Posted by: Long Huynh | April 9, 2009

3 Steps to a Successful CIO

More than any other corporate executives, the CIO is the one who constantly struggles with his/her identity. Nobody ever questions the roles of a CEO, a COO or a CFO (except when there is an internecine power play among them). Other Chief Officer types are more of a label of convenience than true members of the executive suite, and they can learn from the CIO lesson when their time come up to claim the mantle of a true CxO.

If you view the ascension of an IT leader to the board level as a Darwinian evolution, you will understand that the evolution must go through a number of stages – which takes time – and its journey is fraught with dangers – which rewards the survival to the fittest. So, regardless of where you are on this journey, it pays to know that there are 3 steps to a successful CIO career:

 1. Optimization – Become the best and the fittest in order to survive
2. Alignment – Go with the forces to preserve the strength and stay alive
3. Grow – Adapt, transform and expand, in your image

Optimization means shedding your fat (cutting costs) and toning up your muscles (improving productivity) to be in top fighting condition. Optimization also means understanding your potentials (and their limits) and acquiring skills for survival.

Alignment means several things. The most obvious is the Alignment between yourself (the CIO) and the other CxOs, or between IT and Business. There is a lot of press about the gap or tension between these 2 entities (here is one example: so I will not go into detail here. However, there are 2 other types of Alignment that, once understood, will help you deal better with the CIO/IT – CxO/Business alignment. The first one is the Alignment with what I call the “forces”: the nature, the universe, the eco-system, anything at the macro level. You need to be well aware of what they are and stay in tune with them. Is Green IT one of them? It is up to you to find out, but remember that Business itself is affected by the same forces, so if you are not aligned with them, you are by extension out of sync with the Business custodians, the CxOs themselves. The last one (and may be the most difficult one) is the Alignment with yourself. Unless you know who you are in a conscious way each and every single moment along the journey, you are bound to behave erratically, influenced by external pressures and your own internal temptations. And this is a behavior unbecoming of a corporate Chief Officer.

Growth means transforming yourself to the new role by adapting to the environment and by expanding your reach. You become a leader of your pack (if you think as a wolf – which I do) or your tribe (if you think as a caveman or Seth Godin). You are no longer acting on behalf of yourself but also of your IT staff, your organization, your customers, even your communities. You would like them to be the best and the fittest, which brings you back full circle to another cycle of evolution.

Remember these 3 words: Optimize – Align – Grow and you are on your way to be the most successful CIO.



  1. your line above “the CIO is the one who constantly struggles with his/her identity” reminds me of a story … that might relate to identity …

    Some years ago I was addressing a meeting of 200+ CIOs … as an openner, I asked “How many of you are in the IT business?”

    Almost all hands went up. I pointed to a guy sitting right down front (a confederate) and said, “Sir I see that you did not raise your hand. Couold you introduce yourself?” He slowly stood and turned around. “I am Mr. xxxxx and I am the CIO of Pirelli Tires … and I am in the tire business.

    The audience was very quiet.

    • Thank you for your comment. Your story illustrated very well the cause of today’s IT-Business mis-alignment.

  2. […] 3 steps to a successful CIO […]

  3. […] (a real Pai Mei IT Guy) excellent CIO blog, CIO Assistant. Must read Long’s 2 articles: 3 Steps to a Successful CIO and 3 Essential Roles of a […]

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