People of certain personality types tend to gravitate toward certain careers. Such is the case with CIOs, and this gives us insight into their common behaviors and thought patterns. For today’s CIOs, self-awareness of personality aspects that have served them well, and those that may hold them back, is critical.
A study from researcher Joe Peppard found 70 percent of CIOs exhibit the ‘ISTJ’ personality type. Each letter in this Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) framework represents a preference for one of two opposite poles:
Introversion/Extraversion: Do we tend to focus on the outside world of people and activity (Extraversion) or the inner world of thoughts and feelings (Introversion)?
Sensing/Intuition: Do we trust information gathered through the five senses (Sensing), or more abstract patterns and possibilities (Intuition)?
Thinking/Feeling: Do we base decisions on objective logic (Thinking), or our values and priorities (Feeling)?
Judging/Perceiving: Do we prefer to remain decisive and in control (Judging) or do we like to keep our options open, remaining spontaneous and flexible (Perceiving)?
ISTJ, the most common personality type among CIOs, prefers Introversion, Sensing, Thinking and Judging. This type focuses on the inner world of thoughts and feelings, trusts information gathered through the five senses, bases decisions on objective logic, and prefers to remain decisive and in control. In my consulting work I’ve found that this orientation has many advantages, but also some blind spots.
Strengths and blind spots
Consistent with the ISTJ preferences, I’ve found that CIOs tend to like timelines and closure, are goal- and deadline-oriented, enjoy analyzing data, think systematically, and base decisions based on prior experience. These preferences have advantages for CIOs, whose jobs require thinking projects through from start to finish and understanding the resources and stakes in a new initiative.
However, ISTJ ‘blind spots’ can hold them back. They may not handle change well, may tend toward black-or-white thinking, and can get set in their ways. If they don’t check themselves, they can begin to think they have all the answers – an attitude which makes it difficult to adapt to market changes, new leadership, or a new position.
We saw this as cloud computing emerged as a viable alternative to on-premises and required rethinking many assumptions. CIOs that held to the notion that data is inherently less secure in the cloud often found themselves sticking to policies that put their companies at a disadvantage with more progressive-minded competitors. Now, as the cloud landscape evolves to include more complex models such as distributed cloud, and as the price of cloud hosting rises, CIOs must remain flexible.
Understanding the C-suite
As CIOs are increasingly asked to drive revenue, understanding how to communicate effectively with the C-suite is critical. Peppard observed that the most common CEO personality type is ENTJ (Extroversion, Intuition, Thinking and Judging). One notable difference between the most common type for CEOs and CIOs lies in the Sensing (S) /Intuition (N) dimension of personality. Whereas CIOs lean on concrete information, many CEOs focus on patterns and possibilities.
CIOs who are aware of these differences can make a persuasive case for their recommendations by emphasizing how it supports the ‘vision’. Or they may decide to look past some of the murky details to embrace a CEO’s wider view of what’s possible. For instance, a CIO might need to consider replacing a legacy logistics system that works perfectly well with a newer, mobile-enabled system that – while requiring heavy upfront lifting – could offer tremendous performance gains.
Dealing with ‘personality-diversity’
While the manual MBTI® Type Tables for Occupations (Schaubhut and Thompson) shows that IT staff have in the past tended toward preferences for Introversion and Sensing, with a focus on “concrete information,” I’m seeing signs of this changing as other personality types enter the profession.
Personality diversity may ignite conflict, but it also brings diverse thought, which can spark creativity and innovation. For example, in today’s environment a seasoned CIO may see their ideas challenged by a staffer who subscribes to what Gartner refers to as anywhere operations, which relies more heavily on automation and technologies such as edge processing. If CIOs learn to effectively manage people who think differently, they may find unique ways to address today’s widening range of technology-related business problems.
The CIO evolves into a true leader
Tomorrow’s CIO won’t just be valued based on understanding of complex technologies, but also on their ability to help teams rapidly evolve to market shifts.
Consider the disruption of COVID-19, which has forced companies to expand work-from-home policies. CIOs now must reconsider how cybersecurity is handled. Furthermore, they must address an explosion of remote collaboration technology. While technical acumen will always be critical, moving forward the biggest differentiator may be self-awareness of where they need to adapt – whether to new personality types, or tectonic industry trends.
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