Majority of businesses today are on the journey to digitalization and globalization. The reason is that the world is becoming smaller everyday and as a consequence every successful business has to sooner or later go beyond borders. At the same time the global business landscape is only becoming more complex due to varied factors. And it is in this context that Organizations build business verticals within to manage the complexity. So the logical concerns could be: What kind of IT leaders are on demand? Transformational or transactional? What’re differences between Transformation vs. Transaction? How would you define differences between Transactional and Transformational CIOs? 

1. Why do Some Transactional CIOs Meddle in the Middle? 

In its best form, leadership is about creating a powerful future that is compelling in the present, that utilizes the best talents, capabilities and resources of their people and organization to produce meaningful and valuable results. This is more than a positional approach, and having a CIO title will never be enough to make this real. However, given the hierarchical nature of most of organizations, if the modeling of leadership doesn’t start at the top, it will likely be little valued anywhere else. Thus, a frank self-assessment and a bit of situational evalution would help in analyzing the effectiveness of leadership. 

Why do some transactional CIOs meddle in the middle, seems losing the focus & leadership influence:

  • Leadership includes prioritization of what is most important and valuable, not just driving tons of activities – which often have minimal long-term value. This issue of clarity of vision about what IT can be (not just do) separates the leaders from the managers xamine the IT Maturity: The IT status/maturity within an enterprise determines the focus and priorities of most CIO’s. Therefore, the right approach need be evaluated depending on where IT is and also where IT would be able to be in the future… the same sort of dilemma exists around the CIO business & technology skills 

  • Examine the IT Maturity: The IT status/maturity within an enterprise determines the focus and priorities of most CIO’s. Therefore, the right approach need be evaluated depending on where IT is and also where IT would be able to be in the future… the same sort of dilemma exists around the CIO business & technology skills
  • Further assessment: Is it because
– Lack of world class team that do the magic or lack of access to that pool of talent?
– Lack of true partners instead of contractually-bound inflexible suppliers?

– Lack of charisma?
– Lack of business-savvy?
– Lack of Business leadership/vision?
– Poor IT governance?
– Poor cost/budgeting?
– Inadequate portfolio management? 


2. Transaction vs. Transformation 

Transactional” refers to operational transactions, taking an input at one end and churning it out at the other with processes in between. “Transformational” means redesigning existing transactions to something new, being innovative/ creative and also introducing completely new transactions hopefully with a strategy that serves the organization well. It’s easy enough to churn out the same old things even with minor modifications but to undertake real transformational change requires leadership, know-how and confidence

  •  A transaction is to do things right; a transformation is to do a right thing.
  • A transaction has a short-range view; a transformation has a long-range perspective.
  • A transaction is about how; a transformation is what and why.
  • A transaction focuses on a bottom line; a transformation is on a horizon.
  • A Transaction seeks continuity. A Transformation seeks change.
  • A Transaction focuses on goals for improvement. A Transformation focuses on goals of innovation.
  • A Transaction is tactics; A Transformation is strategy.
  • A Transaction follows standard operating procedures. A Transformation needs strategic guideline & policy.
  • A Transaction needs plans, budgets, and designs detail steps. A Transformation develops vision & strategies to achieve it.
  • A transaction is inside a box; A transformation might need work cross box.


So an effective leader needs to have both levels and styles of thinking, behaving and acting. Becoming a CIO or being given the CIO title requires technical and adaptive skills, just like any other c-level executive. It doesn’t mean we should say transactional is bad and transformation is good, in the absolute. Any c-level executive has to carry on a conversation in their discipline AND have discussions with their peers.

 However, the pace of changes in IT, would force more CIOs into transformation-oriented roles...creating business value is what is expected from CIOs. Further, from transactional manager to transformational leader, it takes thought leadership, transcendent wisdom and trans-disciplinary skill. And, transactional running the systems is going to shrink with cloud and digital technology, once IT is seen as strategic rather than tactical, IT can be transformational when opportunity arises and it is appropriate to seize it. Until then, the rest of the business will feel that if the transactional CIO is talking it’s because there are problems, not opportunities, and won’t want to listen.

