4 Leadership Lessons from the Computerworld Premier 100

Every year, Computerworld produces a list of the top leaders in our industry- The Computerworld Premier 100.

The Computerworld Premier 100 represents one of the top opportunities for IT leaders looking to gain recognition for their good work, and to improve their standing within our industry.

However, The Computerworld Premier 100 also serves a second purpose: it gives insight into what it takes to be a top leader within our industry. In addition to giving each honoree the meaningful title, Computerworld also asks each recipient a number of questions about their perspective on effective IT leadership. Computerworld then compiles these responses into individual profiles.

While it’s interesting to read these profiles on their own, the real magic emerges when you sort the responses by question and analyze the results.

Recently, we did just this. We pulled out each individual question, grouped together each recipient’s answer to that question, and looked for similar responses. By doing this, we saw some of the common ways the world’s top IT leaders tackle today’s most challenging and interesting aspects of their job.

Today, we want to share a few of these results with you. Here is our data analysis on four key questions the Computerworld Premier 100 answered. From this analysis, we uncovered four leadership lessons you can immediately put to work at your job.

The questions we will discuss today are:

  • What emerging tech has captured your interest?
  • How do you find time to innovate?
  • How has your vendor management strategy changed in the past few years?
  • What is your personal leadership style?

Read on and see how the best in our industry address these critical topics.


“What emerging tech has captured your interest?”

Computerworld Premier 100 leaders cited the following three technology groups as most interesting. (Note, that leaders could cite more than one technology group).

  1. Sensors, Wearables, and IoT: 48.7%
  2. AI, Machine Learning, and Cognitive Computing: 29.2%
  3. Big Data Analytics: 29.2%

There are a few key points to note from this.

First, despite being critically important, and top-of-mind for many IT leaders, information security technologies were only mentioned by one Computerworld Premier 100 leader.

Second, much buzzed-about technologies Blockchain and VR/AR were only cited by 14.6% and 12.2% of Computerworld Premier 100 leaders, respectively.

And third, all of these three most-cited technology groups have one thing in common: data. When looking forward at emerging technology, our industry’s top CIOs remain focused on the collection, processing, and deriving of insights out of the information flowing into their organization.

Leadership Lesson 1: Even with futuristic, buzzworthy technologies on the horizon, top CIOs—Chief Information Officers, after all—know that handling information remains at the core of the value they provide their organizations.

[Read more about how to get the most out of your data program here.]


“How do you find time to innovate?”

The majority (60%) of Computerworld Premier 100 leaders agreed that innovation was a priority you had to dedicate specific time, money, and attention to produce.

“It takes discipline, but I set aside time each week to research the latest trends and generate ideas.”
-Robert Napoli, CIO and SVP, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands

“We’re always very busy, so I have to make the conscious decision to spend time during the week on innovation. The only way to ensure innovation is to make it a firm requirement of myself.”
-Jose A. Guereque, IT and Innovation Director, Arca Continental

While most Computerworld Premier 100 leaders make innovation a dedicated priority, their innovation activities varied. A few common activities included:

  • Regular time blocked out for innovation: Cited activities included blocking out 25% of his workweek for innovation, meeting with the management team every Monday to discuss new ideas, and spending four hours every Friday on innovation.
  • External events, boards, and partnerships. Cited activities included attending CIO events and participates on panels, meeting with the CTOs at large vendors, visiting venture capital firms and startups with his dedicated internal innovation committee.
  • Deliberate delegation and firefighting. Cited activities included delegating day-to-day operations to the leadership team to focus on exploring innovative ideas, and organizing in a way that fire-fighting doesn’t jeopardize bleeding-edge experimentation and development.

Leadership Lesson 2: No matter how they do it, leading CIOs recognize that  innovation isn’t something that just happens, but is something you have to create concrete processes to produce.

[Read more about how to introduce innovation processes into your IT group here.]


“How has your vendor management strategy changed in the past few years?”

