I was talking with a group of technologists the other day about what makes a great Chief Technologist. We looked at how they contribute to the success of an organization.
Many people think that the main value a CTO provides is their technology expertise. Many times it couldn’t be further from the truth. One skill that I’ve always found that makes a difference is the ability to understand the workings of the organization both from a process and a interpersonal perspective and communicate what needs to be done effectively. Yes, good technical skills are the cost of entry to the role (if you don’t have that you shouldn’t have gotten the job), but it is the bigger picture view of value generation using the technology that makes a technologist stay in the role. This holistic perspective allows them to play a critical role in an executive team, contributing to the strategy, yet interacting from a perspective appropriate for the audience. They can be a servant for the organizations technical needs.
An effective CTO needs to:
- Align action to strategy – The best CTOs are strategists who don’t just focus on technical initiatives, but align those initiatives to corporate objectives. They can step above the instantaneous gratification of operational efforts and issues and strive to move the organization forward.
- Contribute innovation – Each organization within a business has its own issues and strengths and hopefully plays a role to the success of the entire business. The CTO needs to hear and understand this diversity of need – since in that diversity is the opportunity for innovation. They then need to be able to clearly articulate new ideas in ways that others can support. To be a leader, you must have followers.
- Delivery results – The CTO must enable fast action that can be measured and understood in the context of the corporate objectives. Having in place a flexible architecture that allows for a nimble response to business drivers is a key role for the CTO.
- Be visionary – The CTO needs to be at least slightly ahead of the curve, helping the organization skate to where the puck is going to be, not just following behind the market. Once again this means that they must be able to communicate that vision and in many cases allow others to take credit for the results.
- Govern – The CTO needs to define the structure for how things should look and be able to measure the organizations alignment to that structure. They also need to be able to adjust accordingly when those standards can’t be met.
There is more to a CTO than just technology. A CTO needs to be respected advisor, mentor and teammate.