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Charting your career path from CIO to CEO


Today’s IT leaders are being asked to take on additional responsibilities beyond traditional IT functions, says IT recruiter Mark Polansky, and along with those new responsibilities come new opportunities. Polansky, a senior client partner at executive search and talent consulting service Korn Ferry, says that the doors to higher ranks—doors that had previously been closed to CIOs—are opening.


As co-author of the Korn Ferry report, “CIO to CEO: Aspiring CIOs Should Focus on Critical Behavioral Skills,” Polansky found that there are “now more business-oriented folks in the CIO seat who can play a bigger, broader role in the corporation, who are more operationally oriented.”


polansky.jpgBlazing your own trail to the corner office

The report noted that technology executives aiming for the topmost corporate ranks must learn and adopt new behaviors—then, “armed with the proper knowledge and support, CIOs can effectively groom themselves for promotion.” Beyond that, though, the path to the CEO office doesn’t often follow a formula, according to Polansky: “Development of business-savvy—like getting an MBA or taking courses or getting an assignment in a P&L or creating great working relationships with C-suite partners—I’m not sure there’s a precise order there. The outcome is the great relationship and the true ‘seat at the table,’ to use an old cliché.”


CIOs have “leadership experience in an enterprise-level function called IT,” Polansky says. “If that person is a very successful IT leader, there are other enterprise-level functions that he or she can manage—whether it’s the back office, facilities, shared services. There are lots of CIOs who have those other functions reporting to them.”


Take a long look in the mirror

How do IT leaders determine if they have what it takes to land a higher role in their enterprise? According to the Korn Ferry report, CIOs who aspire to becoming CEOs must first evaluate their capacity for behavioral change, then work toward becoming more action-focused and less analytical. Developing a leadership style “that more closely matches the action-oriented style of the most senior executives and eschews some of the more analytic qualities that are commonly associated with successful technology executives” is key.


People who can adapt in such a fashion and make those changes demonstrate what Polansky calls learning agility—defined by his company as “willingness and ability to learn from experience and then apply those lessons to succeed in new situations.” Polansky points to learning agility as the single-most important characteristic aspiring IT leaders need to develop the skills that will move their careers ahead, “Learning agility, leadership competency—this stuff is discoverable, measureable and almost quantifiable” he says. “The outcome is coaching, professional development and education, mentoring, all the things that would go into helping that agile-learning CIO push beyond.”


To learn more, read the companion article to this blog post, Making the leap from CIO to CEO. Get more insights on IT leadership and critical trends in enterprise software, by signing up for the Discover Performance e-newsletter.

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About the Author


Alec Wagner is a longtime writer & editor, enterprise IT insider, and (generally) fearless digital nomad.

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