Be better than you really are

Sara is a divisional CIO who has decided she’s not cut out for the top job. She doesn’t think she has the full complement of skills to be a good CIO.

It’s a shame because Sara is a seasoned IT professional who is strategic, decisive, results-oriented and skilled at directing the activities of others. While it’s true that she doesn’t have all of the broad and diverse skills required for the CIO job, it’s also true that most people would fail to make the cut.

Like every leadership job, the CIO role is big — too big for one person. The good news is that you can improve yourself to fill the space required by the CIO job.

CIOs, like other executives, often fail in their responsibilities because they don’t have the self-awareness and humility to mitigate their weaknesses and avoid overusing their strengths. Very few of us, in fact, are able to see ourselves through the eyes of others. We require some kind of external feedback.

A useful tool in this regard is the familiar Myers-Briggs personality type indicator (known as MBTI). Isabel Briggs Myers explained that “each of us has a set of gifts, a set of mental tools that we have become comfortable using and thus reach for in the everyday business of living” (from her book, Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type). Most people know their MBTI, but few can articulate how their type should organize resources and approach their jobs.

CIOs, like other executives, often fail in their responsibilities because they don’t have the self-awareness and humility to mitigate their weaknesses and avoid overusing their strengths. Sara has a personality type common to many IT professionals and executives: She is an INTJ (introverted, intuitive, thinking, judging). INTJs typically are imaginative, determined innovators who are stimulated by difficulties and attracted to bigger and bigger challenges. INTJ is also the most independent of all personality types.

These tendencies have profound implications for what Sara needs to do to succeed, both as a divisional CIO and as an aspirant for the top job. By examining the CIO success criteria and understanding the implications of Sara’s type, we can learn how she can become better than she really is.

INTJs and the Five Criteria for CIO Success

1. Defining and communicating a shared IT vision, strategy and tactical objectives. Sara’s intuitive orientation means that she has the insight to identify issues and patterns, and the inspiration and imagination to define a better approach to IT. Unfortunately, her introverted nature means that she treats strategy-making as a solitary pursuit. Setting direction is a participative process; otherwise, the commitment necessary for action will be missing. To guard against her natural tendencies, Sara must define a process that ensures the participation of key stakeholders across the organization. She must then assign IT professionals who are intuitive extroverts (ENs, in the Myers-Briggs shorthand) as key resources in the effort.

2. Delivering quality results on time and within budget. Sara’s judgmental nature means she is comfortable with planning and making decisions and is determined to get things done. She is stimulated by difficulties and loves to solve problems. But since INTJs get bored with details and, at times, do not live in the world of facts, Sara needs to refine her thinking process. She must ensure that her project and operational leaders are not people just like herself, or there’s a good chance that her IT organization won’t deliver on time or meet the needs of the business. Unlike-minded people will act as “sensors” to keep the project grounded in reality.

3. Helping the business realize value from IT investments. IT value is a dual challenge: First, governance needs to be established; second, business leaders need to be convinced that following the rules is in their best interest. Sara has no problem defining what mechanisms are necessary to promote value realization, but she does not inherently possess the gifts of persuasion to get the rest of the organization on board. To balance her strengths and shore up her weaknesses, she will need extroverted thinkers (ETs) on her staff who feel comfortable with the collaborative process of negotiation but who will not give in on key principles or avoid conflict just to make everybody happy.

4. Fostering good relationships. Since Sara is more comfortable with ideas than with people, she tends to make decisions without considering the feelings of others. She often approaches situations with her mind made up and is surprised by the opposition that results. To be sure, quick-and-easy relationships will never be Sara’s strong suit, but she needs to at least neutralize her natural tendencies by forcing herself to interact with others—even though, in her mind, there is no real purpose to it. She can force herself into business relationships by making it a project (for example, defining whom she needs to talk with and scheduling regular interactions), improving her cocktail party conversational skills (using reflective and active listening) and refining her negotiation skills (using principled rather than positional negotiating).

Once again, Sara can use her staff to bolster her weaknesses. In this case, she can ensure that her client-facing personnel includes an adequate number of extroverts.

5. Building and leading a credible IT organization. Executives also derail when they fail to staff correctly. Since introverted thinkers (ITs) such as Sara connect to others through ideas rather than feelings, they don’t get to know people on a human level. Therefore, they have a tendency to appeal to the head and hands, but not the heart. Sara’s people are stimulated by her vision, clear direction and delegated authority, but they feel their personal needs are not necessarily understood. Their assignments may not be relevant to their career aspirations. For Sara, the answer is to carve out time to get to know others by asking questions about their goals, values, and perceived strengths and weaknesses. Then she can apply her intuitive, thinking skills to define a development plan that will meet the needs of both individuals and the organization.

Each of you shares Sara’s predicament, if with a different mix of personality tendencies. Every day, your talents and weaknesses fight each other for their chance in the spotlight. How well you fulfill your role with the necessary skills — whether your skills or others’ — defines how successful you are and how much you enjoy what you do.

Dust off your latest personality assessments and extract the insights necessary to become better than you really are. The MBTI isn’t the only assessment, nor are such tools the only method of learning your strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you work for a variety of bosses throughout your career. Sign up for the right kind of 360-degree assessment, so that you are able to validate your progress.

Armed with self-knowledge and with their egos in check, executives such as Sara (and you) can use every resource and tool to become better than they really are.