Want the CIO job? Be a business leader

Take on risky projects, be a change agent ... and ask for help when you need it, advises one CIO

by Diane Frank, CIO Executive Council — For Carol Kline, becoming a technology leader was simply another aspect of being a business leader. "There was no ah-hah moment," she says. "By nature, I'm a problem solver, and I see the CIO role as one of a change agent and facilitator across the business."

[ See also: Want to be CIO? Forget about being just one of the guys ]

Kline, who is now executive vice president and CIO at TeleTech Holdings, has been in the telecom industry most of her career. While moving up through marketing and operations, she realized that technology was an integral part of the strategy for business improvements, and she made a point of seeking out leadership roles that would drive opportunity and transformation to as many parts of the business as possible.

Volunteering for these types of cross-organization roles both then and now, she believes, is part of what makes her a strong CIO. It's an example of how she has followed the advice of one of her mentors, which was to play not at your current level, but at the one you aspire to achieve. She has developed a reputation in the organization as an IT leader who is willing to take on the challenges that can't be handled by just one function or unit alone.

There is risk, Kline admits, since the more functions an initiative touches, the more points for potential failure. You have to be willing to take on that risk, she believes, in order to advance to the highest levels. To mitigate the risk, Kline often seeks assistance from her peers to gain the deeper, functional knowledge necessary -- she learned early on to not be afraid to ask for help.

Executives are generally open to spending time to learn how IT can make their processes and products better.

A strong base of competencies and business knowledge within the IT group enables Kline's team to take on these risky projects along with their leader. Small wins breed confidence in the staff to go after the bigger initiatives. "It's vitally important to give them the confidence to make that jump," she says. To Kline, heading a team that creates value through big cross-enterprise projects is the heart of being a CIO.

Carol Kline is vice president and CIO at TeleTech Holdings, and a member of the CIO Executive Council. The Council's Pathways Program was created by CIOs to build business and IT leadership skills in senior IT leaders through group mentoring with CIOs, 360-degree competencies assessment, targeted seminars and community forums. To learn more, visit council.cio.com/pathways.html.

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For more IT leadership advice, see:
IT career advancement: Learn how to negotiate vendor contracts
IT management: Building IT credibility
IT management: How to maintain your leadership "edge"

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