A kickass sidekick

Dan Tynan | Oct. 31, 2017
To succeed as a CIO, you need a strong lieutenant. The natural successor, the wise counsel, the ultimate assistant — here’s how to identify and groom just the right No. 2 for you.

"These are not small jobs," he says. "Ten years ago your Riker would have been worried about IT operations. This job is far more complex and requires an executive presence."

Bergamo says finding the right person to fill that role can be a challenge, and having excellent tech skills is not enough.

"If you have the kind of relationship with the person you call your right arm, they'd better prove themselves to be loyal, because you have to have each other's back, every single day," she says. "They also need to be able to act with integrity and transparency, which is hopefully the message you're sending them as CIO. If you can find that combination of skill, loyalty, and integrity, you've got the recipe for a successful deputy."

The wise counsel (aka ‘Tyrion Lannister’)

Some CIOs aren't shopping for a potential successor or looking for someone to step in and take the reins. But they do need to surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are and can offer expertise and guidance.

"Some of my more traditional colleagues want to sit at the top of the pyramid and try to be the smartest person in the room," says Renee McKaskle, senior VP and CIO for Hitachi Ventara, a developer of data-driven software, solutions and services. "That's egotistical and wrong. You and your peers need to be hiring people smarter than you are so you can keep up with the velocity of business."

They need someone like Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), the diminutive Hand of the King from Game of Thrones, who's uncomfortable sitting on the Iron Throne but more than willing to whisper in the queen's ear.

Whether a CIO needs a Tyrion depends on the scale and scope of your organization, as well as how mature it is, says Keith Collins, CIO for SAS, a $3.2 billion maker of analytics platforms.

"A relatively large organization like the Starship Enterprise may need a Riker," he says. "But sometimes you're not looking for a second to take over your role, but one who can augment your abilities."

McKaskle says the CIO's office really need two kinds of Tyrion. One is a business-minded leader who can meet with clients or other divisions in the same company and teach them how to operate more efficiently — a classic IT consultant role. The other is a thought leader who can share his or her technological know-how with the rest of the CIO's team.

"The second type are what I call 'liquid architecture and enablement lieutenants,'" she says. "Every six months the architecture is going to change, and their job is to bring in new technology to help train our staff to think differently."

 

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