Computerworld Premier 100 leaders were clear, and unified on this point— 80% stated that their vendor management strategy has shifted dramatically in recent years, and moved away from a traditional, transactional vendor/client relationship. Instead, Computerworld Premier 100 leaders have embraced their vendors as strategic partners with their IT organization, and with their business.

“Previously, I viewed vendors as simply suppliers who could be easily replaced. Today, I seek a closer partnership and organizational integration.”
-Olaf Romer, Head of Corporate IT and Group CIO, Baloise Group

“We have moved from a transactional vendor approach to a strategic partnership with our technology suppliers.”
-Robin Sarkar, CIO, Lakeland Health

The reasons for this shift varied. For some Computerworld Premier 100 leaders, they have reduced administrative costs. Others have consolidated services. Some sought shared risk. No matter the reason for the shift, most Computerworld Premier 100 leaders increasingly see their vendors as “extensions of our technology team” that are “looped into the early stages of strategic planning”, “fill resource gaps”, and “perform managed or outsourced services”.

Leadership Lesson 3: Top CIOs are now think of their vendors—both large, traditional vendors and startups—as true partners with their organization, and not simply as transaction-based service providers.


“What is your personal leadership style?”

Despite the near-constant use of the word “transformation” within the tech leadership community, only 7.5% of the Computerworld Premier 100 referred to their leadership style as “transformative” (or by its close cousin, “visionary”).

Instead, 82.5% of the responding Computerworld Premier 100 leaders described their personal leadership style in collaborative, team-oriented terms. Nearly all of our industry’s top leaders focus on empowering their managers to handle important responsibilities, rather than ruling in a particularly top-down manner.

27.5% of the Computerworld Premier 100 gave this leadership style a name— “Servant Leadership”. These leaders described the philosophy in varied ways:

“Delivering organizational results by sharing power and encouraging, supporting, and enabling others to realize their full potential.”
-Michael K. Yzerman, VP and Deputy CIO, Community Health Systems

“I’m a mentor rather than a boss. My focus is how each person can be successful both professionally and personally.”
-Suresh Srinivasan, CTO, NYU Langone Medical Center

“I try to empower the team by removing impediments, but fully authorizing them to make decisions and do the work.”
-Michael Garcia, VP Development Services, Fannie Mae

In nearly every case, the Computerworld Premier 100 leaders approach their role from a place of humility, and not self-aggrandizement. They focus on developing and empowering their people, and not themselves. If there’s one lesson to take away from the Computerworld Premier 100, that is it.

Leadership Lesson 4: Whether they call it collaborative, team-oriented, or servant leadership, top CIOs embrace an open, less hierarchical approach to leading their organizations.

[Watch Dr. David Bray,  former CIO of The FCC, explain his decentralized leadership philosophy—Power to the Edges.]


What Will You Learn From the Computerworld Premier 100?

Adopting just one of these lessons can transform your approach to IT leadership:

  • Focus primarily on deriving value from the information flowing through your organization, no matter where that information comes from or what tools will help you derive those insights.
  • Set aside dedicated time, attention, and resources to innovate, or you’ll get caught in the crisis of the day and never look to the future.
  • Seek deeper partnerships—and not simply transactions—with your vendors
  • Develop and empower your people—not yourself.

Which of these lessons will you apply to your role as an IT leader?

(P.S. We’re hosting a small survey about the new IT leadership career paths opening up as the role of IT in the enterprise evolves. If you haven’t filled it out yet, take 2 minutes to share your voice here. All responses are 100% anonymous.)


marc-headshot-large-1-150x150Marc Schiller is the founder and Managing Partner of Rain Partners. Schiller is a leading voice and thinker on IT leadership and management. His book, The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders, broke new ground regarding the most significant management challenges facing IT leaders today—and how to address them.

Contact Marc at marc.schiller@rainpartners.com, or call:1.914.290.4575