Personal Lessons for CIOs

Larry Bonfante, Founder, CIO Bench Coach | 7/17/2013 | 20 comments

Larry Bonfante
One of the things about being in a leadership position is that life lessons constantly present themselves as both challenges and opportunities. Here are a few lessons that have helped shaped my thinking and my approach to leading as a CIO.

Never assume people understand the value of what you do. One of the most important jobs of a CIO is to raise awareness as to the tangible business value that technology is creating for your organization. Many of us were raised to believe that if we did a good job and kept our noses clean we would be recognized and rewarded. Baloney. You need to market the things your team is doing and educate your stakeholders on the value these efforts are bringing to your organization.

There was an old commercial for a now defunct airline that had a tagline that said, "We have to earn our wings every day." When you are a CIO, this tagline applies. You can rack up countless successes, but the first outage you have, people will cling to it like grapes to a vine. This makes it even more important to market the team's successes as they counter-balance the occasional operational challenge. You never really arrive as a CIO, you have to roll up your sleeves and earn your reputation day in and day out.

It's critical as CIO that people like you and want to work with you. More than any other discipline, people usually don't understand what we do and that lack of understanding can create discomfort and make people feel stupid. Nobody (especially executives) wants to feel uncomfortable or stupid. Therefore, you need to be easy to deal with, positive to be around, and be willing to educate and inform in a way that keeps egos intact and makes them feel comfortable asking you questions and working with you.

Words have power. My wife often tells me (I learn many leadership lessons from her) that it's not what you say, it's how you say it. This is also true regarding the body language and facial expressions you exhibit when speaking with people. Are you coming across as positive and constructive or do you sound and look annoyed, frustrated, and upset?

Don't take yourself too seriously. When you start to develop some success and some notoriety, it's very easy to start to read your press clippings and believe them! A wise man once told me that you're never as good as you think you are when things are going well and you're never as bad as you think you are when things are going poorly. Keep perspective and balance and never get too high or too low. Equilibrium is always a great goal for a CIO.

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stotheco   Personal Lessons for CIOs   8/2/2013 3:58:18 AM
Re: this is a tough one
Walk the talk, and you won't even have to do any more talking. Once people see your character and your discipline through you work, that will extend to their perception of you as a person also.
stotheco   Personal Lessons for CIOs   8/2/2013 3:55:32 AM
Re: Personal Lessons for CIOs
When you set out to do something or be something, then you should do so with the best of your ability. You also have to be someone of good moral with good ethics. These lessons are not just for CIOs as Sherly has said, but they are definitely valid for everyone in almost every field. Well done.
Henrisha   Personal Lessons for CIOs   8/1/2013 12:50:53 PM
Re: Personal Lessons for CIOs
Exaclty, @Kerstin. These 'lessons' and tips aren't just for CIOs. They're applicable and valid in almost all fields, and you can even apply this wisdom in your own personal life. I think the bottom line is you shouldn't think that you have to be certain way so that you'll get a raise or promotion. That just isn't a good enough motivation.
Henrisha   Personal Lessons for CIOs   8/1/2013 12:49:55 PM
Re: Re : Personal Lessons for CIOs
To a certain extent, I agree with you @SunitaT but it doesn't seem very fair to take all of the heat for unavoidable circumstances that are in no way your fault. That said, I do agree that there has to be some of this going on (office politics, so you can't escape it)... However, you have to be the one to make the judgement call. Those who are best at gauging this tend to be the best managers.
Kerstin Carson   Personal Lessons for CIOs   7/31/2013 7:13:08 AM
Re: Personal Lessons for CIOs
As another poster wrote, these are lessons for any professional. They'll make a person more marketable as an employee and more whole as a human being. Larry, I appreciate the idea of balance that comes through in this article. Acknowledging one's value while being aware of when to put oneself in check is as imperative in the workplace as it is after we punch out at the end of the day.
SunitaT   Personal Lessons for CIOs   7/29/2013 5:18:48 AM
Re : Personal Lessons for CIOs
Not all problems can be solved. When upper management complains about certain things that cannot be avoided, it is your job to take the heat. But what is more vital, it is your job to absorb the heat to keep it from reaching your subordinate.
Larry Bonfante   Personal Lessons for CIOs   7/27/2013 7:23:34 AM
Re: this is a tough one
A combination. When the opportunitiy does present itself gently remind people of IT's impact. Other times you have to explain the impact of IT through updates, newsletters and presentations.
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kstaron   Personal Lessons for CIOs   7/26/2013 7:07:22 PM
even keel
I like the line that you are never as good as you think you are when things are going good nor as bad as you think when they are going bad. Live by that and you can minimize the lows surrounding negative events.

How have you best been able to help people appreciate your role?
Sara Peters   Personal Lessons for CIOs   7/20/2013 12:23:01 PM
Re: this is a tough one
@Larry Do you find that opportunities to state the value of IT naturally present themselves often enough, or do you have to create them?
Sara Peters   Personal Lessons for CIOs   7/20/2013 12:15:31 PM
Re: this is a tough one
I recognize your value Dave!
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