Key leadership traits of an effective CIO for managing and developing teams in culturally diverse work groups

Seminar Paper, 2005

17 Pages, Grade: A (1,3)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition of leadership

3. Analysis of CIO leadership traits
3.1 General leadership traits
3.2 Traits for leaders in the position of a CIO
3.3 Leadership traits for a CIO to manage culturally diverse groups
3.4 Leadership traits for a CIO to develop effective teams

4. Conclusion


Wherever this assignment draws on the work of others, such sources are clearly acknowledged.

1. Introduction

In these days, leadership seems to be a critically researched topic. Morse (2004) discusses executive psychopaths and Maccoby (2004) analyses problems with narcissistic leaders. According to them, there is a high quota of unsuccessful leaders (Morse, 2004 & Maccoby, 2004) and therefore it is getting more and more important to identify and validate key leadership traits before employing leaders to avoid costly top level management debacles. Especially an unsuccessful CIO can be very expensive for a company due to high business risks which result from the use of information technology (think about the huge risks companies are facing when they are implementing an ERP solution in a multimillion dollar project). With increasing pressure, the CIO (who is in my interpretation in the graphic on page two the tiny manager in front of the desk who is trying to look up to the CEO) is in a difficult position. Being supervised by the CEO (displayed in the picture on page too as the manager behind the desk whose view seems to be clouded), he has to manage culturally diverse teams in the complex and changing business and IT environment. His function is to coordinate IT as a tool to support business functions and value adding processes, in the context of Porter’s value chain. (Porter, 1998) This leads to the need for the CIO to understand and integrate two aspects: the business side and the IT related aspects. The problem is that in most cases, even the CIO is not able to understand every detailed aspect of information technology and of the conducted business. Therefore he has to manage with a lack of information and lead a team consisting of different and often culturally diverse specialists.

This essay analyses and describes traits of an effective CIO with the use of current leadership literature, in particular with references to the work from Warren Bennis, Abraham Zaleznik and Daniel Goleman. Identified traits and significant findings are highlighted (bold) to give to focus the reader on the most important aspects.

2. Definition of leadership

Before analysing traits of an effective CIO, I start with a definition of leadership. Prentice thinks that “Leadership is the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants”. (Prentice, 2004, p. 102) From my point of view, this is a definition which can be applied to most managers. In addition to that, Zaleznik believes that goals are also accomplished by managers but not every manager is a leader. (Zaleznik, 2004)

What is the difference between management and leadership? Zaleznik (2004) thinks that leaders tolerate a certain amount of chaos and managers are looking for stability and control. This is in my opinion a major difference between managers and leaders. In addition to that, leaders incorporate inspiration and human passion (Zaleznik, 2004) into their motivational work where as managers are more concentrated on the actual process of dividing and managing work. Bennis (2003) states, that manager concentrate on systems and structure whereas leaders focus on people. However, an exact definition for a leader can not be given but in the following part of the essay, the main leadership traits focused on the job of a CIO are analysed. Therefore the definition of a leader can be constructed from these identified traits.

3. Analysis of CIO leadership traits

There are people arguing that there are different traits in different industries, jobs or functions for a successful leader but I think that there are general traits which can be identified in most leaders in nearly every industry. One example for the hypothesis that successful leaders have common traits is the change of the CEO at Gucci Group in 2004. Robert Polet, a former president of Unilever’s ice cream and frozen foods division with absolutely no experience in the luxury industry seems to be a very good leader at Gucci. Because of this, I will explain in paragraphs 3.2, 3.3 and 3.4 traits which are more important or relevant for a CIO but in the end, I don’t think that there are particular leadership traits which can be found solely in the personalities of CIOs. Generally said, and this is also why I believe leaders can work in various industries, I believe that leaders need to be creative and to be able to create a vision. For the position of a CIO creativity could mean to analyse and scan potential technical upcoming ideas and to assess their business impacts. But before going into further details concerning the actual leadership of a CIO, I will focus on general leadership traits which a CIO certainly needs to have.

3.1 General leadership traits

There are a high number of traits which are generally recognised in leadership literature. I categorise these traits into two fields: traits which are more related to the own person and self management and traits related to the management of other people. The idea for the two categories is related to Goleman’s framework of leadership skills. (Goleman, 2004)

The first sort of traits includes self confidence, self awareness and self regulation. In addition to that, cognitive abilities are of high importance. Cognitive abilities include abilities to scan and analyse the environment and in particular people and their personalities. The next logical step in identifying leadership abilities is now the processing and implementation of the analysed environment. Especially the ability of making appropriate choices is - according to the former Mayor of New York City Rudolph W. Giuliani (2002) - critical for every leader. Creativity is thereby one of the most important traits to think of choices and how to implement them. Creativity is also vital for defining and implementing a vision. I don’t believe it is possible to lead without a mission or a goal. The case how Steve Jobs at Apple managed to establish a creative brand in a very competitive computer environment shows, that creativity and vision are vital for leaders in the IT environment. (Mukul & Shell, 2005)

However, traits related to the management of other people are in my opinion even more important than traits related to the own person. It is always the environment and especially people a leader needs to consider, or how Warren Bennis – one of the American leadership Gurus – wrote: “[…] leadership, by definition, cannot take place in a vacuum”. (Bennis, 2003, p. 26) A leader should motivate people therefore the ability to create motivation and momentum is critical. To achieve a high grade of motivation, social skills – especially empathy – are vital for a successful leader. Goleman (1995 & 2004) thinks that these skills are the most important skills for leading and motivating people.

Other general leadership traits which are especially important for the management of other people result from the leadership style. Maccoby, Gittell & Ledeen (2004) argue with the use of Machiavelli’s works that an autocratic leadership style which creates fear among employees is often more effective compared with a leadership style which is based on love. I believe that an autocratic leadership style based on fear is not suitable for most leaders and most business environments but could work in certain situations. In addition to that, I can say that I haven’t seen or heard of any CIO in Europe who leads with this leadership style. I think most CIOs have a more participative oriented leadership style but also tend to have an autocratic leadership style to focus and manage the most important business aspects, especially when an executive is responsible for the IT and another function, e.g. human resources or finance, which is e.g. common in many small to medium sized enterprises in Asia and South America.


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Key leadership traits of an effective CIO for managing and developing teams in culturally diverse work groups
University of Auckland  (Facultiy of Computing)
A (1,3)
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ISBN (Book)
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This paper focuses on leadership skills of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) who manages in culturally diverse work groups. However, it contains general information concerning the work environment of CIOs but also explaines issues in the field of international management. I wrote this paper during my year abroad while studying business administration at the European Business School (ebs) Oestrich-Winkel.
Quote paper
Andreas Weth (Author), 2005, Key leadership traits of an effective CIO for managing and developing teams in culturally diverse work groups, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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