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3 overlooked management skills I wish I’d developed sooner
As the pace of technology change accelerates, there’s a strong tendency for chief information officers to expend great energy worrying that their skill sets are constantly on the brink of obsolescence. While it’s a fair concern to ponder, I’d also say that for most IT leaders, that worry is largely misplaced. As I reflect on the technology waves of the previous 20 years, I’ve come to realize that staying technically current is an innate skill of most IT leaders. We learn. We experiment. We gain insight. It’s in the genes of IT leaders to remain technically competent. It’s who we are.
Instead, I’d argue that the keys to a CIO's long-term success often lie in distinguishing themselves through less obvious, less technical skills. In particular, there are three overlooked core management skills I wish I had developed sooner in my career – skills that are not usually taught or specifically valued as one moves up the IT career ladder.
1. Corporate Finance. This is the language of the CEO. It’s how your company is measured by the investment community, so it’s crucial for you to know what financial measures matter most. If you want a seat at the table as a trusted executive, don’t discuss WAN, VoIP or SaaS. Instead, be proficient in their acronyms, like ROIC, NPV, EPS and EBIDTA. It’s very common to progress in your IT career without mastering corporate finance skills. But ultimately it will be career-limiting.
2. Change Management. Don’t consider this a “soft” skill. It’s not mysterious, and it’s not optional. We as innovators are often the “canary in the coal mine” for our companies, continuously testing our company’s ability to change. Mastering change management skills will dramatically reduce the odds of tripping on the well-trodden path of failed projects. There are frameworks available to develop and apply this very real skill — to create a compelling vision for change, achieve quick wins, build political support, and market your successes.
3. Negotiation Skills. We’re so quick to value scarce technology skills in demand at any given moment in a technology’s adoption curve. But those demands are transitory, lessening over time as technologies mature. Negotiation skills are different. They’re timeless and therefore among the most valuable of leadership skills. Most CIOs will spend over 50 percent of their budget based on the terms of negotiated contracts – for hardware, software, networks or professional services. How much training have you received in order to prepare yourself for these needle-moving negotiations? The stakes are high and the skills are real. It’s an uncomfortable skill to master, but the payback is rich. Maybe career-changing. For those looking to master negotiation skills, there are classes, frameworks and thought leaders that are worth an investment.
IT leaders who master these skills are more likely to get hired, more likely to get promoted, and more likely to have a seat at the executive table. While technology skills are necessary for success, they’re not sufficient. These three skills are more scarce and more valuable.
I wish I’d have learned them sooner.
Peter Weis has over 15 years of global CIO experience, and is currently VP and CIO of Matson Navigation, a $2B, publicly traded, global transportation and logistics company (NYSE: MATX). At Matson, Peter leads a global IT organization that is responsible for strategy, software development, infrastructure, high-availability operations and all levels of IT governance. Peter's leadership track record spans both start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. Most recently he led Matson’s successful multi-year IT transformation that refreshed Matson’s entire applications portfolio, re-built the IT Services organization, implemented a fully virtualized architecture and installed an enterprise-wide IT governance program. This strategy’s success has enabled business growth, lowered costs and eliminated significant technology risks. In 2015, Matson was ranked as the #1 ocean transportation provider in the world, both in overall service and in information technology, for the second year in a row.