You don’t need to coach your team on technology. Rather, coach them on communication, strategy, the business, personal performance, teamwork, dealing with conflict, and leadership.
I was blessed in my career to have leaders that were willing to invest their time to make me a better professional and a better person. I look back on these people with the deepest admiration and gratitude.
I often said that we observe others and often see what not to do. It’s a rare and precious experience to see someone who we actually want to mimic.
We, as leaders, owe it to our team members to do everything possible to help them. The number one job of an executive is to build a strong team. The number one job of the human being in the executive role is to make each person on that team stronger.
Coaching IT Professionals
Irv Citrenbaum was my director of software development when I was a young programmer. Through Irv, I learned how to set clear expectations for my teams and how to show appreciation for their efforts. He also taught me the importance of trusting the team members and knowing how to recover from mistakes.
Mike Cole was the most loyal executive I ever worked for. He backed our team every minute of every day. We knew he had our backs, and we were willing to march into any battle for him. As a result, we developed an amazing team that achieved more than anyone thought possible.
And John McLane, a consultant that helped our team for a couple of years, taught me about leadership, the “right” way to break the rules, and tenacity.
Note that none of these have anything to do with technology. These are skills that universities don’t necessarily teach computer science majors, like how dentists aren’t taught to run a business, even though that’s what most of them must do.
Some Do’s and Don’ts
Today, the CIO role is about vision and leadership, much more than technical prowess. Nobody should be expecting the CIO to coach IT on technical issues. Rather, the CIO should be coaching individuals and teams on communication, strategy, the business, personal performance, teamwork, dealing with conflict, and leadership.
As I’ve written and spoken about numerous times, IT “earns” the opportunity to transform businesses by developing trust, credibility, and respect. It is imperative that the entire IT organization understand the business, be aligned around a common IT vision, and that every team member be able to articulate the IT strategy.
Similarly, it is important for IT to execute with complete transparency. Measure continuous improvement and share it with the rest of the business. Track project progress and ROI, and share those across the business.
Also, coach people on their performance plans that should always be aligned with the IT strategy and metrics. Help them with the inevitable conflict resolution. Teach them how to deal with their customers, external and internal, and how to show empathy and always be professional.
Be sure that your team can speak to these items. It’s amazing how much trust, credibility, and respect emerge from water cooler conversations between IT staff and others across the business. But it only works when IT can communicate in terms that are meaningful to the business.
One of the most important and challenging roles of the CIO is to help each member of the IT team communicate topics that are critical to the business and to do so in language that everyone understands. These skills not only help IT, but they are crucial in the development of each individual team member. And isn’t that what leadership is all about? Remember, these are not about technology. This is coaching that the non-technical CIO should, and must, excel at.
I’ve often been asked what I’m most proud of in my career. I’m able to quickly answer that I’m most proud of the dozens of my former team members that have grown into C-level positions. These are incredibly talented people. But I’d like to think that I’ve given them some guidance and coaching along the way that helped propel their careers. Just like Irv, Mike, and John did for me. And that’s what I hope you do for your teams.
The final topic of the Leadership Guide for the Non-Technical CIO will be supporting the entire business with effective communication. Stay tuned for that article next week.
I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with many of our readers and encourage you to continue to reach out. Email Emily@WolffStrategy.com and she’ll be happy to schedule a call with me.
Larry Wolff is the founder & CEO of Wolff Strategy Partners, a boutique consulting firm specializing in Enterprise Strategy Management and Digital Transformation. Larry has served as CEO, COO, CIO, CTO, chief digital officer, and management consultant for public, private, international, and emerging growth companies. His specialties include corporate and IT strategic planning, technology led business transformation, business and IT turnarounds, merger integration and large-scale project rescues. His methodologies span industries and scale to companies of all sizes.
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