I was in Austin, Tex., for the last couple of days, primarily to speak at a conference on homeland defence and critical infrastructure hosted by the Texas attorney general’s office. While I was in town, I hosted a breakfast for some of our Austin-area readers.

There were about a dozen of us, and the conversation was so good I thought I’d share some of the highlights.

We talked a lot about leadership and the ability of CIOs to deliver value, and the discussion took some interesting turns. For one thing, a number of CIOs expressed the belief that technology itself had more or less plateaued – that things from a technological standpoint were getting easier and becoming more stable. So CIOs have an easier time with the service part of their job, providing “dial tone” and applications to support the business as it exists today. This is giving them more time for the business leadership part of their job, and with CIOs that generally means thinking about how IT can transform things.

At the same time, there appears to be a backlash within their organization to all the hype that’s been dished out by high-tech vendors during the past five years. CEOs and other executives who bought in to the hype have become jaded and skeptical of even the most reasonable of value claims especially when it involves transformation. Consequently, CIOs themselves must increasingly don the mantle of marketer and find a way to sell the real value of what this stuff can actually do.

Together, these two trends add up to one conclusion: To succeed today, CIOs need to become “more aggressive, confident and brave,” as one CIO put it. They need to be creative and engage their business partners’ imagination about what the future might look like. And they need to be willing to confront people to really fight for what they know to be true. To sit back and just assume a service mentality is to shirk responsibility.

This means staying with one job for much longer than the current average. “CIOs need to stick it out and fight the fight,” said one CIO.

“Longevity helps,” agreed another, who described his initial four years of struggling to be heard and making little headway, but through perseverance, the tide turned, with the next four years bringing significant progress (and some really impressive results).

It sounds to me like the profile of a successful CIO in 2002 is more like that of an explorer or a revolutionary than a servant or technician. It takes confidence, endurance and real courage.

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