Brian Watson is a veteran IT industry observer and expert who has contributed to the Midsized Enterprise Summit events in recent years. Currently, he is Co-Head of CIO Networks at Metis Strategy, a Washington, DC-based management consulting firm that provides strategic advisory services to CIOs and other functional leaders.  As a consultant, author and reporter, he has conducted interviews with many enterprise-level CIOs and midmarket IT leaders. In an email interview, he generously shared some relevant stories and insights, to help midmarket CIOs.

Has the death of the CIO been greatly exaggerated? The midmarket CIO appears alive and well.

“Greatly exaggerated” is probably an understatement. There are certainly exceptions, but I have seen little evidence that many of the gloom-and-doom predictions about the CIO role are coming true. We heard that CMOs would take over the IT budget. We heard Chief Digital Officers would spring up like weeds, and subsequently overthrow the CIO’s authority. That hasn’t happened either, at least not in any critical mass. I’m seeing the opposite. On the enterprise side, more and more CIOs are taking on additional functional responsibilities and joining public boards, which are dramatic indicators of the role’s importance — as well as the caliber of people serving in CIO roles today.

Tell us what impresses you most about midsized company CIOs.

I was honored to be chosen as a speaker at MES West 2015 and MES East 2016. I was very impressed by the insights many midmarket CIOs shared with me. A veteran midmarket IT leader told me, “I don’t talk to my executive committee about technology.” That is the same thing I am hearing from large-company CIOs. There has been a shift in recent years away from the technology-focused CIO to one that focuses on business needs and outcomes. From what I have seen, midmarket CIOs are communicating that in clear and observant ways, focusing more on how technology delivers value to their businesses than on particular technologies or technology trends.

It seems peer advice is more important than ever. What is driving this trend?

As I often say, it’s lonely at the top. CIOs are in charge of an area that is less mature than every other corporate function, and in some ways, it shows. Unfortunately, CIOs have limited options to connect with their peers on a substantive level.

What do you see as the most successful traits of CIOs —  whether they are in the enterprise or midmarket space?

Leadership is a big umbrella topic, so I’ll point out one: anticipation. Great leaders — in IT or outside of IT — are able to see through trends, data, market forces and other factors to anticipate what their business needs, and when, often well before it is needed.

Character is one of my favorite areas, and self-awareness is probably my favorite trait to see. Self-aware leaders, despite their success and longevity, are constantly reflecting on past experiences, challenges, and even mistakes to keep themselves centered and focused on improvement. Humility is a subset of this, and another critical trait.

For business acumen, decisiveness is critical. Not everyone is comfortable making tough decisions, but real leaders are able to rise above the emotion and choose wise paths.

Have you ever seen a period so volatile or fast paced as we are in now?

I haven’t seen anything like this before, and many of my colleagues with longer tenures in the IT leadership arena say the same. The pace of technology innovation has skyrocketed in recent years. Likewise, the pace of demands from the business has sped up dramatically. Add in the onslaught of disruptive companies in practically all industries, not to mention global economic uncertainty, and you get a very volatile and challenging business environment. These factors put CIOs in some challenging situations — but they also present some phenomenal opportunities for CIOs to find creative ways to bring more value to their companies through IT and help guide them to future success.