If any year has demanded change, it’s this one. 2021 is coming at us fast, and with it, the need for change. The American people — and indeed those all over the world — took a beating in 2020 with a global pandemic that put everyone in the same storm, if not the same boat. There’s not much certainty as we head into a new year, but one thing is for sure: it’s time for change. If your plans to reinvent yourself were sidelined throughout much of last year, now’s time for change: tips for reinventing yourself; your chance to take the bull by the horns, declare war on the status quo, and say enough is enough.

2021 is the year of your reinvention as a leader. And it starts now. OK…well, so how do you do it and where do you start? First, it’s important to note that reinvention is not just something that happens on New Year’s. It’s a constant building block that forms the very foundation of any good leader — year round. Things have changed. In past generations, there was always a consistent set of core skills and clear career paths that in essence acted like a road map for top executives and entrepreneurs. Do this, follow that path, and you will end up here.  

Not so today. This generation’s leaders are constantly revisiting their skills, re-investigating their aspirations, and reconstituting their careers, points out Coruzant. This can pose challenges if you tend to get caught in ruts and trapped in routines, avoid risk, and simply don’t like stepping out of your comfort zone.

Reinvention of the leader is not always comfortable. It’s difficult, time consuming, and decidedly uncomfortable at times. But no leader was ever born who didn’t look discomfort in the face and vow to defeat it.   This begs the question: why do leaders always have to be mindful of reinventing themselves? Turbulence…shifting technologies…changing organizational structures…unpredictable markets…competition. All of these factors demands we pivot at a moment’s notice to branch off onto different paths. It’s not easy, but here are some tips to get you going.  

Why Reinvent Yourself?

Reinvention is key for many reasons:

  • It keeps you in the game: Embrace the changes that come with every new day and your perspective will change for the better because it becomes habit. You’ll soon tackle each day with renewed vigor to achieve the most you can each day.
  • It keeps you positive: It’s easy to become crippled with negativity, which is the result of being trapped with the same perspective. Approach new perspectives with zeal and you will be rewarded with a positive outlook on life.
  • It helps you push the envelope: The only limits you face are the ones you impose on yourself. Taking on new responsibilities and skills on a regular basis not only benefits you on a personal level, but it makes you a more effective leader and team member.
  • It redefines you: Redefining your goals and outlooks forces you to shift focus on the regular, bringing a fresh perspective to each new endeavor.
  • It keeps you on your toes: Boredom is born from an unstimulated mind. When you reinvent yourself as a leader, you’re constantly overflowing with new ideas, which keeps stale thinking at bay.

Tips to Hone Your Leadership Skills

  • Know Your Direction: Get inspired, do your research, read reports, watch videos, take note of all ideas that inspire you. Then define and hone your direction. Identify what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are, then build a plan that takes into account threats as well as opportunities.
  • Start learning: Create a list of the skills you want to achieve and number them in order of usefulness. The ones worth pursuing will involve learning something new. Whether that’s a new technology or a new language, you will need to embrace the certifications and training involved to get you there.
  • Develop a network of support: You’ll need people behind you for support as you take on new directions. Look for professional networks in your desired niche, find industry events, connect with others online, join pertinent sessions and exchange ideas, all of which will help you grow and hone your skills, says Forbes.
  • Keep reinventing yourself: Impactful leaders don’t stagnate. When you feel this happening, start the process over again.

In the end, leaders influence and inspire others around them. Putting into action what you have learned is essential to your reinvention. Like a muscle that gets insufficient use, leadership is not something you can commit to on January 1, polish it, and set it in a corner. It must be worked on, built on, and shared for it to have true worth for your organization, your network, and yourself. 

Digital transformation in the business world refers to the efforts of companies to keep up with changing environments spurred on by customer demand and technology. Because digital tools and technology are constantly evolving and affecting how people interact with one another, this in turn changes the way in which we conduct business. How you transform your core business processes using digital technology will determine how you can achieve competitive advantage and gain differentiation in your market segment, says Techopedia. It’s essentially the third component of how businesses embrace digital technology, following digital competence and digital usage. With an ability to bring on new elements of innovation and creativity, digital transformation goes beyond enhancing and supporting traditional strategies.

