It’s past time to drop the CIO stereotypes

I’ve written here lately about the need for more passion within IT. Now, I will express some passion of my own in defense of the profession, and its leaders in particular.

I’m tired of people making generalizations about CIOs. It’s been happening for 30 years, and it seems as if the stereotypes just keep coming.

This frustrates me, because in my view, IT’s potential to impact the world in a positive way has never been greater. To appropriate a quote from Thomas Paine about something else entirely, we are at a point where, with passionate action, IT leaders “have it in our power to begin the world all over again.” IT leadership has never been more important and, apparently, less understood.

Clearly, not everyone agrees with me that we are teetering on the cusp of IT’s greatest era. Case in point: Three credential-rich California academics proclaim in The Wall Street Journal that “CIOs are last among equals.”

Shoddy journalism regarding the business impact of information technology is to be expected from The Wall Street Journal. I have long lamented that paper’s misplaced coverage of IT. The Journal’s top voice on technology matters focuses on what happens inside the device rather than, say, the business value and market capitalization impact that an informed mobility strategy might have on a publicly traded company.

Of more concern is the May 24 Journal article by Peter S. DeLisi, Dennis Moberg and Ronald Danielson, in which those respected academics tell us that “most CIOs don’t have the broad business understanding, strategic vision and interpersonal skills that it takes to run a company or at least play a bigger role in running one.” Are any readers having a Nick Carr “IT doesn’t matter” moment of déjà vu?

Let me throw a little data into the mix. There are 500 CIOs in the Fortune 500, and there are 100 CIOs in the FTSE 100. Each of those CIOs has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Some of them are among the finest business leaders on the planet today.
Let Go of Stereotypes

And yet two stereotypes about IT professionals just won’t go away. One is that IT people don’t understand business; the second is that IT people lack social skills — that we are somehow semi-autistic when it comes to dealing with other carbon-based life forms. Isn’t it time for society at large to move away from 1980s and 1990s thinking about CIOs?

Isn’t it time for journalists and academics to let go of long-held stereotypes of what CIOs know and don’t know?

All of the Fortune 500 CIOs I’ve met know their businesses inside and out. Most of the IT professionals who appear in these pages know the strategic, tactical and technical realities of their enterprises. Any CIO who has completed the difficult task of implementing a global ERP system knows his organization’s business. Indeed, every CIO I know personally has business insights that his company’s CEO is eager to hear.

To portray CIOs as geeks and machine-tenders is as anachronistic and distasteful to me as notions of racial or national supremacy.

It’s time to take the conversation to a different plane.

Thornton May is the author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can contact him at

Related Download
CanadianCIO Census 2016 Mapping Out the Innovation Agenda Sponsor: Cogeco Peer 1
CanadianCIO Census 2016 Mapping Out the Innovation Agenda
The CanadianCIO 2016 census will help you answer those questions and more. Based on detailed survey results from more than 100 senior technology leaders, the new report offers insights on issues ranging from stature and spend to challenges and the opportunities ahead.
Register Now