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Executive Coach: CIOs Could Be The CEOs Of The Future

At the Midsize Enterprise Summit, Bonnie Hagemann tells an audience of CIOs and IT leaders that technology is paving the way but investing in building new skills will be key.

Bonnie Hagemann, CEO of Executive Development Associates, told an audience of CIOs and IT administrators at this week's Midsize Enterprise Summit that those aspiring to become CEOs can, with a lot of work and a little help, open that door to leadership.

The Midsize Enterprise Summit, held this week in San Diego, is hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company.

Hagemann, whose company is an Oklahoma City, Okla.-based boutique consulting firm focused on helping train and mentor top-level executives including potential CEOs, said that CIOs are in a very good position to work their way to the CEO level.

[Related: Gartner Analyst: Cost Optimization Key To Better IT Management On Smaller Budgets]

Every company is essentially a technology company today because of the growing amount of digitization they are experiencing as they look for better ways to meet market and customer requirements, even if they are not actually selling technology, Hagemann said

"CIOs will be the CEOs of the future," she said.

CIOs spend the majority of their time managing their company's technology, and so are already involved in every part of a company, Hagemann said. CEOs, in the meantime, are, with few exceptions like Microsoft's Bill Gates or Dell Technologies' Michael Dell, not always tech-savvy, she said.

"The CIOs I coach tell me they already know more than the COOs," she said.

CIOs already know the IT part of the business from top to bottom, and know all the things that might happen, Hagemann said. "And in a really good company, no one notices you," she said. "No one is hacked in. No one's networks are down. No one's computers crashed."

Great CEOs have a number of characteristics in common, Hagemann said.

One of the most important is financial acumen. A company can have a CEO without technology experience but never one without financial acumen, she said. CEOs have to know about things like Sarbanes-Oxley, EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization), how the market values a company, and so on, she said.

The second common characteristic is knowledge of a company's operations, including the people, processes and technology. This part is the closest to what CIOs already do, she said.

The third is leadership skills, which includes knowing when to lead and when to delegate, Hagemann said. "You focus on creating an environment conducive to employees who focus on the money," she said.

However, Hagemann said, CIOs face several gaps in the kinds of skills they need to become CEOs, including gaps in delegating, communication, visionary leadership, management, financial acumen, presentation, marketing and interpersonal skills.

"You have to let go of the technology itself to be a leader," she said.

Anyone looking at taking a shot at the CEO role has to learn how to develop a conducive environment not just for employees but also for themselves, Hagemann said.

They need to spend time thinking about what they really want, she said. "Do I want to advance into senior leadership roles?" she said. "And if you do, you need to spend time understanding your gaps."

The next step is to find a mentor or coach who can help an aspiring CEO to understand his or her gaps, Hagemann said. "Leadership is a lot of work," she said. "And it's worth it if it's want you want."

There are several other steps an aspiring CEO can take to prepare for the role, Hagemann said. These including building one's "territory," or group of colleagues who can support advancement, she said.

Another step is to be proactive in demonstrating leadership. "When you see a leadership gap, step in," she said. "There are leadership gaps all over the place."

Potential CEOs should also get on boards of directors, even if it’s the board of the local Boy Scouts troop, she said. "You have to get used to working with boards," she said.

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