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Mark Settle, CIO of Okta

By Peter High, published on Forbes
2/6/17

Perhaps no one has as many chief information officer roles at as many big, brand-name organizations as Mark Settle. He has been the CIO of Oxy, Arrow Electronics, Corporate Express, BMC Software, IHS, and now Okta. Settle also has a PhD (in Geological Studies from Brown University), and at his roots has an analytical mind that strives to understand the essence of disciplines. It should be no surprise that he has memorialized all that he has learned, passing along important lessons to his peers in his book The Truth from the Trenches: A Practical Guide to the Art of IT Management.

The book does an effective job of articulating the yin and yang nature of the CIO role. For instance, he talks about the need for CIOs to be good managers but that it is even more important that they be great leaders, defining the differences in each attribute. He also indicates that financial acumen is a building block to getting the invitation to take responsibility for innovation. He worries that CIOs often believe that strong technical understanding and management is sufficient, not realizing that developing social bonds with one’s colleagues inside and outside of IT can make or break one’s experience. He shares these details and many others in this interview.

Peter High: Congratulations on a terrific book – The Truth from the Trenches: A Practical Guide to the Art of IT Management. You have an unusual amount of experience with big companies, and multiple companies, as a chief information officer. What was your inspiration for taking time out to think about the important lessons that you would advise other CIOs to live and learn?

Mark Settle: Not only have I done this job in many different industries and companies, but I have an extensive network of contacts and peers who have done the job as well. It is kind of shocking how many mistakes are made repeatedly. It does not have anything to do with what the current technology of the day is – whether we are talking about cloud computing or ERP systems. It does not have to do with the size of the company or the extent of its international operations. The chronic failings of most IT organizations are almost always systemic or endemic. They shoot themselves in the foot in so many common ways repeatedly. Part of [my motivation] was to tell some stories and have an oral tradition of things to watch out for and to avoid, and trying to pass the lessons learned to the next generations of leaders. There is an element of personal therapy as well. This is not me stepping back objectively and critiquing what others have done wrong. It is, in part, a confession of some of the mistakes I have made. It is stunning how many ways we can create problems for ourselves that are predictable in nature. We hide behind a lot of jargon. If other functions in a company were privy to some of the failings in process and leadership and talent management and accountability that are pervasive in many organizations, they would be shocked because they think of IT as being a very sophisticated functional area.

High: One of the things I really liked was your discussion about the dichotomy between leadership versus management. What are your own thoughts about leadership versus management and the role that each one plays?

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