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Perspectives on the CIO’s evolving role

John Marcante, CIO-in-Residence

John Marcante, former Global CIO of Vanguard, is the US CIO-in-Residence at Deloitte. In this role, he serves as an independent strategic advisor to provide strategic guidance and perspectives in the areas of technology and tech leadership. Here, John shares key executive and technology leadership attributes of an effective chief information officer.

Much ink has been spilled about the evolving role of the CIO. Many of those discussions have been about the range of responsibilities modern CIOs must take on. But what does it take to become someone who’s capable of taking on those responsibilities? Here are a few observations based on my own experience.

Appreciate the lateral moves. My own career was filled with movement among projects, departments, companies, and even industries. Some moves were internal to the technology function while others took me between IT and the business. Either way, they gave me a true understanding of how to run the businesses, meet with clients, and connect technology with strategy.

Get comfortable with discomfort. I often found myself in circumstances I wasn’t prepared for but had to deal with somehow. You may never get used to the risks or stepping outside your comfort zone, but you do get used to being brave and telling the truth. When opportunity knocks, answer it by taking the leap.

Be in the moment. It’s human nature to second-guess yourself. But when you know what’s right, don’t worry about the hierarchy. Trust yourself and forge ahead.

Form a personal board of directors. These are people in your career who are truth tellers. Think of the former subordinate, the old boss, the peer who you could go to when you have a question. They’ll listen and offer helpful advice when you’re facing a tough challenge.

Remember that you don’t know everything. Humility distinguishes good leaders from great ones. A good rule of thumb is to spend twice as much time listening and understanding as you do talking. Your role is to be a good teammate, no matter how senior you are.

Know the power of vulnerability. It’s how you build trust and lay the groundwork for productive debate. Be candid about the gaps in your knowledge. This also helps encourage others to take the lead in those areas and make you successful, and the reverse is true as well.

Kick competition off the team. Reward systems are often set up so that employees must compete with one another for their raise or bonus. Make sure your employees know that the competition is out there in the marketplace, not in here on the team.

Make yourself board-ready. The purpose of the board of directors is governance, not management. So write your presentation to their concerns, which include risks, client outcomes, and business outcomes. Keep it concise, and be sure to solicit feedback

Deloitte’s CIO Program names John Marcante as US CIO-in-Residence

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There’s another leadership imperative that I believe is especially relevant these days. Amid the Great Resignation, many CIOs are discovering that traditional benefits and rewards aren’t enough to attract and retain tech talent. They also must engage employees in ways that foster motivation, loyalty, and drive. The following key practices can help.

Emphasize people skills. Technology workers and leaders need solid tech skills and experience, but they also need to inspire others. Invest in formal education and training to help employees facilitate tough conversations and build community among themselves. In addition, provide team leads with incentives to increase employee engagement, and measure the engagement to hold them accountable. Don’t forget to conduct listening tours to understand employee needs.

Prioritize well-being. In an era marked by a pandemic, race-based social injustice, an unfolding war in Europe, and other societal and cultural challenges, mental health is challenging. Consider rapid enactment of new benefits, employee assistance programs, and flexible work experiences. Meanwhile, partner with HR to determine the best ways to sensitively address social and cultural topics.

Be mission-based. Research has shown that purpose-oriented employees are 54% more likely to stay at a company for more than five years and 30% more likely to be high performers.1 Instill pride by showcasing your company’s ESG goals alongside the business mission. Think about ways to create a more diverse environment. And design processes that expose technology staff to business and client stakeholders.

Be adaptive and nimble. Teams cannot attract and retain top technical talent if developing and deploying software is slow, bureaucratic, and painful. To support a culture of speed and agility, invest in smaller, modular microservices. Align the technology transformation with corporate priorities to gain C-suite sponsorship and support. Finally, train leaders to define team outcomes, remove barriers, and promote innovation before they train technical staff.

The leadership attributes I highlight here boil down to one thing: a focus on people. Too often, businesses overemphasize technical prowess while discounting the importance of people skills. With a little determination and a lot of self-knowledge, CIOs can bridge that gap and serve as a model for what it takes to get the job done.

Read John’s perspectives on how to improve tech team engagement in the WSJ

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About John Marcante

John T. Marcante is an award-winning senior technology and business executive with expertise in digital transformation, business strategy, asset management and wealth planning, cyber security and technology risk. John is currently a CIO in residence for Deloitte, an ambassador for the Professional Development Academy (PDA) and the founder of Technology Leadership Solutions, LLC. As Vanguard’s former CIO and managing director, Marcante steered Vanguard’s growth over his 28-year career to one of the world’s leading investment management companies.

John received industry recognition as Business Insider Top 50 CIOs leading the cloud computing revolution, ORBIE CIO of the Year, Constellation Business Transformation 150 and Forbes CIO Innovation Award. John earned a B.S. at The Pennsylvania State University and an M.B.A. at Saint Joseph’s University. He holds FINRA series 6, 7, 23, 24, 26 licenses.

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About Deloitte's CIO Program

CIOs lead unique and complex lives—operating at the intersection of business and IT to deliver value to their organizations. To help CIOs manage these challenges and issues, Deloitte’s CIO Program delivers trusted, personal experiences and relevant insights to technology leaders at the moments that matter most. We empower CIOs and technology leaders to deliver business value and keep pace with the latest research and emerging technologies across their career lifecycle. 

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End notes

1 Marie-Claire Ross, “5 reasons why mission-driven leaders are the most successful,” LinkedIn, December 14, 2015.

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