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Secrets to Success for CIOs

Six public- and private-sector leaders outline what it takes to succeed as a C-level executive in government.

by / February 6, 2013

At California's Public-Sector CIO Academy, held Feb. 6 and 7 in downtown Sacramento, six agency CIOs discussed how to transition from the role of a "leader" to a trusted CIO-class executive that will lead his or her agency toward success.  

When it comes to success in leadership, there's not necessarily one perfect path to follow, says Joe Panora, CIO for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Panora and Nabil Fares, CIO for the California Department of Public Health, for example, took very different roads to their executive positions. 

Despite their different physical paths to their current roles as agency CIOs, however, both focused on one thing: connections. 

"You never know how close those dots are going to be connected," Panora said. "Some doors open, some doors close, you meet people -- you just never know. You just never know what path you're going to take, what opportunity is going to be there."

But if you can be true to yourself and build good relationships -- "the ones that are valuable over time, that you can invest in, and deliver integrity back to your customer -- if you take care of that, the rest will take care of itself," Panora added.

Fares noted that even now, every time he sits with any executive management, the most important thing he does is listen. "Every time you sit in a meeting, think of it as an interview -- it's not about bridges, it's about heart to heart, it's about connections."

Though connections are imperative in public-sector leadership, it's not the only thing to pay attention to. How an executive-level leader thinks, speaks and acts also plays a huge role in his or her success.

Upwardly mobile leaders should think in terms of opportunities, rather than focusing on failures. They should also have an eye on the horizon, and then look beyond it. Panelists recommended that attendees think about building upon their "know-how" in order to master their business. They should also be confident -- conscious of their limitations, but willing to push beyond them to succeed.

Speaking with clarity and effectiveness will ensure that words have value. Actions should match their words, and they should work on fostering a supportive, positive environment.

In summary, a successful CIO has many important roles to play: a leader, a technologist, a forward thinker, a visionary, a professional, a change agent, a bridge builder and a mentor.

Becoming a successful leader, Panora said, is an ongoing process. "But you have a responsibility to grow and push yourself -- you have to put things into action," he said. "If you think you're going to get promoted and you think you're going to do the same thing you've been doing in the new job, you'll fail. Take a chance, do something different, and think a little bit differently in your new job."

Jessica Mulholland Former Web Editor/Photographer

Jessica Mulholland served as the Web editor of Government Technology magazine from October 2012 through September 2017. She worked for the Government Technology editorial team for nearly 10 years.

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