In this CXO conversation, Tony Uphoff is joined by Acceleration Economy analysts Wayne Sadin and Kenny Mullican. The three discuss how non-technical CEOs can effectively lead and manage technology executives and managers, offer suggestions for C-suite executives and technology executives, and discuss the biggest challenges within this context.
01:12 — Tony gives some context on his background as a 4x CEO whose 30-year career is “almost divided exactly in half by pre and post-internet.” In the pre-internet days, technology was something that was supportive of a business. In the post-internet world, Tony found himself spending upwards of 40% of his time on technology issues. The fact that Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and Chief Information Officers (CIOs) were reporting to him “was a bit daunting,” since they were dealing with concepts that they knew far more about than he did. He asks Kenny and Wayne to share their experiences as highly technical CIOs reporting to non-technical CEOs.
03:02 — Kenny notes that throughout his career, he has been instructed by bosses who know less about technology than he did — this happens to everyone in technology, no matter how technical they are or aren’t. As a technologist reporting to a non-technical CEO, a key approach is finding a way to diplomatically help them understand. Technical employees need to understand where non-technical CEOs are coming from and the things that are important to them, then explain technology and innovations in a way that they can truly grasp.
05:51 — “Why do you let it [technology] scare you?” This is the first question Wayne would ask a non-technical CEO. He thinks it’s because technology is newer than other fields and many current CEOs didn’t learn about it in business school. Some of the disconnects may be because no other field has changed as much as technology has.
07:49 — Tony notes how many CEOs are eager to say that technologists “don’t need to talk to them about that stuff,” which is not true because technology is the business and the two are not separated. He argues that technology is fundamentally indistinguishable from business strategy today.
09:16 — Tony asks what the biggest challenges are between technical executives and non-technical leadership. Kenny says a challenge is understanding “how things got to be the way they are,” in which technology executives are normally isolated from the rest of business operations and do not get the opportunity to interact much with the C-suite. This leads to communication barriers within an organization. As a CIO, Kenny is eager to help tech executives learn more about business because he believes it will help advance their careers. Soft skills are important for technical executives who aspire to reach a C-suite-level role.
12:24 — Wayne emphasizes the importance of exposure, which can often be challenging for technical executives and non-technical CEOs. Exposing each party to the work of the opposite person has immense value. The key to “building a bridge” between the two parties is to create opportunities for one another to see what’s going on within both of their worlds.
14:56 — Tony references how valuable it can be to introduce tech executives to customers, as it helps the executives better understand the needs of a customer and why businesses are running the way they are. He asks Wayne and Kenny for their final thoughts.
16:42 — Kenny’s advice for non-technical CEOs is to “not be afraid” of technology and technology executives. Rather, they should utilize them as a resource for staying on top of tech trends. This can go both ways — non-technical CEOs should mentor technologists on the non-technical side of things, too. For technology leaders, Kenny encourages them to polish their soft skills.
17:50 — Wayne says if you are a CEO and your CIO makes you “feel stupid — get rid of them.” Technology experts should be people who understand that their job is to work with you, not put you down for what you don’t know. For “techies,” Wayne encourages them to learn the business and how it is making money.
19:25 — More information on how non-technical CEOs can effectively manage technology executives can be found in Tony’s recent analysis.
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