From CIO to CEO?
Written By: P. Meyer
Published On: December 11 2000
From CIO to CEO?
Featured Author - Peter Meyer
don't CIOs become CEO? The step from Chief Information Officer to Chief
Executive Officer seems like it should be simple - one little initial.
Shouldn't information, one of the most important assets of any organization,
be the key to success and promotion? To many, it makes sense that a good
CIO should become CEO. Does that happen?
quick search of the Fortune 1000 will show what many CIOs know intuitively.
The list of CEOs changes every month but there are few who were CIO on
the way to becoming CEO. Most of the CEOs come from line jobs such as
sales, finance, engineering, and marketing. You will find a smattering
of General Counsels, manufacturing people, and even an HR person, but
no CIOs. Why not?
easy answer is that boards of directors do not understand and value technical
issues. Easy but incorrect. If that were true, engineers would never become
CEOs. Another answer: People who handle larger or more strategic budgets
(sales, finance) are more likely to get promoted. But in today's world,
the IT budget is one of the largest around, and the IT investment is strategic.
what does it take to get promoted to CEO? To find out, our firm surveyed
presidents, CEOs, board members, and top executives in a variety of companies
and nonprofit organizationsi . We started with two questions:
do you look for in a presidential promotion?
- Who got
the promotion to CEO, and whyii?
The survey results, recommendations, and specific techniques
for general managers can be found in So You Want the President's Job...
, by Peter Meyer, published in and copyright Business Horizons, January
For the purposes of the study, we included CEO, COO, General Manager,
and President. The titles are not completely equivalent, but by asking
follow on questions we were able to get to the equivalent roles no matter
which title they carried.
The Reality versus the Perception
The results were not what you would expect. Before we look at the larger
study, lets look atthe perception of CIOs and what that has to do with
promotion to CEO. For organizations that are promoting a new President,
the image of the candidates is an important consideration. Each candidate
carries a reputation, and some parts of that image are built by conscious
actions. However, part of the image comes from previous titles. If you
are from finance, people will often categorize you differently than someone
who comes from sales. A positive or negative view of the incoming CEO
will affect how well he or she can do in that new job.
is the perception of CIOs? Lumping all CIOs into one category may not
be fair, but we are dealing with perception. A clue can come from the
survey of CEOs done by the London School of Economicsiii. This
survey discovered that, as a group, CIOs are not perceived by CEOs as
contributing to the competitive advantage of the business. In that perspective,
someone who knows how to make the infrastructure of a network sing does
not automatically know how to make the business move forward. No matter
what we might want to think, the perception is that understanding IT strategy
does not lead to understanding the business strategy. As the follow on
report states, "Many senior managers view the CIO primarily as a support
player rather than a leading strategist.iv"
many IT professionals, that perception is perfect. Many are dedicated
to a career with technology and have no desire to work in the rest of
the company. However, if you want to move your career into the mainstream
business, this observed dividing line between IT and business must be
crossed. The CEO promotion study can show you how to change this perception
for you or your department.
From the Compass World IT Strategy Census 1999, copyright
1999 by Compass Analysis. The study was commissioned by Compass, a global
management consulting firm and conducted by the LSE.
From the Compass World IT Strategy Census 2000, copyright
2000 by Compass Analysis. The study was also commissioned by Compass,
a global management consulting firm, and conducted by the LSE.
Most Common Denominator
When we conducted the study, we looked for the most common denominators
determining promotion to CEO. It was not obvious what these might be.
It turns out that the common denominator for being promoted is neither
skill nor experience. You probably know several examples of top executives
who possess neither great skill nor any depth of experience. You probably
also know people who can make an organization hum but never get the nod.
Nor is the common denominator longevity inside the organization or loyalty.
These can matter, but are not critical.
what is the common denominator? The executives we asked all said the same
thing: Employees see the new CEO as a person who listens. Colleagues,
bosses, and the people who worked for such managers all seemed to share
the perception that visibly good listening skills are prerequisites for
a good CEO.
is, the promotable executive not only is a good listener, she is , recognized
as a good listener. Many managers may listen well, but people interacting
with them may not notice it. In the survey, the executives most often
promoted were the ones whom colleagues and subordinates noticed were good
recognized for good listening cannot guarantee that you will get a promotion,
or that you will do well if you are promoted. It's like table stakes:
you use it to get into the running for promotion.
