Advice to CIOs: believe in yourself and act fast

Believe in what you do or eventually you will come across as fake, advises Andre Mendes, CIO for Special Olympics, a Washington-based organization for those with intellectual disabilities.

Mendes, speaking at the CIO conference, also talked about "evolutionary paradoxes": how evolution is created by mutation and enabled by standardization.

When new technologies become standard, we no longer think about them. "By adopting them, we can concentrate on higher levels," he says.

Evolution is also as much about "unlearning" as "learning", he says. For humankind, this has meant giving up old practices, such as ancient agricultural processes, bloodletting, the Betamax video tape format and LPs. Now, in order to move forward, we must "unlearn" old operating systems, database packages and legacy applications, and be ready to give up old standards, he says.

Mendes says the "CEO/COO mountain is moving closer" to CIOs. Today, IT has an ever-growing importance in organizations, and IT projects often span the entire company. CIOs need to understand every aspect of the business and this has a clear advantage -- "few C-levels have the CIO's helicopter view of the company", says Mendes.

For the CIO keen to develop further, Mendes offers a few tips: learn to look beyond IT, and try to think profit and loss, rather than cost containment, he says.

The cost center mentality can be very limiting. "Think key business drivers, for business growth across the organization and the industry -- and learn to understand related industries," he says.

Mendes also suggests considering outsourcing, software-as-a-service and renting CPUs and storage etcetera, so as to allow you to focus on higher levels.

CIOs can also learn from their CEOs or COOs, he says. When under pressure, CEOs tend to move swiftly to action after shorter consultations, whereas CIOs tend to evaluate, following lengthy analysis. There is a balance here, says Mendes. However, the risk of moving slower is often bigger than the risk of acting swiftly.

He also recommends acting confidently -- "never let them see you sweat". Also, listen to your team, understand non-verbal emotional signals and establish a network of relationships.

Many CIOs have made the transition to CEO, but this isn't ideal for everyone, he says. "Beware of Peter," he says, referring to the Peter Principle, formulated by Laurence J Peter, in 1968: "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence."

Find out where your level of incompetence is, he says.

"The worst thing you can do is move past your personal apex."

Whether a career move takes you to a similar role in another company, or a CEO/COO role, the jump may not always be successful. You may be making a lot of money in your new role but you may be unhappy because you weren't ready for the change -- or because your heart wasn't in it.

"If you don't believe in what you do, you will come across as a fake at some point," says Mendes.

However, if you do decide to transition to a CEO role, be aware of the challenges: the pressure will increase, decisions will be tougher and any downfall could be public, even if it comes with a beautiful parachute.

The last Special Olympics was the Shanghai Summer Olympics, held last year, which featured over 7,500 athletes and was the largest sporting event in 2007.

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