Right Message, Wrong Audience – CIOs are People Who Need People

I read an article on CIO.com that got me riled up.  The article, Relationships:  CIOs are People Who Need People, talks about how important it is for CIOs to build relationships with stakeholders.  This was based on a meeting of the CIO Executive Council members who discussed best practices for relationship building.

It wasn’t the message that got me excited; clearly CIOs need to build relationships.  In fact, the article basically described many of the relationship management approaches and techniques that we have talked about here on this blog.  This includes things like:

  • Identifying your important stakeholder relationships
  • Meeting individually with each of your important stakeholders
  • Building your relationship skills like communicating, collaborating, listening without being defensive, and being flexible
  • Ongoing relationship-building as an integral part of your job

The article even talks about a "Relationship Template" that sounds very similar to the stakeholder management tool we use in our EQ workshops for project managers and IT professionals.

What got me excited was the idea that they wrote this for CIOs.  Of course CIOs need relationship building and other emotional intelligence competencies.  You can’t get the top technical job in a real company without those skills.  Does anyone think that individuals can progress in their career all the way to CIO without having these skills?  What, they get the job then all of a sudden they need to start building relationships?  I don’t think it is is possible.  I mean, the only way I can imagine that someone can become a CIO without these skills would be if their dad owned the company.

One of the CIOs quoted in the article was a perfect example of why you can’t wait to become a CIO to develop relationship skills.  Tom Langston of SSM Health Care Systems acknowledged that it was his relationships with the COO and the SVP of HR that got him the job as CIO.  I think the fact that he had no prior IT experience shows the relative importance of relationship skills to technical experience.   

And that is my beef.  The CIO Executive council is focused on the wrong audience.  They shouldn’t focus on CIOs; it’s too late for them.  If you got to be a CIO without emotional intelligence then you should probably thank your lucky stars and quietly get busy boning up on those important skills. 

CIOs should be focused more strategically on helping the up and coming IT professionals in the IT department.  They should be stressing the importance of relationship building skills and emotional intelligence.  It is those aspiring IT professionals who need to learn that being effective is more than just laying down quality Java code.  If they want to be CIO some day, these IT professionals need to learn to build effective relationships, empathize with their customers and stakeholders, and exercise control over their own emotions.  They need relationships and emotional intelligence more than technical skills, as Tom Langston’s experience clearly demonstrates.

It’s the right message but I think they are speaking to the wrong audience. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts – Anthony Mersino

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