The CIO Paradox by Martha Heller – a book review

Note: I received a reveiw copy of The CIO Paradox.  The review below made up of PR material provided to me as well as my reading of the book.

Martha Heller was kind enough to reach out to me to offer me an advance copy of her new book titled “The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership“.

Before I jump into the book, a little background on the author and the book

If you don’t know Martha’s background, you should.  She’s written for and was the founder of CIO Magazine’s CIO Executive Council and is currently the President of Heller Search Associates, a firm specializing in recruiting CIO’s and other IT leaders.

According to the PR sheet that came with the book, the book covers:

…a set of opposing forces, such as the power of technology versus the power technology leaders hold, which besiege IT executives and their battle for success every day.  Going beyond mere business advice, Heller uses her tenured experience as an IT thought leader to articulate the problematic structure of the Chief Information Officer role into a savvy, engaging, and sage resource for all involved in running a business.

The “paradoxes” described in the book are split into four main categories. they are:

  • The CIO Role: You’re Damned If You Do, and You’re Damned If You Don’t
  • The Stakeholders: Will the Business Ever Love IT?
  • The CIO’s Staff: They Just Don’t Make Them Like That
  • The Future: What’s Next for the CIO?

When I first picked up the PR sheet and saw these paradoxes, I was intrigued…because these ‘paradoxes’ really are some of the biggest issues facing CIO’s today….and the “Stakeholder” paradox has always seemed to be the hardest one to solve to me.

The problem of “will the business ever love IT?” is an extremely difficult one to solve.  Sure…CIO’s and IT professionals can spend time with the rest of the organization to build relationships and ‘get to know’ everyone…but that’s not enough.

There’s more to solving this particular problem.  You don’t just automatically change people’s opinions of you and your team, especially after years of being the team that says “no” to everyone.   There’s some major work to be done in the cultural area of IT departments to address the Stakeholders paradox.

I’ll get off my soapbox now…and let Martha get on hers.  In this book,  She does a very good job outlining these four major paradoxical areas and how to go about “breaking” these paradoxes.  Martha writes:

“The keys to solving the CIO Paradox, or ‘breaking the paradox, lie in the experiences, thoughts, lessons learned, philosophies, wit and wisdom of all those CIOs who are actually doing these jobs.”

The last chapter provides a nice checklist that can be used to ‘break’ the paradox. In this chapter, Martha provides a few excellent suggestions for breaking the paradox.    A few of the more interesting items found in this final chapter:

  • Develop Well-Rounded People – Its not enough to have IT Operations folks who only know IT Operations. You’ve got to build a team of well-rounded and experienced people that can work in many diverse areas.
  • Recruit Well – Simply said, difficult to do.   But..necessary.
  • Change the Context – stop thinking about “IT” and start thing about the business.
  • Reach out – you can no longer live within your IT world. You must reach out and build lasting relationships with the rest of the organization and your customers.
  • Lead – Again…simple to say, but tough to do. The CIO must be a leader first and foremost….you can’t sit in your office  hoping things get done…you’ve got to make sure they get done.
  • Simplify – Love this From Page 216 ->  The more simplicity you build into your IT organization, the more complexity you can handle.

The book has some great stories about how real-world CIO’s have addressed the paradoxical world they live in.  In addition, it is quite differnet than any other book I’ve read that has been targeting the CIO role. It delivers not only stories on how others have done things, but ideas for things you can do to make it through the paradoxes found in your world.

It is well written and an excellent read. Highly recommended.

3 responses to “The CIO Paradox by Martha Heller – a book review”

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  2. Martha Heller Avatar

    Eric, thanks again for reading the book and sharing your thoughts in this review!

    1. Eric D. Brown Avatar

      You are welcome Martha..I enjoyed the book. Hope to see it on the bestseller list soon! 🙂