7 ways to ruin your IT leadership reputation

Respect is an asset every CIO seeks. Achieving a reputation for knowledge, reliability, and honesty takes time, as well as a strong personal commitment to embracing professional standards. Yet a single false move, made in haste or by a momentary lack of judgment, can leave a hard-earned reputation in ashes.

The IT leader’s role has changed dramatically over the past several years. “Once upon a time, the CIO was the chief information officer, responsible for the company’s entire IT infrastructure,” says Christopher M. Walker, a business consultant and coach. “Now, the CIO is more likely to be known as the chief innovation officer, responsible for driving digital transformation within the organization.”

While the CIO’s role has evolved significantly over the past few years, many IT leaders continue to fall into the same traps that tarnished the position and stature of countless colleagues. “Despite the changing nature of the role, there are still some surefire ways for a CIO to ruin their professional reputation,” Walker states.

While a hard-earned reputation can be ruined in many different ways, there are a handful of common blunders that trap IT leaders with distressing regularity. Here’s a look at the seven top ways CIOs unintentionally manage to grind their professional status into the ground.

1. Inflexibility

In today’s rapidly changing world, organizations need a leader who’s both agile and comfortable with change. “If a CIO is inflexible and resistant to change, it will quickly become apparent and their professional reputation will suffer as a result,” Walker warns. Steady communication is also important. “If you can effectively communicate with both the business and the IT departments, you’ll be well on your way to building a strong reputation,” he notes.

Walker believes that CIOs should become more political in their management team interactions by gathering supporters and forming alliances. “They need to be able to navigate the complex political waters that they will inevitably encounter,” he says. “This can be a difficult and stressful task, but it’s one that CIOs need to be able to do if they want to be successful in their careers.”

2. Invisibility

Your brand speaks for you when you’re not in the room, and CIOs may ruin their professional reputations by hiding in the shadows, says Maureen Farmer, founder and CEO with Westgate Executive Branding and Career Consulting. A lack of personal branding can limit a CIO’s ability to move up the industry ladder, since they remain a secret, unknown to anyone beyond the enterprise.

CIOs are highly skilled experts who quietly lead their teams within the most complex digital and physical infrastructures in the post-industrial world, Farmer observes. Generally lacking visibility beyond their enterprise, CIOs seldom focus on personal career strategies and opportunities. “Instead, they deliver bottom-line value through cost cutting, efficiency gains, and integration of products post-merger, to name just a few of the challenges they face,” she notes.

CIOs need to step out of the shadow and into the spotlight. Speaking at industry events, connecting with colleagues, and writing articles and white papers are just a few of the ways CIOs can build their brand.

3. Failing to innovate

IT leaders should burnish their reputations by encouraging innovation in the form of new initiatives, prototypes, hackathons, and cross-departmental partnerships, says Jeff Mains, CEO of professional services firm Champion Leadership Group.

To stand out from the crowd and become a highly respected leader, a CIO needs to make critical adjustments their department’s operations. “They need to become more creative in their delegation of responsibilities so that more time can be devoted to pushing experimentation,” Mains advises. “They also need to adopt a fresh management style that’s open to the unique ideas that emerge from experiments.”

On the other hand, being overly aggressive can actually damage a CIO’s reputation. “Many veteran CIOs possess the industry experience and combat scars to support their thoughts on the best technologies and methods to execute them,” Mains says. “However, sometimes, they’re so sure of their ideas that they try to force them on everyone, from their subordinates to their executive-level colleagues, without first gaining buy-in.” Over the long run, it pays to be assertive, but not argumentative.

4. Reckless decision-making

Be mindful of the decisions you make. “One careless choice can ruin your reputation and your career,” warns Jim Durham, CIO of Solar Panels Network USA, a national solar panel installation company. “By being aware of the risks and taking responsibility for your actions, you can minimize the damage and learn from your mistakes,” he advises.

A careless decision can be anything from selecting the wrong technology to mishandling sensitive data. “Not only are these actions career-destructive, but they can also have lasting negative effects on your enterprise,” Durham notes.

CIOs are always pressured by management to make the right decision. It’s important to remember, however, that even the best strategies and intentions can sometimes lead to disastrous results. “If you’re unsure about a decision, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and consult with your team before making a final call,” Durham suggests.

Failure is never an option, particularly major failures. “It shows that you’re not capable of handling important tasks,” Durham states. It can also damage the enterprise’s reputation and, by extension, your own. In the worst-case scenario, it may lead to your termination.

Unfortunately, even the most cautious CIOs can make mistakes. “If you do find yourself in the midst of a public relations nightmare, the best thing you can do is own up to your mistake and take responsibility for it,” Durham advises. “This will show that you’re willing to learn from your mistakes and to make changes to ensure it never happens again.”

5. Possessing subpar social skills

A leading way CIOs ruin their professional reputation is by ignoring the human factor. “CIOs have to be able to communicate with both technical and non-technical people, and they must always remember that they’re dealing with people,” says Anthony Vaccaro, vice president of sales at Timewatch, a professional services software provider.

CIOs often get frustrated because their team isn’t meeting their expectations. “All of a sudden, they start treating them like machines, or worse, like children who don’t understand what’s going on,” Vaccaro says. “This is a surefire way to lose the trust of your team and make them feel like you aren’t listening to them.”

Whenever something goes wrong, it’s up to the IT leader to figure out what happened and how to avoid repeating the mistake. Shifting blame down the ladder is a cop-out. Word will spread over time, reaching all levels of the organization, and your reputation will take a beating.

6. Neglecting to share credit

Both management and staff prefer to work with individuals who recognize their achievements. Failing to share credit for a job well done isn’t going to help a leader’s reputation, internally or externally.

Promoting department achievements is a fast, easy, and subtle way to elevate your visibility as a reliable and innovative leader. Praise your team’s diligent work and everything you’ve helped them to achieve. The result is a winning outcome for all parties.

7. Failing to align IT with business goals

When IT and the enterprise begin heading in different directions, disaster is inevitable. The result is typically chaos, bad feelings, and a CIO with a reputation for being uncontrollable and unreliable.

Pursuing IT opportunities that don’t fully align with business objectives can prove fatal to a CIO, says Cole South, co-founder of Synchronize, an e-commerce solutions provider. “Getting aligned with business goals and achieving them takes time,” he notes. It’s always worth the effort.

IT Leadership