Board and CEO Advisory Partners

CIO Leadership Diagnostic

A Pathway to Best-in-Class Performance


Technology is having a dramatic impact on the efficiency, effectiveness and performance of companies globally. Having an outstanding chief information officer (CIO) who is successfully driving a compelling technology agenda while developing the next generation of information technology (I/T) leaders can help a company achieve long-term competitive advantage.

While CIOs each possess different skills and experiences, the world’s leading CIOs share a common set of characteristics that distinguish them as best in class. Russell Reynolds Associates in partnership with Cambria Consulting, a thought leader in corporate competency analysis, has developed a diagnostic framework for assessing CIOs. Based on interviews Russell Reynolds Associates has performed with more than 10,000 CIOs during the past ten years, the framework’s best-in-class characteristics fall into two areas:

Knowledge and Experience

The following "hard skills" are achieved through work assignments and educational training:

  • Industry Knowledge
  • Functional Knowledge
  • Technical Aptitude
  • Scope and Scale
  • Geographic Responsibility (domestic, continental, global)

Personal and Performance Competencies

The following "soft skills" are achieved through situational experiences and organized into the following four leadership groupings:

  • Strategy
  • Team Leadership
  • Execution
  • Influence

Knowledge and Experience

Ninety percent of CIOs spend their entire career in one of two “super industry” categories from which they acquire their technical and industry knowledge.


In a few instances, CIOs have transitioned between “super industry” categories:

  • CIO, Emerson Electric to CIO, Fifth Third Bank
  • VP I/T, Hewlett-Packard to CIO, OfficeMax
  • CIO, Ford Motor Company to CIO, Citigroup
  • North America CIO, General Motors to CIO, DHL
  • CIO, MCI to CIO, Lucent Technologies

Personal and Performance Competencies

Independent of industry knowledge and experience, the top CIOs all share strengths in the below 10 competency areas arranged into four leadership groupings.


Nature vs. Nurture

A common belief in leadership development is that “Leaders are born, not made.” However, Shakespeare posited a more optimistic outlook: “Some (individuals) are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Knowledge and Experience is typically enhanced through “stretch” assignments where an individual is given broader responsibility and authority.

Personal and Performance Competencies are best honed through mentorship. Early in their careers, I/T managers and directors look to sitting CIOs as examples of how to model their behavior. Later in the CIO’s career, the mentor often transitions to either a peer functional executive, general manager or the CEO. The experiences gained through mentoring relationships have the greatest impact on the development of critical competencies.

The Next Generation of CIOs

One of the obligations of being a world-class CIO is to build the next generation of I/T leadership. Serving as a mentor to another executive requires a unique chemistry to exist between the two individuals prior to formalizing the mentor-mentee relationship. Over time, the mentor can help the mentee recognize his/her strengths and shortcomings against the ten critical competencies and provide opportunities to sharpen his/her skills. Both successes and failures are important in helping an individual to learn and grow.

Moving Beyond the CIO Role

Many successful CIOs are interested in moving into general management positions over time. While this is an ambition shared by many corporate functional leaders, only within the past five years have we seen greater evidence of CIOs transitioning into general management roles including president, chief operating officer and CEO.

A few notable examples include:

  • The CIO of Alcoa was promoted to President, Europe
  • The CIO of Charles Schwab was recruited to CEO of
  • The CIO of Compaq was promoted to Chief Executive Officer
  • The CIO of eBay was promoted to Chief Operating Officer
  • The CIO of Mattel was recruited to COO of New Century Financial
  • The CTO of New York Stock Exchange was recruited to President/COO of Ingres
  • The CIO of Royal Bank of Canada was promoted to Vice Chairman

Here are a few observations about the CIO to General Management transition:

  • Internal Promotion: In most cases, the CIO is promoted from within the organization in recognition of his/her contributions and leadership capabilities. The CIO’s positive reputation and relationship with executives on the leadership team help to improve the odds of success.
  • External Promotion: In fewer cases, CIOs are actively sought out for sitting general management roles. History has shown that the CIOs who follow this path typically join organizations much smaller in size.
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