On the surface, it looks like pretty straightforward wizardry. The company gives the CIO less money and expects increases in overall performance and productivity. He is expected to deliver complicated solutions that people can benefit from immediately without any training. The King doesn’t understand the magic that it takes to make things happen, but has faith that the CIO has the arcane knowledge and skill to make it happen.
And largely, the CIO has been able to deliver the magic. As always, people are happier with the idea that it all happens with a flash of insight that comes from a secret store of knowledge. I guess that’s nice to believe.
There is some truth in the idea of a special store of knowledge, but it doesn’t come as a gift, and it really isn’t a secret. It comes from constantly learning about new and different approaches and testing them out to figure out which ones work, and which ones don’t. I think that deep inside there are a couple of traits that help make some CIOs successful. The first is tremendous intellectual curiosity. There needs to be a genuine passion for exploring new ways of innovating that drives them to actually invest the time and energy to see "what happens if we do this?"
The other part is a bit harder to discuss. It is that little "pilot light" that keeps the curiosity and drive going in the face of really tough challenges, unpleasant surprises, and multiple false starts. It takes something special to take on a project after it has blown up in your face before. It isn’t simply curiosity, experience, or intellect that will make someone raise their hand and commit to doing something that hasn’t been done before and looks really suspect. I’m not talking about ignoring risks, rather the ability to look at the whole situation, recognize the need along with the risks, and then find the faith that the talent and resources to see the job through will reveal themselves.
The faith that they will be given what they need to do what needs to be done, in spite of the evidence of their experience and intellect, I think is the gift that separates the truly exceptional leader.