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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.

They're also much harder to find, she adds.

"I've been at Hitachi a year and a half, and I just hired my first one a few weeks ago," she says. "It was really hard. We do industrial IoT, and I needed an enabling architecture thinker to not only understand where we are but where we need to get to. Fortunately, the person I hired is brilliant. Every single day he helps me up my game."

The ultimate assistant (aka ‘Pepper Potts’)

Tony Stark's Ironman would be a wet hot cybernetic mess without Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to keep him in line and Stark Industries on track. The CIO in virtually any size organization needs a chief of staff, or at least someone who can fulfill the duties of that role, says Collins.

"That's not necessarily someone who's going to be your successor, but the person who helps make sure the organization is running smoothly," he says. "I feel lucky to have an executive assistant who is playing much of the chief of staff role. There are some CIOs who want to believe they can take it all on. They're the ones who flame out quickly."

Layok says chief of staff is a good role for someone not as senior as a Riker but who has high potential — almost as a management training exercise.

"It's a great opportunity to give that individual exposure to everything that's on the CIO's plate and give them insight into the strategic nature of the business," he says. "There are a lot of CIOs I know who have both the Riker and the chief of staff."

Ingrid Lindberg, president of Kobie Marketing, a loyalty marketing services firm, says a successful Pepper Potts type has three key characteristics: great organizational skills, the ability to remain calm under fire, and a willingness to speak truth to power.

"I just hired my first Gwyneth," she says. "Even when things are blowing up and the house is crumbling she doesn't flinch. And she has the ability to tell the emperor that he or she has no clothes."

Lindberg says the third quality is the hardest to find.

"In every organization I have worked in, the higher you go, the more fearful people are of telling the truth," she says. "The only way to change that is to create environments where people can tell you what you've done wrong."

It takes a team

Layok says that Rikers land on one end of the lieutenant spectrum, with the Peppers on the other and Tyrions in between.

"But I think for mature organizations Riker is probably the model that works the best," he says. "Succession planning has to be on the mind of every CIO and organization."


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