Chief Information Officers: Exceptional Leaders Address their Sub-Cultures

The role of the healthcare Chief Information Officer (CIO) has evolved over the years from purely a technical and operational manager to a strategic business thinker and leader. The industry has demanded this evolution as high-priced information technology (IT) systems are now woven into the core fabric of many healthcare systems, hospitals, and physician organizations.Many CIOs are moving beyond technical management to being a respected business leader within their organizations, often by broadening their business skills through:

  • Obtaining an advanced business degree such as an MBA or MPH
  • Earning one or more CIO certifications from noteworthy organizations such as the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and/or the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME)
  • Participating on committees or task forces that address high-cost and high-risk clinical, business, and financial strategic and tactical organizational projects

Beyond mastering the technical and business aspects of the CIO’s role, there is another critical element that we often encounter when we conduct a comprehensive IT assessment for an organization. This component manifests itself through a lack of engagement, continuity, and trust within the CIO’s own IT organization. There are usually several causes that contribute to this negative IT Sub-Culture within the overall organization’s culture that are often neglected. Sometimes an otherwise successful CIO fails to see or doesn’t think the situation is harmful enough to warrant intervention and attention. The IT staff is in agony and the CIO is at high risk of losing good people, which is always dangerous, especially if the organization is in the process of implementing or preparing for a new major project. CIOs need to become exceptional leaders by rounding out their technical and business skills with well-developed personal, people, and leadership development skills. In the world of IT, the buck stops with the CIO. (Note: US President Harry S Truman said in his farewell address in 1953: “The President has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anyone.”)

Following are a few suggestions to help CIOs develop new insights in understanding and improving their IT sub-cultures:

  1. Move from directing to connecting: Today’s workers typically do not like or want to work in an authoritative environment where they are told what to do. These settings are all about what the CIO wants on their ground. Exceptional CIOs understand that most people desire a collaborative environment where the CIO asks and addresses what the individual needs so that the CIO can get done what is needed. A wise leader will sit with people to connect with them. Wisely invested time will pay high dividends.
  2. Show people that they are valued: CIOs must help people understand the big picture of where the organization is headed and the specific roles and importance of their roles in the big picture. People also need to see how the big picture is enlarging so they can envision their evolving work in the future.
  3. Be authentic and available: Too many CIOs pride themselves on interacting with board members, other senior executives, physician leaders, vendor executives, other CIOs, etc. While all interactions are necessary, staff members need your intentional time and effort to build trust. People want authenticity and not perfection from their leaders. They want a leader they and others can know and trust. “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” said Theodore Roosevelt. Your people can become your biggest cheerleaders and the most crucial factor to your success as an exceptional CIO leader if you take time to work with them.

If you would like more information or to discuss your specific situation during a free telephone consultation, please contact us today to speak with Terry J. Wilk, senior vice president in our health information technology consulting practice.

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