Posted: 19 Nov. 2020 9 min. read

The kinetic leader: Boldly reinventing the enterprise

Findings from the 2020 Global Technology Leadership Study

Faced with unprecedented uncertainty, businesses now more than ever need their technology leaders to be resilient, agile, and future-focused. At the same time, current market, economic, and social conditions indicate this is the time for transformational, not incremental, change—and who better than technology leaders to help drive this change?


IN late summer 2019, an enthusiastic team of Deloitte technologists, futurists, researchers, and writers began working on the 2020 Global Technology Leadership Study. Formerly known as the global CIO survey, this comprehensive research project has, since 2015, tracked the evolution of organizations, their technology functions, and the critically important roles that technology leaders play in them.1

As our latest effort launched, innovation and technology disruption were proceeding at a fever pitch and markets were climbing. More importantly, many organizations operating at the vanguard of digital innovation were leveraging technology—and the expertise of their technology leaders—in unique ways to create competitive advantage. We, like you, wanted to know what challenges and opportunities these pioneers face. Likewise, what do digitally advanced organizations expect from their technology leaders? The timing was right. Deloitte’s 2020 Global Technology Leadership Study would examine how tech leaders can guide their organizations to new ways of thinking and new goals that emphasize change (see the sidebar, “About the 2020 Global Technology Leadership Study”).

About the 2020 Global Technology Leadership Study

This year’s Global Technology Leadership Study includes more than 1,300 participants across 69 countries and 22 industry sectors (figure 1). The naming shift from global CIO survey to Global Technology Leadership Study recognizes the increased scope of technology leadership roles, such as CIOs, CDOs, and CTOs—but also acknowledges the deeper technology engagement of CEOs, CFOs, COOs, and leaders in strategy, innovation, and R&D. The increase in survey respondents from outside the technology function—from 22 percent in 20182 to 40 percent in 2020—is directly correlated with the organizational importance of technology.


Then the ground unexpectedly shifted beneath our feet. COVID-19 has ushered in an era of unfamiliar challenges and unexpected risks. Business disruption is nothing new, but as the ramifications of this pandemic ripple through the global economy, it appears organizational resilience may have met its toughest test in living memory.

Though the world has changed since work on the 2020 Global Technology Leadership Study began last summer, the findings from this research are even more pertinent to the current situation. For example, it is no longer enough for CIOs to be a trusted operator or even a strategic business cocreator (see the sidebar, “The evolution of CIO pattern types”). Even before the current disruption, technology leaders were being called upon to serve as change agents—kinetic leaders who envision, enable, and deliver growth and help their organizations navigate through change. The 2020 Global Technology Leadership Study describes the attributes, objectives, and practices of organizations that are ahead of their peers and explores the critical dimensions of change for technology leaders. Key findings include:

  • Companies that are ahead of their competition have a growth orientation and engaged leadership. In our analysis, slightly more than one in 10 (11.6 percent) organizations are delivering significant value through technology. Distinguished by an orientation toward growth and leaders who advocate for, prioritize, and appreciate the value of technology, these companies are at the leading edge of leveraging technology for business growth. They have different operating rhythms and strategic priorities, not just in the technology function, but across the entire enterprise.
  • Organizations need kinetic leaders to drive innovation and manage change. The perspectives of C-suite executives and corporate board members on the role of the future technology leader are converging: Business and technology leaders agree that their organizations need dynamic, change-oriented technology leaders—kinetic leaders—to help envision the technology-driven future, lead complex transformations, and be the chief architect of innovation and change for the business.
  • Opportunities abound for tech leaders who have the tenacity to lead across the enterprise. By stepping beyond a functional leadership role, tech leaders can drive technology deep into the organization. This requires organizations to embrace enterprise agility by rethinking their approaches to talent, learning and collaboration, and strategic technology funding practices.

During this time of unprecedented volatility and uncertainty, technology leaders have an opportunity to help guide their organizations. Not only can they hone strategies for managing the crisis at hand and the recovery ahead, but they can also prepare for and lead tech-driven transformation that could help their businesses thrive as they and their industries adapt to the new norms of the postpandemic world.3 Tools may include a technology visionary’s outlook, an appetite for growth and transformation, the willingness to make audacious bets, and the tenacity to stick to their convictions. Their leadership skills can help them influence business strategy, develop the next generation of talent, and integrate technology into the fabric of the business.

“For a business to grow, it has to let go of some old ways and habits and cultivate others in order to move forward. That’s hard to do. To lead in this environment, you have to have resilience, self-awareness, and self-confidence to lead through growth and change.”

—Sandy Beach Lin, board member, American Electric Power, PolyOne, Trinseo, and Interface Biologics4

The evolution of CIO pattern types

In previous global CIO surveys, we analyzed survey responses to identify three distinct pattern types based on how CIOs deliver value: trusted operators, who primarily deliver operational discipline; business cocreators, who focus on partnering with the business to develop and enable business strategy; and change instigators, who lead tech-driven business transformation.5

Each year provides a point-in-time glimpse of the CIO role. We initially determined that each pattern type was a manifestation of the organization’s specific needs and mandates; one was not better than the others.6 In 2018, we revised our conclusion, suggesting that CIOs shed the perception of being solely a trusted operator and develop themselves as either a change instigator or business cocreator, depending on business needs.7

The 2020 survey responses indicate that business leaders, more than ever before, expect technology leaders to drive change throughout the enterprise. We now conclude that technology leaders can no longer remain relevant and influential solely by being a business cocreator; instead, they should also take up the mantle of change. Yet despite executives’ expectations, the percentage of technology leaders in each pattern type has held steady over the last several years. And when asked to identify their ideal state, only a fifth of the technology leaders selected change instigator (figure 2).

This year, we introduce the notion of the kinetic leader—a supercharged change instigator focused not only on initiating tech-driven transformation but also on executing widespread organ2zational change to deliver business results and position the organization to be more resilient and agile. But becoming a kinetic leader is typically not a natural evolution—it’s an intentional act that requires purposeful planning and effort.