What Spurs Change?

On the quest to find true digital transformation, one must understand the drivers that affect this change, namely profitability, customer satisfaction, and increased speed-to-market. There’s a general understand that CIOs should be the driving forces implementing this transformation for their businesses, but is this really happening? In reality, it doesn’t seem to be that cut and dried. In fact, digital transformation has many motivations and is the responsibility of many people, from top executives to lower-level employees, says CMS Wire.

According to research presented by MediaPost, poor customer experiences caused an estimated $83 billion loss by U.S. companies every year due to defections and abandoned shopping carts. With so many options these days offered by cloud, mobile, Internet of Things, and others, it’s easy to lose sight of quality of the data in favor or hyper personalization.

So the question remains: how can companies find true digital transformation with leadership from their CIOs?

Insights

Companies that can harness the power of true digital transformation will enjoy the fruits of their labor by being at the top of the heap in terms of competitive advantage and differentiation. That’s what we’re all striving for anyway, right? Here are some suggestions:

Have a real strategy ready to go. If you’re still grappling with how to come up with an operational plan that works for your website and social media platforms, you’re not going to get very far. Approach this goal not operationally but strategically, focusing on how your organization will be impacted by digital or how you can channel those new capabilities to broaden your overall business strategy. Lisa Welchman as quoted on CMS Wire says companies that have been disrupted by digital have become that way —  not because they didn’t have a CIO in charge of the transformation — but because they lost that 360-degree view of how digital would impact their digital models.

Recognize the full value of all digital assets throughout your company. CIOs all too often get into a file-centric mindset that puts them in a rut they can’t quite get out of. Instead, use flexible data models that will work to engage new streams of revenue in order to encourage innovation. This will go a long way towards creating important digital transformations such as attracting new clients or driving new sources of revenue.

Focus on the customer as central to your success in the digital age. As the CIO, you have to re-examine your thinking and accelerate your reach via the enhancement of the customer experience. Crafting a solid foundation on which to illustrate this transformation is key for longevity of purpose. As such, you must re-evaluate traditional roles and make sure you are incorporating the best talent and infrastructure to build a platform for your new targeted strategies.

Imaginative thinking, coupled with just the right amount of spot-on execution, will be the catalyst for true digital transformation.

The CEO of a company has historically been the driving force in overall strategy and vision. Same goes for all types of leadership, from CIOs to CFOs…all play an important role in advancing a company forward. The key here is “forward.” While the person in this position is important for a particular point in time, this role is static — a snapshot, if you will, of an organization’s success or failure at a fixed point in time. What’s most important is enduring business performance that stems from leadership culture as well as deliberate, well-thought-out development of leadership at every level.

The CEO Strategy

No one’s doubting the CEO’s role. However, research shows that the level of a particular company’s maturity in their leadership development has a far greater influence on their long-term performance than anything else, including individuals who fill the role of CEO, CFO or even CIO. So how do strong companies with an eye on the future choose CIOs, not just for their individual skill sets, but who will advance the company culture of success to endure in the future long after they’re gone?

  • They link leadership strategy to business strategy.
  • They make sure their leaders are aligned, coached, and trained in the company vision.
  • They build leadership development programs and select professionals based on their ability to drive the company’s strategy.
  • They incorporate leadership qualities into the corporate culture at all levels: managers, supervisors, etc.
  • They develop leaders from the bottom up.
  • They invest a lot of money in leadership development through training, seminars and workshops.
  • They create their own unique leadership model based on research, rather than hire a consultant or adopt an existing model.

Leadership that endures is built right into the very core of a company. That way, when a CEO leaves and a new one takes over, the strategy is already lined up, waiting for continued implementation. Of course, every leader brings his or her own unique spins to the strategy, but the bones should be solid and built to last the test of time. CEOs are there to adopt the leadership culture, make changes as needed, and weed out areas of complacency. Their job is to be the catalyst behind a culture of working as one to perpetuate the goals of the organization. That means fostering teamwork and holding people accountable no matter which level they happen to be at.


