The CIO that should emerge from the lessons of 2020 is one who over-communicates and entrusts on-the-ground teams with key decisions, according to MIT professor Yossi Sheffi.
A key leadership trait for CIOs is the capacity to "obsessively communicate," said Sheffi, speaking Wednesday at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. "Be able to communicate even if you don't have all the answers. It's absolutely okay to say, 'I don't know what is going wrong.'"
When faced with crisis situations, such as a key system outage, CIOs need to learn to trust the decisions of workers who are close to the action, Sheffi said.
One role CIOs can play is to translate the impact of technology throughout the organization, steering deployment and infusing operations with flexibility. But in times of crisis, their voices — or silence — can ring loudly.
"The worst thing is not to communicate," said Sheffi. "Because … people usually don't imagine the best, they imagine the worst. Communicate obsessively."
Efficiently communicating through system outages is critical, as stakeholders and employees are depending on the tech executive to ensure that systems are up and running, Naveen Chhabra, senior analyst at Forrester, told CIO Dive earlier this month.
The CIO can guide an organization when technology problems arise. It's the C-suite position that, alongside the CTO, most often represents tech savviness in the board, according to data from MIT.
Almost all companies have experienced an IT outage — nine in 10 in the last three years, according to data from LogicMonitor. Over 40% say outages have caused lost revenue due to outages or brownouts, and nearly one-third say the outage impacted their brand or reputation.
As they respond to disruption, a critical leadership trait for CIOs is to empower the workers that report to them, letting them make the appropriate decisions and then getting out of their way.
"In many of these crisis situations, there's no time to go up the chain of command to get all the approvals and then go down," Sheffi said. "In cases of crisis, you have to let the teams on the ground make decisions," allowing for space to not punish them if mistakes are made.