Research finds 70% of CIOs are introverts

The majority (70 percent) of CIOs are introverts and have a tendency to get bogged down in detail, which can result in them struggling in a leadership role, a study has found.


The majority (70 percent) of CIOs are introverts and have a tendency to get bogged down in detail, which can result in them struggling in a leadership role, a study has found.

Professor Joe Peppard from the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, uses a psychometric test called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) on actual and aspiring CIOs who attend his IT Leadership Program to assess their personality traits and preferences.

In an analysis of the MBTI test results of around 200 IT leaders who have gone through the program over the last 10 years, Peppard was surprised to find that of the 16 possible personality types, 70 percent of CIOs fall into one category: ISTJs (Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging). Or, in layman’s terms, a stereotypical IT geek.

He said: “There is also consistency in the profiles of CIOs in how they perceive the world (dominance of sensing, which means focusing on concrete facts and experiences that occur in the present, gathered through the five senses) and how they make decisions (dominance for thinking, which means making conclusions based on logical analysis with a focus on impartiality and objectivity). Moreover, along the dimension of where they get their energy, 85 percent have a preference for introversion.”

According to Peppard, people who fall in the ISTJ category have traits that can make them good at their jobs, but also ones that can hinder them in a leadership role.

“ISTJs have a strong sense of responsibility and great loyalty to the organisations and relationships in their lives. They rely upon knowledge and experience to guide them and pay attention to immediate and practical organisational needs. Generally preferring to work alone, they can be relied upon to fulfil commitments as stated and on time,” he said.

But, he added: “They would be described as practical, pragmatic and sensible, but could also be seen as detached, inflexible and overly serious. They strive for perfection and can be poor at delegation. They have a tendency to get bogged down in the detail and failing to see the ‘wood from the trees’.”

CIOs can struggle without a 'rule book'

Peppard also found that the CIOs have tended to have studied “prescriptive” and “logical” subjects, such as mathematics, physics, engineering or computer science, and that they have spent all, or the majority of their career in an IT role bound by prescribed, best practice frameworks.

“Thus, they are comfortable with data and logic, favouring process, prescription and policies,” he said.

While this can make them good at their jobs as IT professionals, the difficulty for CIOs with this dominant personality type is that when they consequently get to the higher levels of management, they might struggle in a leadership role because there is no official manual on how to run a business, like there are official project management methodologies for implementing an IT investment, for example.

“In leadership roles, there’s a lot of discretion. There’s no rule book,” Peppard said.

He added that CIOs are also often viewed as the IT geek by their executive counterparts.

“When I ask CxOs to describe a stereotypical IT executive, their descriptions usually mirrors that of the dominant MBTI profile,” he said.

“‘Needs to get out more’ is a comment I frequently hear in relation to their CIO, a reference perhaps to their introverted nature. ‘Can’t see the bigger picture’ is another that I encounter, a possible consequence of their strong sensing preference.”

However, Peppard believes that CIOs can benefit from being aware that they have these particular personality traits, and use that knowledge to work on their weaknesses.

“The cornerstone of being a very good leader is about being self aware,” he said.

“Just because you struggle, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a good leader. But you need to recognise your preferences and develop the side that is weak.

“There are a lot of great introverted leaders. They network. They get out there and they do it even if they’re not comfortable with it.”

In November, an analysis of CEOs of companies in the FTSE 350 found that just one, Philip Clarke at Tesco, was previously a CIO, and only three held computer science degrees.

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