Still, organizations change. A CIO might spend years grooming a successor only to lose him or her to a shinier offer elsewhere. That's why smart CIOs try to develop all the members of their team so that they'll eventually be in a position to succeed them, says Collins.
"I'm 58 and starting to look at the end point of my career," says Collins. "But I've got three capable people below me, and I need to make sure that if I step out, one of them can step in. I have also come to the conclusion you're at risk if you pick just one. I have three who have the potential to go on to be excellent CIOs. Right now I'm not picking any one of them, but working with all of them to choose opportunities and experiences that will help them in their careers."
Lindberg has taken a similar approach over her career as C-level executive. Instead of designating a single person to step in when she's on a three-week vacation or putting out fires at clients, she likes to rotate the responsibility among different members of her staff.
"I've been known to have my chief digital officer be in charge for one vacation and my CTO in charge for the next," she says. "This gives me an interesting view as to who is ready for the next spot, and how successful they are at making decisions and keeping the teams aligned and inspired when I'm away. It's a big test, and an imperative one as part of succession planning."
It's equally important to communicate that person's role to your team and the entire organization, she adds.
"I like to stand in front of my organization and say, 'Person X is going to be the decision maker on these types of topics, and Person Y will be in charge of this other thing,'" she says. "Clearly communicating that to the organization stops an amazing amount of swirl. Making the assumption that anyone beside X and Y knows this is one of the biggest failures we can make as leaders."
(She adds that her former employer, Cigna Health, used lapel pins to indicate who was in charge who was the decision maker for a particular period of time.)
But no matter how skilled your No. 2 is, one person alone is not enough. It takes a team to make a great CIO.
"I need someone who is steeped in everything new, hot and exciting about marketing tech," Lindberg says. "I need someone who understands what to do with customer data and who can inspire employees to come in every day and do big stuff. But what I have found is that these things are generally not all found in one body. They are different behavioral traits you need to wrap around yourself as a leader to successfully drive a business forward."
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