Leading a team. How did that become the key role of an Informatics specialist? The day the specialist became a CIO, that’s when! Trying to build a team whilst leading a team and trying to create enthusiasm in a whole team … that is a basic skill of the successful CIO in 2013. What is the word for that skill?

It is worth considering that today, out of all the board level specialist roles, this depth of responsibility applies more to the CIO than any other C-Suite member and whilst this depth is required, woe betide any CIO that doesn’t at least try to keep their specialist skills to hand. I have a friend who berates me on a regular basis for not retaining knowledge about basic cabling… how many people had their best man use a CAT5 cable joke at their wedding?!

The three analogies that I believe are applicable to the role of the CIO in an organisation that believes in the progression of innovation and its impact are described below:

Managing a Fantasy Football team – The season is a few weeks in now, and after an initial flurry of activity the vast majority of the league has lost interest. Come the transfer window, they will all be back but for now it’s just that core 10%, moving and shaking, trying to get the most out of a limited resource and trying to avoid the teams they don’t like and not make too many transfers. Not too dissimilar to that horrible job of juggling the org chart. Creating the right team at all levels is the most important job of the CIO in 2013. Today a number of different supportive teams exist in the Informatics Directorate in my organisation, but, they are in a state of flux. Trying to provide stability falls to the CIO, and not dissimilar to the Fantasy Football scenario, some ‘team managers’ will leave their team well alone until the transfer window. But which is best? To tinker and try to keep it always optimum, or to leave well alone and allow stability to set in?

Red Setter puppy syndrome – A number of years ago I bore witness to the description of a management style as being like an eager to please Red Setter puppy. At the time this wasn’t particularly complimentary, but I now think maybe it is, with the right “owner”, a style that the CIO needs to adopt. I think this may be controversial, but a CIO leads a service part of any organisation, one that has customers it should treat as customers and not as a captive audience, and, if as a leader the CIO can imbue some natural enthusiasm for caring for customers, then surely the Red Setter puppy syndrome is no bad thing. Before anyone jumps on me though, I am not suggesting that enthusiasm can make up for delivery or that every customer should be worshiped, but if we could get away from the ‘IT Crowd’ stereotype then that would increase the perception of the delivery of service to the organisation. Let’s face it, everyone loves a Red Setter!

Building rockets with lego – One of my favourite bands of all time keeps releasing music under different names: Grand Drive, Danny George Wilson and now Danny and the Champions of the World. Great music! A new song of theirs is (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket, and it caused a thought. They sing,

“Never stop building that old space rocket, give up on the dream and you know you have lost it.”

If this isn’t the ‘prime directive’ of the CIO then what is? The CIO needs to be on the front foot of the collective thoughts about innovation. If the other two skills listed here are in the bag then the CIO can make the best use of the team to deliver innovation akin to building the old space rockets, and maybe even get to the analogous moon that changes ‘the game’.

In the same song Danny and the Champs sing, ‘Was it something about the great unknown, with stars in your eyes and your dream in your pocket’. Consider the CIO striving to drive the team to deliver the next new bright and shiny hope. The CIO has to have the dreams of the team in his pocket to be able to reference them and bring them to the fore at the right moment with the right credit to the right member of the team.

What is the word for that (these) skills? Maybe chief, maybe officer, maybe executive or maybe just pure and simple leadership is the best descriptor.

Leadership in an Information environment is the key skill. Regardless, that kit bag of skills and knowledge better get a dusting off if the CIO is going to be able to deliver against all these criteria.

All CIOs have fun trying though!