Leadership and Technology

Technology is one important sub-set of a company’s success. Without proper management across the board and over time, it can be difficult to drive effective change that lasts. When it comes specifically to CIO leadership as it pertains to technology to drive a company forward, the same principle applies. Strategies that ensure enduring long-term performance despite who’s sitting in the CIO seat include:

  • Clear definitions of requirements
  • Consultation with all team members on goals
  • Creation of specific and measurable goals
  • Regular tracking of progress

CIO recommends using the SMART acronym when setting goals for the long term designed to transcend individual leaders:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound

Creating a Culture of Endurance

In short, the success or failure of a company has more to do with strategy and vision for its long-term success than the individual. Clearly, there are innovative CEOs that propel a company to greatness, and then there are some very bad CEOs that damage that vision and set back the corporate culture; some companies bounce back from that and some don’t. The key is to establish a leadership strategy that can stay the course throughout the decades and that can weather any storm that may blow in.

When you think of a team, you think of many different people working together to form a focused cohesive unit. Whether on the ball field on in the board room, teams are an integral component to success. And while individual performance does impact the outcome of the team’s efforts, no one person should be greater than the sum of all parts.

In a perfect world, this makes sense. In the real world, however, a lot of work has to go on behind the scenes to be the manager of such a well-oiled team. Personal agendas, misguided focus, and just plain laziness often get in the way that can derail the group and prevent it from reaching its goals.

That’s why a leader is needed to help hone and create an effective team through a variety of approaches, from clear communication to engagement. Let’s take a look at some of those in more detail.

Engage Your Team

As leader, your job is to guide your employees in their overall mission, then step back and let them mature as a solid entity as they take on new and expansive roles and responsibilities. Giving each person his own responsibility and vision empowers individuals, which benefits the team as a whole. Your employees crave the feeling of being valued and challenged, and they are eager to be trusted with the freedom to explore and learn while on the job. A few things you can do:

  • Detect and encourage the most positive capabilities in each person.
  • Stop micromanaging and start empowering teammates to discover their full potential. Micromanagement leads to disengagement.
  • Stage them in a position of influence.
  • Share your successes while making them feel an integral part of that accomplishment.
  • Ditch the mind games and be consistent with your approach and style. Have your employees’ backs.

Stay Connected

One big reason teams fall apart and lose focus is that they feel disconnected from each other. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to keep people connected, via internal social networks and video conferencing solutions, so team members can get a better sense of how their individual contributions impact their team and the organization as a whole, says Forbes. That’s why an investment by your company in these technologies is crucial in an effort to offer flexible work environments that further foster employee engagement.

Know Each Team Member’s Strengths

An added benefit of the above-mentioned technology is that managers and leaders can more readily keep their fingers on the pulse of the organization in an effort to stay on top of what motivates and inspires employees. However, all the technology in the world won’t help you really get to know what makes each person on the team tick. That comes from one-on-one observance, open collaboration, and a healthy rapport between yourself and each team member. 

Communicate and Set Goals

Frequent communication is key to keeping everyone on track and focused. Check in daily for an overview of progress, make it clear your door is always open, and encourage the free flow of ideas within meetings. Setting clear, focused and attainable goals is another piece of the puzzle. Without them, your team can easily get distracted from the mission, causing time delays and frustration.

Creating highly effective teams doesn’t happen overnight. Through collaboration, engagement, communication and goal setting, you can manage a team to success!

Integrity…credibility…respect…these are just a few qualities of a true leader. Anyone can be in a position of leadership, whether at work, school or peer group, but this isn’t just a title, lip service or a delegation. It has to come from within. True leaders know who they are and what they stand for; they know their values and the rules they will abide by; and they know and communicate their values openly with those they lead, creating an atmosphere of certainty and trust, says Forbes.

True Leader

A true leader also:

  • Lives the values they profess to believe
  • Leads by example
  • Works side by side those they lead in order to get to know and care about them
  • Inspires their team
  • Listens without being condescending
  • Is willing to hear what others have to say without judgment
  • Is patient and genuine in their thoughts
  • Communicates openly and often
  • Disciplines with a desire to help others improve rather than from a place of anger
  • Gives feedback in a respectful way
  • Doesn’t use sarcasm to communicate; this makes others feel uncertain or belittled

True leaders never back down from a challenge. Yes, everyone has to pick their battles, but when their instincts tell them something is or isn’t right, they’ll defend their position succinctly and thoroughly. True leaders also have empathy. That’s because they’re genuine and sincere, allowing them to understand innately what another is going through because they’ve been there themselves. This stems from being true to oneself. Not everyone has empathy just like not everyone has respect. It has to be earned.

