15 ways to grow as an IT leader in 2024
From building a personal board of directors to sharpening people skills, IT leaders are looking to develop their profiles, perspectives, and prospects to better helm IT this year — and grow their careers.
The technology landscape isn’t the only element evolving within the IT department, nor are rank-and-file staffers the only IT professionals expected to upskill.
CIOs, too, are expanding their executive capabilities — as they should be — given the everchanging list of challenges they face.
Those challenges have IT leaders sharpening existing skills and developing new ones as ways to improve their leadership style, while others are exploring new opportunities or expanding work responsibilities to grow their executive profiles.
As workers at all levels put together their development plans for 2024, IT leaders, recruiters, researchers, and advisors share here what actions CIOs can take to advance their careers if they want to embrace a growth mindset.
1. Reengage with learning
“The pandemic offered many of us a reprieve from attending conferences — and I enjoyed the break from conference food and delayed flights — but now it’s time to reengage,” says George F. Claffey Jr., CIO of Central Connecticut State University. “Personally, I’ve been focusing on both structured learning through certificate courses or programs and attending industry conferences, which each offer unique benefits.”
For example, Claffey Jr. completed a six-week, web-based MIT-run AI course during the fall and he has started attending external conferences again, saying they’re “great for observing and sometimes sharing different applications of technology.”
2. Master AI
Saby Waraich, CIO and CISO at Clackamas Community College, echoes many of his peers when he says mastering the conversation around AI is necessary to be a top-notch IT leader in 2024 and beyond. He says to do otherwise would risk being left behind.
“AI is fast changing, which is why I have to put more time into keeping up with learning about AI, how it’s changing and its impact,” he says, noting that he plans to take an AI course and participate in the AI special interest group formed by the Society for Information Management’s Portland chapter.
3. Create a personal board of directors
The use of a personal board of directors is a longstanding recommendation for executives.
There are good reasons for that, says Valerie Di Maria, founder and principal of the10company, a strategic consulting firm that specializes in executive coaching.
Di Maria says having a group of trusted advisors can help CIOs — or any professional — identify and correct deficits as well as hone and build up strengths.
She advises CIOs to tap several executives from outside their current organization, including those from other functional areas and industries, so that CIOs can gain from their diverse experiences and perspectives. She recommends CIOs share with these board members their own goals and areas in need of improvement so that those advisors can help them make meaningful changes.
Sanjay Srivastava, chief digital strategist at Genpact, can attest to the value of this leadership-building strategy, saying that “a curated network of like-minded peers across industries that I can brainstorm with” has been extremely helpful.
“I look for peers that have a growth mindset and [who] want to share and learn from each other,” he says. “We share and learn — across technologies, practical approaches, working frameworks. This has allowed me to stay on my game.”
4. Cultivate a personal brand
Di Maria also recommends CIOs create an executive brand this year, if they haven’t done so already.
“This helps you be a better leader and help you advance, because it has you focus on what you stand for,” she explains. “It helps you focus on how you show up and what you do so you’re more effective in your job. It helps you figure out what you should be doing, what your priorities are, and how what you’re doing provides value in your workplace.”
She points to one CIO whose personal brand was being future-focused as an example of a good approach to this strategy. But to be effective, a personal brand must be authentic, differentiating, credible, consistent, of value in the workplace, and provable with action, Di Maria says.
“It’s not just talk or a label. It really has to relate to what you do,” she adds.
5. Land more speaking gigs
Another career-building objective for Clackamas Community College’s Waraich is to find more speaking opportunities. He sees speaking engagements as a way to sharpen his communications skills, build up his position as a thought leader, and help solidify his CIO brand. He says it also helps him contribute to his professional community and can open up new opportunities — such as becoming a full-time keynote speaker.
6. Nurture your inner storyteller
The value of storytelling in business, particularly in sales and marketing, is well established, yet many executives have no training or skill in this space, says Caitlin McGaw, a career strategist and job search coach with Caitlin McGaw Coaching and herself a writer with the professional governance association ISACA.
Make 2024 the year to change that.
CIOs, of course, have been focusing on their communication skills for years. But McGaw says storytelling can influence, inform, and inspire in ways that sharing information in a straightforward way does not.
“When you encapsulate a message in a story, it shows the value of that message. Storytelling makes it memorable, versus facts or concepts that might go in one ear and out the other,” she explains. “Storytelling inspires bold change; it inspires teams to follow your vision and take the risks you need to take.”
Who wouldn’t want to be able to do that?
But storytelling doesn’t come naturally to most people, so McGaw suggests taking a class or using storytelling frameworks to help learn the craft. Start small, making sure the story includes key elements such as a challenge or conflict, a clear narrative and a resolution. Then she advises practice: Work out stories first with peers or mentors to test whether the stories inspire the desired responses or convey the intended messages.
“Stories can be personal or broader level or about someone else,” she adds, “but they have to service the purpose of crystalizing a message that you want your audience to hear.”
7. Sharpen your people skills
AI is one of the most transformative technologies to come along in a long time. That makes some people excited, others fearful, and still others confused — particularly when they think about what AI means for them and their jobs.
As tech leaders, CIOs are instrumental in leading people through that change — and they must be better at it than they’ve been in the past, says Jason Pyle, president and managing director of Harvey Nash US and Canada, an IT recruitment and consultancy firm.
