Some CIOs have risen through the technical ranks to reach their current positions. Increasingly, many are moving into the CIO role from business backgrounds. But regardless of the path taken, most successful CIOs have managed to scale the career ladder not solely as a result of their technical or business acumen but also thanks to their mastery of soft skills, including communication, collaboration, conflict resolution, and coaching.
Just as CIOs need to continually develop their leadership skills and business knowledge, it’s critical for IT leaders to persistently cultivate their soft skills. Great leaders continuously strive to improve their ability to listen, communicate, and mentor staffers. They also demonstrate these leadership traits along with their ability to brainstorm with their executive peers. Soft skills are a key set of capabilities that enable CIOs to elevate their careers to the next level.
Indeed, soft skills are critical for career advancement in the eyes of decision-makers. According to a study conducted by Northeastern University, 60% of business leaders rank critical thinking, communication skills, and problem solving as more important than job-specific skills for new hires.
Besides, CIOs who have mastered their use of soft skills are able to see for themselves how effective it can be at motivating employees, driving higher levels or productivity, and fostering teamwork that generate greater engagement and improved performance.
There are several ways that CIOs can continue to improve their communication skills. One of the challenges that all leaders encounter periodically is making decisions or comments about a situation when emotions are running high. Gathering the facts or all of the obtainable information before communicating with staff is always advisable since it demonstrates that a decision wasn’t a knee-jerk emotional reaction and that the CIO gave ample time to reflect on the situation before taking action.
Another way for a CIO to gauge his or her communications effectiveness is by sharing their style with a trusted colleague. A trusted executive or manager is likely to share how they would approach a certain situation or ensure that they’re establishing clear expectations. It’s also good practice to ask employees for their feedback periodically on how they view you as a communicator and whether there are steps you can take to improve the lines of communication. Of course, direct reports may not always be candid but it’s worth asking as it demonstrates your interest in improving communications.
Sometimes, it’s just as important to listen to what employees are not saying. For instance, when staff doesn’t respond to a decision you’ve made or an opinion you’ve expressed, the CIO has to work to find out how employees feel about it and whether their sentiment represents a potential snag to the action plan.
There are also steps that CIOs can take to foster collaboration more effectively. For instance, when working with a team on a project, ask open ended questions that are intended to incite feedback from employees. It’s also a great way of demonstrating that you value their opinions. Also, once a project has been started, be sure to include team members in the planning process. This is an effective way of keeping team members engaged and to encourage greater participation.
As a senior leader, CIOs have experience in addressing conflicts. Although this may be part of your modus operandi, when a conflict arises between two employees, be sure to understand each person’s point of view and how they arrived at it before making a decision.
As someone who has risen through the ranks and held different supervisory positions, the CIO also has a fair amount of experience in coaching junior staffers. Still, senior employees also need and often want mentoring, so it’s just as important for the CIO to offer guidance here. Partner with senior employees to help them to develop their goals and identify stretch goals that allow each employee to strive toward building new skills that can offer new responsibilities.
What are some additional ways that CIOs can continue to develop their soft skills? Please join the HMG Strategy network to share your advice and insights.