Thought Leaders

People also ask me, “What is a thought leader?”  A thought leader is an informed opinion leader who is the top resource in their field of expertise. They are trusted leaders who inspire people with innovative and unique ideas; but they don’t just talk about it — they turn those ideas into reality. It’s actually a big part of content marketing where you can convey your talent, experience and passion about what you do. Answering questions your readers need to know doesn’t stem from a fancy degree. It relies on a differentiated point of view that rests with being an authority in your industry. 

Thought leaders don’t just talk the talk — they actually inspire change in meaningful ways and encourage others to join their efforts through evolutionary advancements in their fields. Yes, they encourage others to be open to new ways of thinking, but they also create the map by which people can achieve it. This set of best practices creates a foundation for others to build on.

True leaders show others what’s right through actions not just words. Just because it’s your title at work or you can wear it on a badge doesn’t mean you are automatically a leader. It’s something to be earned and can’t be achieved through lip service.

Maximizing time is a one of the keys to success for busy leaders. For those who are struggling with time-management, here are some tips for time-management effectiveness:

Utilize Transition Times

If you’re like most people, there’s a lot of down time in your life that you could be using, but aren’t. This time might refer to when you’re waiting at the doctor’s office, taking the subway into work, or even waiting for water for your tea to boil. Maximize this wasted time by using it to make lists, prioritize your daily activities, send emails, or make the call that you’ve been putting off.


Make a Priority List

Successful leaders not only know what they have to do in a day, but they also know how to prioritize those items. Make two lists: one of all the things you have to do in a day or week, and one of all of the to-do items that are most important to you. Then, set up a time-management plan that prioritizes the things that are most important to you. Once these are scheduled, fill in free time with the other things to be accomplished.

Delegate Tasks

Most leaders get to where they are by being Type-A personalities that want to do it all. And while being a go-getter certainly helps you get farther in life, learning when to delegate and disperse tasks out is also a key part of time-management. For more menial tasks that don’t require your expertise, allow someone else to get it done for you. Whether it’s answering emails or putting together the menu for your upcoming fundraiser, you don’t need to—nor should you—do it all.

Focus on the Short-term

Sure, long-term goals for yourself, your business, and your family are all important. But in order to reach those long-term goals, you’ll need to establish some short-term ones, too. Setting short-term goals allows you to focus your time specifically on these, maximizing every spare second. Achieving small goals on a daily basis will help you move you towards the direction of reaching your bigger goals.

Eliminate Time Wasters

We all have them – those things that we really don’t need to be doing, but do regardless sans any personal benefit. This might include using social media, playing a game on your smartphone or tablet, or doodling on a notepad out of boredom. To help you with your time-management skills, identify the things that you waste your time on. Then, either make the decision to eliminate these time wasters entirely, or schedule a part of your day that’s dedicated solely to them. If you choose the latter option, make sure the amount of time that you schedule is reasonable, and that you don’t participate in your time-wasting activity during another part of the day.

Time-management can be difficult, but is one of the many keys to optimizing success for busy people. To start maximizing your time today, utilize transition times, make a list of your priorities, delegate tasks, focus on short-term goals, and eliminate time wasters from your day.

Here we go again — IT is starting off the new year in a hole that we’ve dug ourselves into. Check out these current headlines:

• Why Your Company’s Next CEO is Not Your Current CIO, Forbes, February, 2015.
” IT is still perceived as a cost center and the CIO as the Chief Infrastructure Officer.”

• Better Pharma CMO and CIO Collaboration Will Advance the Digital Revolution, Accenture Study, March, 2015.
“Two-thirds (67%) of the CMO respondents do not view IT as a strategic partner.” 

