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The secret to being a superhero CIO? A kickass sidekick

Dan Tynan | Oct. 31, 2017
To succeed as a CIO, you need a strong lieutenant. The natural successor, the wise counsel, the ultimate assistant — here’s how to identify and groom just the right No. 2 for you.

The Lone Ranger had Tonto; Batman had Robin. And Han Solo would have been lost in space without Chewbacca.

Like those superheroes, top-notch CIOs rarely do the job alone. They need skilled lieutenants who can step in when the boss is busy wrestling bad partnerships, provide sage tactical advice behind the scenes, and keep their strategies initiatives flying in the right direction.

That's because the CIO job has gotten a lot more complex over the past decade, notes Greg Layok, senior director at West Monroe Partners, a business and technology consultancy.

Today's CIOs focus less on tactical technology and more on strategic business initiatives, he says. At the same time, though, they're still responsible for keeping the servers humming in a tech landscape that changes almost daily, with traditional silos being torn down and technology embedded throughout the organization.

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"There's the CIO's role as a pure executive, helping to run the business along with the other CxOs," he says. "Then there are the changes within IT itself, with titles breaking down and people collaborating across different functions. Having a No. 2 who can help with that, while the CIO squares off with all the other executives, is what mature organizations need."

But all lieutenants don't bring the same talents or fill the same roles. The best deputies fall into one of three basic categories, the natural successor, the wise counsel and the ultimate assistant — epitomized by iconic figures from science fiction and fantasy: Commander William Riker, Tyrion Lannister, and Virginia "Pepper" Potts.

The natural successor (aka ‘Commander Riker’)

CIOs in large organizations need a No. 2 who can step in and act on their behalf with complete authority, says Sue Bergamo, CIO and CISO for Episerver, a digital content and marketing platform.

In short, they need someone like Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) from Star Trek: Next Generation (aka "Number One").

"When Captain Picard leaves the bridge, Riker steps in and he's in command," says Bergamo. "He's generous, acts with integrity; he's transparent. There's no ego. He's not a replacement; he's next in command. He's assuming the leadership position. And because he acts with integrity and is loyal, everyone knows it and lets him lead."

Like CIOs themselves, successful deputies in the Riker mold tend to be more senior, and they need a broader range of experience and expertise than in the past, says Layok.


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