The Corporate Board Paradox (Chapter 10)

The Bias Against CIOs on Boards

Generational bias

  • Board members still have inaccurate view of the CIO being too technical, not having good communication skills, and not being able to talk in business terms.


  • That’s a really old perspective, but because of the age of the sitting board members, that’s what they remember, and those biases die hard.


Bad experiences

  • CIO’s often suffer from this CIO Paradox: Your many successes are invisible, but your few mistakes are highly visible.

The inner circle

  • As CIO, if you are not well connected to a network of CEOs, CFOs, and P&L leaders, you will have a tough time breaking in.


  • CIOs need to traversed the fiery pit between the business and IT at least once in their careers will have a much wider array of opportunities from which to choose.


  • The greater the number of industries in which you have played leadership roles, the wider your networks & your perspective, the more valuable you will be to a board.


Ignorance and discomfort

  • CEOs recognize the importance of IT in their companies, but they often don’t understand it.

  • CEOs don’t seem to be able to connect the dots that IT, if disabled or severely compromised, could literally put the corporation out of business.

  • CEOs are used to being the smartest people in the room. They typically have a healthy understanding of sales, finance, and business operations, but IT? Not so much.

The Case for CIO Board Appointments

Diversity of personalities is good

  • It is the functional leader, whether it is the CIO, head of HR, or head of legal, who understands how to do things in large enterprises in a consistent, cohesive manner.

  • Functional leaders must be highly collaborative. They must understand how to reconcile big differences and natural tensions between.

CIOs have the broad view

  • As CIO, there is no part of the business for which you do not have some sort of accountability.

  • You have an intimate knowledge of the business from beginning to end.

  • Boards need to understand that with a CIO, they are not just getting IT expertise, they are almost always getting more.

  • The CIO is the only executive in the company who sees a business process from beginning to end.

  • A CIO understands the company’s business processes better than anyone.

Crisis management

  • One of the primary roles of a board is to govern over operational areas that can have a material impact on the corporations’ financial condition or brand value. What single area inside the corporation has more opportunity to negatively impact these factors than IT?


Change management

  • CIOs have intimate knowledge of the business; they play a major leadership role in changing the business.

  • Most boards are leading their companies through some kind of transformation, and transformation falls squarely in the wheelhouse of the CIO.


Risk management is hot

  • Boards would benefit from someone who can ask questions about how the IT organization identifies, categorizes, and manages risk, even at the highest level.

  • Risk has taken on a new meaning in our current technology environment. Information security, privacy, compliance, all those issues are deeply embedded in the IT organization.

Get Yourself On to a Board

Leverage your own company’s board

  • The real opportunity is in demonstrating to the board that you are that rare breed of leader with a perfect blend of business acumen, strategic thinking, technology expertise, and executive presence.

  • Building credibility & relationships among your own board members will position you well for board work.

Target your vendors

  • While customer boards play more of an advisory function than corporate boards, they give you exposure to people outside your company.

  • If you can influence the product direction of one of your major vendors, that’s a nice fringe benefit.


Pick up a new title

  • CIO who takes on more than IT demonstrates a broader set of leadership skills & changes those die-hard perceptions of CIOs as pure techies.

  • It’s all about the diversity of your work portfolio.

  • You need to be known for work that is broader than the CIO title.

  • You need to grasp the big picture and the smallest detail, you need to manage a team of techies and teach them to “talk business,” you need to balance cost containment and innovation, and you need an intimate view of every single process in your business.



Join the right company

  • By serving on CIOs are getting an external perspective.



Build your executive search networks

  • There are two ways that boards select their directors, either they conduct a formal executive search, or they will act on a referral.

  • If your name isn’t known among CEO or executive search networks, you are never going to make the list. It’s all about your networks.


Talk to your head of HR

  • The human resources leader at your own company has a relationship with the major executive search firms.

  • HR leaders have some leverage with executive recruiters. Get them to put the word out to their executive search networks so that your name is bandied about in the right circles.


Join the board of a not-for-profit organization

  • Nonprofit boards are still boards, and they exhibit many of the same dynamics as their corporate counterparts.

  • Nonprofits offer a chance to learn how to work as a governing body.

  • You need to join a local board to get a sense of what a board does, how it operates, takes minutes, calls to order


Do the Google test

  • Get out there, speak, get published, get noticed,” advises Wright. “You have to work to get yourself known.


  • No matter the strength of your desire, if you don’t have the right background, track record, credentials, and networks, it may simply not happen for you.

  • Join a nonprofit and enjoy the new experience, the new people, and the opportunity to give back.

  • If you do have a background that traverses IT and P&L leadership, if you are CIO of a respected company whose CEO values board experience in his executives, and if you have great networking skills, then start your board appointment plan now.

  • Enlist the executive leadership team of your company and set a strategic plan to secure your first corporate board appointment.

  • Compliance, risk, innovation, and mobility are all taking center stage for almost every industry on the planet.
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