Value of The Perception
"Looking at some of my peers," says Jamie Allen, a former general manager
at Tandem, "I have observed some terrible communicators... One
vice president heard, but he didn't tell you he'd heard.v"
The result? He was denigrated by others, missed promotions, and appeared
not to do as good a job as he should have done.
listening has to start before anyone says anything. Chris Rooke, a Vice
President of Compaq Computers, often came across what he
calls "the wrong rock syndrome": A boss says to a subordinate, "Get me
a rock," but when the subordinate brings the rock, the boss says, "No!
Not that rock, bring me another one!" and the subordinate has to go back
for another one. This is an analogy of what happens when one does not
check for understanding. Fault is not the issue. Rooke's team was redoing
work and wasting time. Rooke has learned to ask questions when he gives
directions. He can check others' understanding, or lack of it, before
they fetch the rock.
for understanding creates real value. Doing this can save hours or weeks
later. How often have you seen someone start down a road only to find
it's the wrong road? It can cost a person precious time, and it can cost
a company time and other resources to cover the loss.
value of listening is clear: You cannot succeed in running a company if
you do not hear what your people, customers, and suppliers are telling
you. Poor listeners do not survive. Listening and understanding well are
key to making good decisions.
that you listen has a different value. It does not change the decisions
you make; it changes how the people around you accept and implement your
choices. When people know you hear them, they are more likely to listen
to you. So, listening (or active listening) is valuable for making decisions;
demonstrating listening is valuable for making them stick.
CIOs are good at taking in information but fall short when it comes to
showing that they have heard. Is it possible to be a good listener and
not get recognized for it? Yes. Is it possible to project the appearance
of a good listener and not actually be one? I don't think so.
Quotes from the executives in the article come from conversations with
the author, and are used with their permission. All are ibid.
The object, then, is not just to become more knowledgeable of your business,
but to show that you listen as well. Expertise without the ability to
listen can be valuable in support roles, which is how many people look
at the typical IT manager. The result is that IT's image of expertise
can be a detriment. That perception can reduce the chance of promotion
outside IT. An image of listening well, which is not associated with IT,
can help overcome that negative perception.
lessons? To get the president's job, be good at your task and get known
as a listener. People who promote others to the position of president
look, consciously or unconsciously, for this crucial trait. It does not
necessarily mean you are ready to run your company. However, increasing
your visibility as a listener can help you earn the promotion. It builds
trust, and building trust increases your chance of promotion.
if you do not aspire to general management, your visibility as a listener
has an important advantage. Listeners get heard, and the more people know
you to listen, the more credibility you will have when you speak. That
can never hurt.
- Let Them Catch You Listening
How do you get caught listening? When Dennis Haar was President of Aspect
Telecommunications, he gave an example with an employee whom management
had passed over for promotion. Haar knew Aspect wanted to keep the manager,
and he had a good idea of what behaviors she needed to improve before
she could succeed at the next level. Haar could have saved his own time
by simply suggesting that the manager change those behaviors. Instead,
he lengthened his conversation with her, making sure she caught him listening
before he offered a solution.
have watched Haar practice this, both before and since his promotion.
First, he takes the time to restate the comments in his own words. After
restating, he asks if he is right. Clearly willing to hear a "no," he
restates again until he gets it right by the other person's definition.
After confirming that, he empathizes aloud, to make sure he understands
how the other person both feels and thinks. Only then does he offer a
problem was that the company should not have promoted the manager, but
she did not yet understand that. Dennis' careful message was: "I can do
all that for you if you want. I can go see the right people for you and
talk to them. But here are some things you must change or it won't work."
He used listening to keep her loyalty while giving advice she needed but
didn't want to hear. When he takes the time to use this process, Haar
increases the chances of his being heard and understood.
2000 by the Meyer Group, all rights reserved
Peter Meyer is the principal of The Meyer Group, a consulting firm in
Scotts Valley, California. Peter's latest book is Warp-Speed
Growth, published this year by AMACOM. He answers his E-mail. Try
him at Peter@MeyerGrp.com The
author would like to thank the several dozen senior executives and board
members who agreed to be interviewed for this article.