A CIO I once interviewed, when asked the “what do you know now that you wish you knew then” question, relayed that a critically important component of his workday is the early morning hours when he sets aside some uninterrupted time for critical thinking. What a simple yet profound idea, and an important reminder, to dedicate some energy and time to considering and developing plans to take on the inevitable challenges that come our way. With so many forces jockeying to distract us, the advice seems particularly sage.
At the NASCIO Midyear Conference this past April, we asked CIOs for books that have made an impact on them as they lead their respective IT organizations. Clearly they’re finding some time for quiet reflection and inspiration. Here are some of their recommendations:
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t
Many CIOs mentioned this bestselling book by Jim Collins (not the CIO of Delaware, although it’s on his list too) on top-performing companies as influential in their approaches to leadership. Ohio CIO Stu Davis, for one, appreciated the lessons on advancing good policy whether or not your name is on it. “Don’t be so worried about credit,” he said. “Get it done and bask in the fact that it was completed. Who cares who gets credit? If it’s the right thing to do, just do it.”
The Wolf in CIO’s Clothing: A Machiavellian Strategy for Successful IT Leadership
This title from Gartner analyst Tina Nunno was also popular among state tech leaders. Offering a Machiavellian take on the role of the CIO, many found it a helpful guide to successfully navigating various conflicts common to the job.
The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World’s Largest Private Company
Kansas Chief IT Officer Phil Wittmer spent four years working for Koch Industries in Wichita, Kan., and calls this book by CEO Charles Koch very influential for him. “As it pertains to IT, he was talking about running IT like a business before it was fashionable,” Wittmer said.
The CIO Edge: Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results
This book from Graham Waller, Karen Rubenstrunk and George Hallenbeck resonated for Indiana CIO Dewand Neely, particularly for its emphasis on CIOs seeing the big picture beyond technology. “In state government, a CIO is really just an agency head,” said Neeley. “The only way you really get things done in the state is influence; you’ve got to be able to speak to the business and persuade folks if you want to move the big machine that is state government.”
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Many biographies were mentioned as holding valuable lessons for the CIOs we spoke with, but this title from Doris Kearns Goodwin about Abraham Lincoln spoke to Mississippi CIO Craig Orgeron for its takeaways on the benefits of building a team with a diversity of thoughts and experiences. While a natural tendency might be to surround yourself with like-minded people, the opposite approach could create the churn that leads to success. “Maybe there’s a little bit of … not rivalry but a little bit of creative tension there,” Orgeron said. “That may be the kind of team that you really want.”