• The Top 10 Strategic CIO Issues for 2015, Forbes, February, 2015.
“Transform the IT organization and reputation from no to yes, from SLAs to revenue growth, from obstacle to accelerator, from passive to opportunistic…For too long, CIOs and their IT organizations have earned the unflattering reputation of being Doctor No.”

• CIOs Combat the Old “IT-as-a-Cost-Center” Perception, Wall Street Journal, February 2015.

“The IT-as-a-Cost-Center perception remains widespread, threatening to deny CIOs an opportunity to help drive strategy. New McKinsey & Co. research found only about one-third of executives said their CIOs are very involved in shaping the overall business strategies and goals of the company.”

It’s time to take a serious look in the mirror, come to grips with reality and hold ourselves undeniably accountable — Information Technology is still out of sync with our business leaders and customers. While many CIOs and technologists may defend IT in an attempt to sway perceptions, I recommend that we wisely invest our time, energy and resources in  “changing the business of IT” through clear, deliberate and intentional acts that position our businesses and customers for extraordinary success!

Why is it so difficult for IT to make the leap from technology geeks to influential business advisors, empathetic customer advocates and inspiring change agents?

The short answer is…the IT industry continues to attract a certain type of individual plus perpetuate a certain type of servicing style — people who are great at tactics but who lack strategic chops. Now there is a place for IT tactics, but when the scale tips to a degree where the number of tactical thinkers and doers vastly outweighs the critical strategic thinking and doing required to help our organizations attain new performance heights, we’re failing our key stakeholders. 

What do critical thinking strategists bring to the IT table?

Closely aligning and partnering with their C-level counterparts and customers, they are in the forefront of the action:

  • Anticipating and quickly responding to market shifts.
  • Articulating the possibilities as they identify, sell and act on the simplest to the most complex innovative solutions that will grow the business, advance market share and strengthen customer loyalty.
  • Evangelizing for and accelerating movement on ideas and decision-making outcomes as well as seizing opportunistic moments.
  • Building out the IT brand by enhancing the customer experience, connecting with customers at an emotional level and proactively shaping communications and key messages that highlight promises kept plus business value delivered.

Speaking in business not IT language plus crafting compelling, real-life stories that influence and inspire decision makers to take enabling-technology action.

Digging deep as they genuinely empathize with their customers while learning about their needs, pain points and goals, then seeking out targeted solutions that not only make their customers’ lives easier, but spotlight their customers’ accomplishments and successes.

Being curious about and learning business nuances only to discover and act on organizational challenges that would have otherwise gone undetected.
Tackling complex topics and issues that others avoid, such as customer-centric big data and analytics, social media engagement or more industry-specific subjects.

Embracing globalization by reinventing security, mobility and virtual workplace strategies.
Managing by exception versus managing everything in a world that is spinning at a rate that will obliterate us if we can’t get our arms around what’s most important to keep our businesses thriving and competitive.

What’s stopping us from building out our strategic bench strength? 

It would be a considerable relief if there was one very simple root cause that could be easily rectified. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. As CIOs, we’re confronting some incredibly tough and sticky issues. In a nutshell, IT organizations are:

  • Thinking that they’re strategic when they’re not — a case of being self-unaware.
  • Failing to recognize that they need critical thinking strategists as a competitive advantage — a case of being oblivious.
  • Magically expecting tacticians to become strategists when they’re not wired that way — a case of misguided optimism.
  • Continuing to hire like-minded people where tacticians are hiring tacticians — a case of “birds of a feather”.
  • Squelching the efforts of the few strategists that do exist in IT organizations by continuing to drag them into the tactics — a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. 

It’s Our Choice

As CIOs, we must come to the realization that we’re contributing to the IT-as-a-cost-center paradigm. We owe it to our organizations and our customers to take a hard stand and say “enough is enough”. It’s our responsibility to assess our strategic capabilities, or lack thereof, formulate a course correction plan and take decisive action. If we are remiss in our strategic responsibilities by continuing to turn a blind eye to this decade-old pervasive problem, we don’t deserve a seat at the executive table…we don’t deserve a loyal customer base…and we don’t deserve to be fulfilling the role of CIO. Let’s step up our game as IT leaders and permanently change the paradigm!