We live in an era of true technology paradox: Business leaders can’t delegate I.T. oversight—but few executives want to become I.T. experts.

The C-level leader’s path to success has changed. Different times, and different circumstances, require different leadership skills. Today executives must focus on technology in a way previous generations of leaders never did. Instead of relegating all things technology to an I.T. manager, executives are now responsible for rewiring business legacies for digital success.

While they may utilize technology as a modern “necessary evil,” however, they’re struggling to understand the digital worldview needed for long-term sustainability.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I.T. leadership was logical, detail-oriented, and sequential. In 2018, the web of opportunities is wide. It isn’t enough to follow strategic paths to success. Streamlined business strategies matter, but leaders need a deeper understanding.

The modern executive and technology

Technology departments aren’t parochial and rigid anymore. At today’s most successful growth-oriented organizations, in fact, C-level leaders make and understand I.T. decisions. They need to respond quickly to new challenges, often adopting real-time solutions to ever-expanding opportunities.

According to the Harvard Business Review, sophisticated, mixed leadership skill sets must govern the near future of business technology. A lot of today’s CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs are in over their heads. Companies are adopting the idea of “hybrid” leaders. These leaders are both well informed about business drivers and experienced with organizational design, analytics, infrastructure, and holistic technology systems.

Tomorrow’s leaders need to operate in an environment of heightened uncertainty—and quickly. The leadership competencies required to lead successfully throughout the next decade prioritize lateral thinking, agility, cultural understanding, and even emotional intelligence. Innovative growth isn’t a tech-only game, anymore. It’s a comprehensive ideology that combines digital expertise and classic business tactics.

Technology paradox: I.T. oversight without I.T. expertise

And there’s the technology paradox again: I.T. oversight is a C-level responsibility, but business leaders shouldn’t have to become I.T. experts to run a non-I.T. company.

An oversight program can be challenging to implement. That’s because technology changes rapidly. The subject matter is complex. And experts routinely use jargon.

Most directors have spent the majority of their careers in the pre-digital era, before the internet became such a vital part of business. The 2016 Spencer Stuart US Board Index reports that the average age of directors is 63. Furthermore, a 2009 study by Diamond Management & Technology Consultants shows that less than one percent of Fortune directors have been Chief Information Officers (CIOs).

These factors have resulted in an I.T. “confidence gap,” despite the fact that many executive boards spend a considerable amount of time discussing I.T. For example, the 2015 PwC Annual Corporate Directors Survey found that only one-fourth of directors strongly believe their company’s I.T. strategy is supported by an adequate understanding of I.T. Businesses are becoming more reliant on I.T. to gain a competitive advantage, but I.T. can also disrupt operations.

Additional information about business leadership and the technology paradox is available in a free whitepaper: The C-level leader and technology.

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