“It will come down to navigating all the human elements,” he says.
Pyle advises CIOs to grow their interpersonal skills, including their emotional intelligence, empathy, communication, and listening abilities.
These are, indeed, characteristics that can be developed, but it takes effort and a willingness to work differently, Pyle explains, adding that CIOs can work with mentors and ask peers for honest assessments to pinpoint areas for improvement.
“Anytime you’re starting down a pathway of change, you have to talk to people you trust, let them know what you’re working on, and then set a measuring stick,” Pyle says. “It’s about taking steps to make adjustments and to self-assess and assess with others.”
8. Advance your financial acumen
Executives don’t have a good read on the economic conditions ahead, with international conflicts, polarizing politics, and a contentious presidential election adding more unpredictability to ongoing economic uncertainties.
Because of this, many CEOs and board members are asking CIOs to do more with less. The 2023 Nash Squared Digital Leadership Report, for example, determined from its survey that improved operational efficiency is the top business priority that tech leaders will be asked to address in 2024.
CIOs who want to be fully engaged in those efficiency conversations will need to advance their accounting and finance acumen, Pyle says.
“Understand cash flow statements and, more important, how those equate to the financial health of the organization you work for. Understand what your CFO is really looking at. Get to the point where you’re walking parallel with the CFO, where you can leverage financial information to create compelling use cases, even if money isn’t being spent like it used to.”
9. Get better at pitching the value of IT
Marcus Session, vice president of IT for Tampa International Airport and a leader with the Society for Information Management (SIM) Tampa Bay chapter, knows he’s not the only one talking tech with his executive peers.
Session sees tech vendors making sales calls to the other C-suite executives, engaging them at conferences and sponsoring events that put them in front of those functional leaders.
It might be tough for CIOs to match the marketing material produced by the vendors, he says, but he sees promoting the value of IT as an important pursuit for 2024.
“All CIOs are going to have to present their vision on why IT is valuable,” he says.
Session plans to get better at pitching the value IT brings by being more attentive to “speaking the language of business” and by developing business strategy plans alongside his executive peers.
“This means creating plans that a normal person will understand, not talking about workloads in the cloud, for example, so that they see that IT is trying to deliver solutions for them faster and provide more flexibility to meet their business needs,” Session adds.
10. Learn more about business operations
Similarly, Session wants to gain a deeper understanding of business operations, seeing that as another way to help him evolve into a stronger IT leader. He’s still devising the ways he’ll make good on this objective, but he has some ideas — like “integrating myself into other areas of the business as much as possible. I’m trying to get in the weeds of business operations,” he says.
11. Focus more on the techie side
After years of CIOs building up their business acumen, Anup Purohit, global CIO of IT and business services provider Wipro, says AI and other emerging technologies show why CIOs shouldn’t abandon their technical side.
“It’s important for us to continue to focus on this technology part. I am business on one side and a techie on the other side. And I want to keep trying things on the tech side,” he says.
12. Make more time to guide others
Another way Purohit plans to expand his leadership profile is by taking more time to teach others about building their own careers in IT.
Purohit already works with early-career IT workers within his own company as well as college students “to share real-time industry experience” but he aims to do more of it in 2024.
Although Purohit doesn’t harbor any ambitions to move into academia or teaching, he says taking time to help guide the next generation of IT workers (and possibly future CIOs) is one of his professional and personal passions.
“There was no one to guide me in that area, and I thought this is something I should be doing for others,” he adds.
13. Be better at leading change
Although Boston Consulting Group CIO Chris Bowers, like most IT execs, has had to lead change throughout his career, he says artificial intelligence demands a new type of change leader.
“We have to think about it differently,” he says, and plans to do that in 2024.
“Gen AI creates the potential to drive more value than any other technology I’ve seen in my career, so focusing on making sure we achieve that value is even more important,” Bowers says.
As such, he’s working with internal and external innovators and leaders to sharpen his ability “to transform how IT can deliver better, faster digital outcomes for BCG [and] working closely with my peers in the industry and every CIO I meet to see what others are doing in this fast-changing topic of gen AI.”
14. Find additional leadership opportunities
For CIOs who want to be better IT leaders, Di Maria says CIOs can get a needed boost by leading other types of organizations.
“Take on a leadership role that is different than your CIO responsibilities,” she says.
This could include leading an employee resource group or serving as a volunteer executive or board member at a nonprofit or professional association.
Working in different arenas helps CIOs flex leadership muscles that may not get enough exercise during their usual jobs, Di Maria explains. CIOs may also see — and learn from — the different leadership styles that other volunteers bring to these opportunities.
Waraich agrees with that perspective, saying he stepped up to serve as president of SIM’s Portland chapter in part for the opportunity it offers to practice leadership with influence rather than authority and to further build his CIO brand.
15. Focus on becoming a better IT leader
Waraich also plans to take a very deliberate step to improve himself as an IT leader: He will apply next year for SIM’s Executive Leadership Development Program.
“As most CIOs know, it’s lonely once you’re at the executive level. This helps build a network and allows for conversations and connections,” he says. “But I also hope to get more insights into what my blind spots are, so I can address them and continue to grow professionally.”