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IT Career Roadmap: It takes a village to 'raise' a CIO

Sharon Florentine | March 22, 2017
Lawrence Williams will be the first to admit he hasn’t gotten this far in his career on his own -- his relationships with mentors have helped to inspire, motivate and drive him along the way. As a project manager in Chicago early in his career, his mentor was the CTO of the Chicago Board of Trade, who inspired him to further his education and take his career to a different level.

But just as important are leadership skills; specifically emotional intelligence says Kate Bezrukova, Ph.D., associate professor of organization and human resources in the University at Buffalo School of Management.

“You need to be really good at leadership and negotiation, especially with people who are different from you. You have to be able to create a great environment and maintain great relationships with your peers, your direct reports and your superiors without stepping on toes or hurting people’s feelings and at the same time be able to influence people. That’s where empathy and emotional intelligence comes in,” Bezrukova says.

She adds that EQ (Emotional-Intelligence Quotient), leadership and an ability to influence others are skills that are difficult to come by innately, which is why many CIOs have an MBA or an executive MBA (EMBA); courses through University at Buffalo in the school of management include organizational behavior, business strategy and organizational psychology to help hone those skills in MBA and EMBA candidates, along with courses in marketing, sales, technology skills and general business strategy.

“There aren’t that many people who are naturally good at managing others, so if you have that skill, it’s a major boon. Oftentimes, CIOs come from engineering backgrounds, which has less emphasis on leadership and management, so an MBA or EMBA is a great competitive advantage in the job market, because those leadership skills are eminently trainable,” she says.


The importance of EQ

Williams says he always thought he understood the importance of empathy and EQ in a C-level role, especially since it was a major focus area emphasized by one of his mentors, but it was brought home to him during an exchange with a supervisor shortly after his father passed away.

“In the aftermath of my father’s death, I was teaching at a university; it was the end of the semester and the academic year, and I was supposed to be finishing up grading -- of course, my father had died. I was trying to cope with that and juggle all the academic and professional responsibilities, too, so I emailed my students, my peers and my supervisors and explained the situation and asked for a little bit more time to handle everything. One particular person replied, ‘Keep your chin up. So, when exactly can I expect those grades?’ and I was just floored. Shocked at the lack of empathy and the lack of any kind of support or offer to help -- I realized then that was not the kind of leader I wanted to be,” Williams says.

While many see technology as a cold, efficient, “win at all costs” industry and stories abound of brutal, punishing corporate cultures and a “show no mercy” or “command and control” management style, Williams has always taken the opposite approach in leadership roles, and believes his teams and his direct reports respect him more and are more productive because of it.


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