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Succession: A CIO’s Guide to Setting up Your Perfect Finale

If Logan Roy had read this article, there wouldn’t have been enough storyline for four seasons of award-winning drama.


For every master, there must be a protégé. Succession is both necessary and important. The problem for CIOs is identifying which individuals and personal attributes will be needed during the business’s next phase of growth or transformation.

So, how do you pinpoint the best candidates to succeed you when the role itself is fraught with so much change? We asked our own CIO, Tanium’s Erik Gaston, to share his wisdom and experiences as both a business leader and former management protégé.

What has he learnt about being a great CIO? How does he nurture talent? Let’s find out.

What does the next ‘Erik’ look like?

Ha-ha. Well, that’s a dubious question right from the off! In my experience, you’re looking for people who will break the mould, not fit into it. A lot of it has to do with your hiring strategies as a CIO. I have always sought to hire strong A players, with the intention that one or more of them may be my successor and will likely kick me out of my seat one day. This is healthy both for the CIO to stay on their game, and for the organization to drive overall success. Succession planning is flawed from the get-go if you attempt to make Russian dolls. If we’re talking about CIOs, then you need people who work well with ambiguity and are naturally predisposed to change … a lot of it! They are likely to go through several iterations of their role over the course of a career as they reinvent themselves. So, you want individuals who are natural leaders, not managers, who can anticipate change and adapt their abilities or mindset to suit what’s needed during each cycle and bring people along in executing their vision.

Does every CIO need a protégé?

The simple answer is, “yes”, but the idea of a singular mentor and protégé relationship is too narrow. You need to build up a cohort of would-be successors – all with diverse strengths and skillsets. This means being across multiple lines of business – not just scouring or headhunting in the IT domain. The next generation of CIOs are just as likely to come from a business school or management academy background rather than from technical disciplines like networking, cybersecurity, and data science. They will see themselves as architects of change. They won’t be limited by a job description. They also need to speak business language and look at technology assets as business assets that drive revenue and growth, not just as a cost of doing business.

How do you nurture talent?

In sport, they say the best ability is availability. I think I’ve learned that being visible, present, and approachable is really important in my management career. I have never been in the business of telling people who they should and should not talk to. As a leader, it’s all about being authentic and, at times, vulnerable. You need to build trust. It’s not always about telling people the answers and what to do, but more about asking the right questions so they can figure it out on their own. Mentoring is a chess game and it’s within the scope of both the mentor and the protégé to focus their efforts on a given task or objective with minimal noise or distraction. Once a trusted relationship is established, that’s when the good stuff happens!

Isn’t that extremely time-consuming?

Yes. And that’s why you need to really focus on quality conversations and interfaces. I find that listening is really important. So is being precise with your advice, intentions, and expectations. You also need to resist the temptation to solve the ‘thing’ for them. Yes, you drop down ladders and leave breadcrumbs behind, but you can’t escape the need for people to self-learn and achieve things independently. Top talent is always capable of coming up with great ideas, so I try not to rob people of the time they need to put in.

How do you know when you’ve got a natural successor on your hands?

Hopefully, there isn’t just one! I think if you work in a large organization, especially in the technology field, you’re going to need a roster of candidates as I’ve said before. People move jobs more quickly than they did. Businesses and customers shift strategies quite often, especially when times are challenging. This is all a recipe for uncertainty, so a good succession plan takes account of that and spreads the odds. But to answer the question more directly, I always knew I had a potential successor when I started to see more of that person’s ideas being executed than mine as they turned into capable leaders with a vision of their own. Leadership is not just about ideas. It’s about building a following.

How do you feel about being succeeded one day?

Early in my career, I had a great mentor. He taught me to hire strong to ensure that I am always growing in my career. The reality of any job is that one day, you will not be there and someone else will be taking your place. Your responsibility as a leader is to ensure they are equipped to do the job better and more efficiently than you! Businesses need to go through a process of renewal, and it applies to all walks of life. That’s why it’s so gratifying to see promotions from within. It’s a clear sign of a healthy business culture and, I think, deep down every CIO would prefer that outcome. You want to pass on the baton, not have it picked up after being dropped.

Do you think a boss and a mentor should be different people?

Well, a mentor doesn’t need to be a boss. But a boss does need to be a mentor. In your early years, people like me would take counsel and leadership from superiors in the IT domain, but that’s all changed now. Mentorship schemes tend to occur across lines of business, and I think that’s mutually beneficial. You get to see into other people’s worlds and hopefully understand what they are up against, what motivates them, and so forth. For a CIO, those are invaluable insights that go beyond mentorship itself.

You’re the writer of the hit TV show, Succession. Which one of Logan Roy’s children gets the top job?
Well, that really is a Hobson’s Choice! The only character who I think has the intelligence and grit to take over is Shiv Roy. As the old saying goes, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, but in the case of Succession, it doesn’t seem to be the case. I would probably find an apple from another tree if I were Logan Roy!

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Erik Gaston

Erik Gaston is a CIO, VP of Global Executive Engagement at Tanium. He's spent most of his career as a CIO/CTO, leading large global organizations on Wall Street and in the tech and SaaS space.

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