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CTOs, don't neglect the C-suite

John McAndrew | Oct. 1, 2013
Chief technology officers can't be all about technology. Building trust with the rest of the C-suite should be a top goal.

Perhaps the most important non-technical skill that every CTO needs is the ability to communicate effectively. I'm a strong advocate of regular one-on-one meetings with C-level colleagues — mine are weekly or every other week — to address needs and goals, while finding opportunities to mix in brainstorming topics now and then. Discuss where the company is headed with every member of the C-suite, observe any internal challenges or technology limitations, and ask as many questions as possible. Their answers build your relationship. Focus on the needs of the organization as a way to build this relationship. Then, talk about what your C-suite peers are trying to change within the organization and how they can leverage talents to position themselves as agents of change.

Think about what constitutes effective communication, though. When you're among your own team, it's appropriate to draw on your years of deep technical knowledge, but your colleagues don't necessarily want to hear about technical details. They care about results. As CTO, you're the bridge between IT and the rest of the organization, and you need to communicate in the language used outside of IT. Let's say that you have concerns about the security of improvements to manage the use of mobile devices and clouds. You have to reassure your colleagues about the security measures you are taking and the safeguards you're implementing, but do it without getting mired in the techie particulars. Leave the jargon and the in-the-weeds details for your own department — they enjoy it.

Finally, it is essential that you know your business's business. As a member of the C-suite, you're expected to come up with ideas, but they have to be ideas that fit and serve the business. Innovation for its own sake will be viewed skeptically. If your ideas are going to benefit the business, they must be born from listening to your peers. Only then will expectations be met and ROI realized. Letting the organization know you're listening — and acting on it — builds trust.

Finding the perfect balance between cultivating trust, maintaining lines of communication and ensuring consistent follow-through will put you on track to help achieve the organization's vision. And that is what ultimately will define a successful CTO.


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