Man and woman discussing information technology

By Steve Richards, CEO & Principal Consultant

I have been involved in many CIO hires, as a manager, and as an adviser. I have come to see patterns worth talking about:

A tendency to hire according to a “standard” job description.

I think it would be better to spend more time assessing what you really need in the new CIO. Maybe think of it like the NFL draft. Ask: who are the key people in your IT organization now and what are their strengths and weaknesses? You are building an IT team. Write a job description that describes what you really need to have in a CIO, given the strengths and weaknesses of your key IT people and the executive team they will fit into, as well as the business’ current and near-term challenges and opportunities. Customize your search to these requirements.

A tendency to want everything in one person.

Everyone has weaknesses. There are no exceptions. Bring realistic expectations to the search and work to “see things as they are, not as they are played on the blue guitar.” (Wallace Stevens, insurance executive and poet). You need to decide what strengths you want in your CIO and ensure that their weaknesses are complimented by the strengths of other colleagues. For example, do you want a very technical, detail-oriented CIO? Do you want a less technical, operations-centric CIO? Accept the fact that there is no perfect candidate. Find the CIO you really need, given your circumstances. Be sure their strengths fit your specific needs and their material weaknesses are offset by others on the IT team.

A lack of attention to soft skills.

Most of the failed CIO situations I have witnessed arose primarily from the CIO’s relatively low emotional intelligence. Their technical skills were satisfactory, but they lacked empathy in managing their people and in relating to their internal customers. The logic and precise thinking that made them capable technologists was not necessarily enough to make them effective managers and collaborators with non-technical colleagues. I tend to think that soft skills are key to being an effective CIO. The hiring process should include careful interviews that include questions that will reveal emotional intelligence, personality and temperament “tests,” and penetrating reference checks. Look for life experiences that required collaboration, like participation in team sports or a band. Too often the hiring process moves too fast and lacks diligence around the candidates’ soft skills.

Headshot of Garnet River CEO and President Steve Richards

Steve Richards is CEO, Principal Consultant, and Board of Director Member for Garnet River. He can be reached at

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