 The CIO requires being confident to create and manage change and requires a leadership substance of vision & style that more closely matches the action-oriented style of senior executives and also has some of the analytic & synthetic qualities that are commonly associated with successful executives. The CIO must adopt the attitudes and styles of strategic leadership (transformational way), and also must be willing to engage in conversation with his/her staff on some occasions on details (transactional way) so the staff believes the CIO is not that far away from reality.

 As many organizations are at inflection point in digital transformation, the transformation-driven, effective CIOs can help orchestrate such change in organizational structure (vertical), working structure (horizontal) and social structure through the latest digital technology. It doesn’s mean transformational CIO is superior to transactional CIO in every perspective, and both attributes – transactional and transformative – are needed in a CIO otherwise you will either end up with static uncompetitive technology or with completely loose cannon who can throw the organization’s technology into turmoil.   

3. Five Attributes of Transformational CIOs  

Most CIOs are now managing IT delivery to multitude of business. And that means they play a transformational role of the organization per se. By 2020 not only will the technology transform but also the behaviors and attitudes of the new workforce will change dramatically. IT will not only be extremely embedded in all business operations, it will also be extremely hard to silo – like it is today. The skills that the workforce will need or would have acquired will be dramatically different from what we have today. 

The reach of the CIO and the IT organization offers a nearly unprecedented opportunity to take the lead in an organization – in the best sense of the word. It requires real vision, a sense of mission, an ability to foster a collaborative clarity of focus with clients – even when they are not clear, and willingness to go beyond being even a very high end service provider. Much is possible for transformational kind of CIO Leader. 

Transformational IT team must have five attributes: 

  • Alignment: IT and the business must be partners, must be able to finish each others’ sentences and feel like members of the same team; Governance – The most powerful process for creating a high level of understanding between business/functional areas and IT is governance. This is the “playground sandbox” where business/functional areas can explain what they are trying to accomplish, give a priority to the hundreds of initiatives that they are trying to under take, and IT can ask questions and explain their constraints. – Align the 5 P’s (People, Process, Product, Partner to realize the 5th P – Performance) 


  • ArchitectureIT must have an over-arching vision of what the firm is trying to achieve. The point of an architecture is to enable consistent choices when evaluating alternative designs (which design better fits the architecture?’). So start with the vision, define and agree the core values of IT and use this to create a shared focus. The CIO along with his/her IT architects and developers must know what the enterprise is trying to accomplish. 


  • Agility/Adaptability: The days of ‘waterfall’ development, inflexible specs, and long lead-times are long gone. New mantra for IT: better, faster cheaper, and doing more with innovation. In addition, there are any number of ways to promote better understanding of the business perspective, but they start with a will to change the mindset. Also measure wisely in order to lead more effectively, focus on key transformational area, doing a few things well to create business value, from shaping mindset, to measure result, transformation is a journey.


  • AttitudeCorporate culture plays a large role in hampering any CIO from affecting the change needed. Boards and executives understand and will verbally commit to the need for change, but when the meeting adjourns, it’s back to the status quo. Having good attitude to effectively, efficiently communicate. All good IT people are also evangelists and teachers; able to bring a human element to technology and make it less intimidating        


  • AbilityYou don’t get to play the Transformation game if IT isn’t transacting business well. IT governance structure & capability ensure there is strong and appropriate involvement by business managers in IT decision-making, it can also be a means of enhancing everyone’s grasp of IT strategic nature and so increase the CIO’s influence on the organization’s overall strategy. In any case, it should foster understanding on both sides and improve IT respect for business needs and priorities. Build a Good Team – CIOs must develop their people into professional, good communicators, customer service oriented, project management driven, risk reducing agents, innovators and all-in-all good people.


There are connections among Alignment, Architecture and Agility: If you don’t understand the business you can’t deliver relevant results except using slow, clumsy processes. If you don’t have Architecture, you can’t easily decide whether a business request maps to your technical capabilities, and Agility can result in chaos.

 If being transformational is leadership style, then, the leadership substance underneath is vision, effectiveness, and adaptability. In order for CIOs to be more proactive, influential, and transformational, forward-looking organizations should empower their IT leaders, invite them to big table, initiate in-depth conversation, set positive tone for IT’s stability and long term strategy.