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CEOs are Not Always CIOs

April 1, 2011

As technology plays an ever-increasing role in our lives and in businesses, CEOs are expected to navigate the virtual business world as expertly as they navigate the physical one. But make no mistake: The CEO should not be the CIO (chief information officer).

The extent to which an executive is involved with the technology side of a business varies depending on the industry, but one fact remains true across all industries: The CEO is there to run the business, not the Twitter account.

A few years back, we interviewed a CEO job candidate who didn’t even write his own e-mail. When the board wanted to know why, his response was simple: It wasn’t worth his time. Once or twice a day, he would dictate to his assistant responses to important e-mails, freeing himself up to manage the organization. He understood that boards pay executives to make big decisions, leading the company forward. This understanding is supported by a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review that found that “technical and functional expertise matters less at the top than business acumen and ‘soft’ leadership skills.”

Just think about how often we get bogged down in our own lives responding to e-mails or updating social media sites. Technology has been a blessing in allowing us faster communication and distribution, but also a curse in providing unending distractions. A key trait of a successful CEO is the ability to prioritize, which means that executive decisions should come before technological ones. Incidentally, the candidate who didn’t write his own e-mails was hired by the board and went on to become a very successful CEO at the company.

REALTOR® AEs are not your typical CEOs

Of course, no executive should be technologically ignorant—this is doubly true in the real estate industry. In our experience, while most CEOs don’t have to be too tech-savvy to be successful, REALTOR® AEs tend to be the exception when it comes to staying on top of the latest tech innovations. Because REALTORS® are early adopters of technology—from social media to the latest and fastest gadgets—AEs have to keep in step with members. In part, that means being able to update and improve member services using the newest technology.

We recently completed a search for the CEO of a real estate data firm that provides one of the largest, most advanced MLS services. The job required a candidate who was capable at both business leadership and technical know-how. In this case, dictating one’s e-mail was not an option. The business skills still come first, but the ability to understand and use the newest technology is an increasingly important trait for association executives.

Of course, no one person can do it all. That’s why the ability to hire competent and skilled workers is perhaps one of the most valuable skills an executive can possess. Other skills, including technological experience and use, tend to be industry specific. Although expectations of CEOs’ technological literacy will always be increasing, just remember: The smart phone does not make the CEO, but the CEO makes the business.

---Leonard Pfeiffer heads Leonard Pfeiffer & Co., a national executive search firm. He can be reached at 202-737-6327 or BD@pfeiffercompany.com.