Are You “Fit” to Be a CIO?


By Beverly Lieberman


What makes a person fit to be a CIO?  CEO’s and CFO’s who hire CIO’s generally answer “experience”.  They seek candidates who have similar industry experience, come out of companies of comparable /or larger in size, have strong technology, planning and  financial management experience, have a “vision,” leadership skills and a demonstrated ability to build an effective team. Educational credentials are usually required as well.


While all the above are important, an often unstated but vitally important element in the selection of successful candidates is their perceived mental and physical “fitness” for taking on the key assignment. Senior executive positions are difficult. They require long hours, intense focus, lots of travel, challenging business obstacles to deal with, etc. All of this causes mental and physical stress with its associated wear and tear.


While all agree that it is not appropriate to select candidates based on physical impressions, the winning candidate often has the  “image” of energy, drive and the ability to withstand the workload. In the recruiting process, the senior executives involved are curious to learn if the candidate has a routine work-out program, plays tennis, jogs, golfs, etc. Of course, an executive’s physical appearance gets noticed right away. While it is not legally appropriate that a candidate get turned down because of physical attributes, the leaders of Fortune 500 companies most often possess “executive bearing,” which implies an advantage to being physically fit and not significantly over-weight.


Is physical appearance/fitness widely considered an indicator of potential success? While none of us want to admit it, the answer is a resounding “yes.” We have historically looked up to people who are “tall and slim.”  Just think about it for a moment.  Look at the example of U.S. Presidents: JKF, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and the George Bushes. These men were/are all about 6' tall and trim. While talented executives will not all have the benefit of the perfect physical appearance, it is important to make a conscious effort to maximize your physical impact. This includes managing your physical fitness, your weight and paying close attention to your wardrobe in order to package yourself for success.


Hand in hand with physical fitness goes emotional and psychological fitness. The ability to focus, handle pressure, deal with complexity and ambiguity and multiple demands all cause stress. How does an executive deal with these issues? Many top executives have learned to use some of the following techniques:



Some executives make use of a coach or mentor. Some seek support, discretely, from psychologists. No matter which technique works best, it is imperative to utilize some resources to help minimize or relieve the stress.


There is a major theme today that will become increasingly prominent in the years ahead-- it is “work/life balance.” The most advanced corporations have initiated Human Resource programs that promote this goal and help teach employees ways to achieve balance. These corporations are discovering the benefits of increased human performance and preservation of critical human resources.


In order to attract the best candidates, top executives and top executives should embrace the benefits of work and life balance and not only be supportive, but willing to act as role models. Young and middle age executives no longer plan to work 12 to16 hours a day on an ongoing basis in order to advance their careers. Many executives are opting out of this. Some are even turning down promotions and relocations preferring flex hours and more time with their families. Creating a culture of fitness and performance will give a CIO and his/her department an edge over those that focus on traditional methods.


We need to acknowledge that, in addition to experience, health and fitness are important elements to getting the “big job”. They are also critical elements in the success of an executive and the organization he or she leads. So, if you are not on a fitness for success program, get one started. It’s a major factor in your success, your company’s success and your family’s success.


About the Author

Beverly Lieberman is President of Halbrecht Lieberman Associates, Inc., an internationally recognized executive search firm. She is also a sought after speaker on information technology management issues. Ms. Lieberman has successfully managed searches for communications, healthcare, high technology, management consulting, manufacturing, financial services, and retail companies. Executive Recruiter News recently honored her as one of the 50 leading retained search professionals, and The Career Makers heralded her one of the nation’s top recruiters. For more information, call 203-222-4890 or visit