CIOs: Setting personal goals

CIOs are used to setting goals for the organization, but what about personal development goals?

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Last year, I had a conversation with former CIO Raechelle Clemmons. She shared that when she works with CIOs, most have difficulty sharing personal goals that are different from their organizational goals. Clemmons said, “we give our team members professional development goals but, in my experience, rarely do we think about how we as senior leaders need to continue to grow and develop in our careers.” Given this thought, I thought it would be fruitful to dig in and understand where CIOs are at personal goal setting. I hope that you find their answers illuminating.

What type of personal growth goals do you have for yourself?

Initially, CIOs asked me to define what a personal goal was—some confused it with things like losing weight. And while these types of goals are important, I was really looking for personal development goals. Fortunately, after I gave some examples, most CIOs warmed to this discussion. The remainder suggested their personal/professional goals are indistinguishable from their goals for the team. For those that did take part, I got some great personal goals including:

  • Developing the skills needed to be an effective leader of the COVID recovery
  • Creating a welcoming multicultural environment including distributed work
  • Embracing how technology supports creating the organization of the future
  • Leading in new ways that support staff well-being
  • Achieving a better work/life balance to learn new things
  • Practicing community and team-care
  • Learning new business skills or technical skills
  • Redefining productivity measures so they support a highly distributed work environment
  • Finding creative ways to combat Zoom fatigue and stay engaged with the team and colleagues
  • Being even more engaged across various CIO communities


How do you plan to achieve these goals?

CIOs suggested that IT leaders need to prioritize achievement towards these goals above anything else. This includes making the associated work a habit, so distraction doesn’t occur. Another suggested step is reconsidering existing mentors. It is important to realize the type of mentors CIOs need shifts over time. For this reason, it is critical CIOs determine who can help with personal improvement and establishing needed business relationships.

At the same time, it is important that CIOs learn new techniques for assessing where they need to grow and find ways to solicit constructive feedback. This is foundational to improvement. Former CIO Wayne Sadin says, “CIOs need to prepare themselves to tackle the new challenges that will arise, and the opportunities that will present themselves.” It is critical for CIOs to read and belong to leadership groups where ideas can be exchanged. Creating a circle around the CIO clearly can strengthen them as a leader.

Should CIOs aspire to broader responsibilities?

Honestly, I have wondered whether being CIO is the top of the heap. If this were the case, CIOs are like football coaches where growth comes from moving to larger, more prestigious organizations. Now, I have certainly seen this taking place especially in higher education, but there are cases were CIOs have achieved expanded responsibilities. So, what do CIOs think about this?

Many CIOs struggled with this idea. Some said that CIOs should aspire to be happy, to enjoy their lives, and to serve their organizations well. Success, for these CIOs, is about helping people or making the world a better place. For them, it is important to make impactful things happen and have staff able to meet new and growing business needs.

However, CIOs like Melissa Woo said that over time their portfolio has grown. It now includes HR, facilities, procurement, real estate, and sustainability in addition to IT. Woo says, “it's rewarding because I see the potential collaboration and synergies between these areas that can help bring greater value to our organization.”

In terms of aspiring to broader responsibilities, CIOs feel there is an opportunity for CIOs to grow into a Chief Operating Officer, Executive VP of Administration, or Chief Innovation Officer. CIO Deb Gildersleeve, says, “it depends on the organization. There are ways for CIOs to gain broader responsibility and experience by partnering with other leaders in the organization. It isn’t about the title or organization. It's about the impact.” CIOs need to be—regardless of aspirations--prepared for the chaos opportunity that is being hurled at them at ever increasing speed. At the same time, they should increasingly be seeking out board memberships. CIOs need to know that the best fit for CEO can come from anywhere these days and CEOs should understand the critical role of digital to their organization’s future. It is important to have the ability to know what it takes to do tech right. A few years ago, John Chambers suggested that CIOs that succeed at digital transformation should become CEOs.

Personal learning goals for 2021

CIOs went in a bunch of different directions with this topic. Some discussed certifications, technical credentials, and mentoring. For CIO Steve Athanas, “it depends entirely on the CIO and where they need to grow. Certainly, if they're weak in finance, this will be a hot button issue. My personal favorite is to learn more about your customers. What does the business need to do that customers can't easily articulate?”

Clearly, this year will show a steepening growth trajectory as vaccinations open things back up. If you thought you were running as fast as possible to keep up with 2020, CIOs said you haven’t seen nothing yet. For this reason, CIOs need to be ready for true digital transformation, mergers and acquisitions, AI, and the list will only grow. CIOs clearly, need to know what skills they need to learn to better serve the communities they work with on a non-technological level. At a personal level, this includes empathy and an understanding of the impacts of trauma on people. When things do start to open back up, this may create new trauma. Empathy for this reason continues to be important.

CIOs are clear it is important to understand the tools and techniques for a hybrid work model. This includes technical learnings regarding cybersecurity while keeping everyone engaged when some people are in the office and others are remote. This can start by spending time learning more about how deeply self-care impacts people.  

How does social media help achieve personal goals?

CIOs believe having peer support makes a big difference. Besides discussion forums on social media, CIOs suggested a quarterly lunch with a small group of other CIOs, with one CIO saying this helped convince them sure they were on the right track with their goals and with projects they are taking on.

CIOs believe that the energy from the community and their viewpoints is incredibly valuable, as is the chance to meet different people and acquire perspective from technology leaders in other industries. It is important to learn what is similar and what is different and what might be relevant. There is nothing better for an active professional than associating with smart, thoughtful professionals across industries, geographies, job titles, etc.

Clearly, it's helpful to be part of a group where you learn what others are doing and where you can vet some of your own ideas. Different perspectives can pull CIOs out of silo thinking. At the same time, listening and learning new things makes a CIO better. CIOs have a key role in helping deliver on the digital future of their organizations. This is time for leadership. And every organization needs leaders that can manage for today and for the future.