Hindsight: What 7 IT leaders wish they had known early in their careers

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Ahh, the benefit of hindsight. Imagine how much time and energy we would've saved in our careers if we only knew in our 20s what we know now. To pay it forward to future IT leaders, we asked several CIOs and IT executives to share one thing they wish they had known before taking their first IT leadership role. Pass this on to anyone on your team who's looking to move up the leadership ladder. 

1. Don't sacrifice good for the sake of perfection

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"I think we ‘tilt at windmills’ when we’re younger. The world is very binary in our eyes. But the higher up you rise in an organization — especially when you get into management — you see there actually are an infinite number of shades of gray. So you have to be comfortable making decisions in the gray areas without perfect knowledge. I wish I had known that in my late twenties. I sometimes wish I could go back and say, 'Don’t sacrifice good for the sake of perfection.'"

- Jay Ferro is Chief Information Officer for the American Cancer Society


2. Technology has nothing on great people

John Marcante

"Looking back over my early career in IT, I wish I could have known more about how to get things done through people, as opposed to doing it through technology. You realize once you are in a leadership role that oftentimes technology is the easy part – but motivating people, building teams, leading them through change, and maximizing their effort – that’s the hard part. But there’s no getting around it anymore: if you’re going to retain the best and brightest people, this is a people job as much as it is a technology job."

John T. Marcante is Vanguard’s chief information officer and managing director of Vanguard’s Information Technology Division.

3. Treat peers equally

Andy Knauf

"I’ve actually been very fortunate as to how I grew up in my company. I was treated as a regular leader, I wasn’t treated as IT. When I was first starting out, IT was a lot different, I wasn’t the person sitting at the head table. I was really lucky about 7-8 years into my career I was offered to be in the leadership program with everybody else. I was treated as an equal."

-Andy Knauf, Director of IT and Vice President and Principal, Mead & Hunt


4. It's all about the people

Randy Franklin

"It would have been nice to have had a mentor to teach me about the importance of relationship building prior to going into IT leadership. It really helps to put focus on just how important the people side is. Too often we, as technology managers, promote people who are just really good with the technology, but as you climb higher on the ladder it becomes less about technology and more about people. The catch is, usually you don’t find that out until you are in a leadership role. It's then that you realize that you can beat the drum about technology all you want, but you’re falling on deaf ears if you don't figure out the people side and establish strong relationships with the business, etc."

- Randy Franklin, VP-CIO at Premier, Inc


5. Use grace when things go wrong

Joy Taylor

"Know that something will go wrong, just have plan to respond to it with diplomacy, options and always be transparent, always."

- Joy Taylor, CEO, TayganPoint




6. Early career mistakes are really just building blocks

Paul Brady

"Call me an optimist, but I see everything that I’ve learned throughout my career as a positive building block. I’m glad I didn’t know beforehand about many things, because learning experiences are important. I always joke that if the CIO thing doesn’t work out, I can join the circus and walk the tightrope. Did I know early in my career that I’d be constantly juggling multiple competing priorities, competing personalities, and competing business drivers? No. But I never would have learned that except by experiencing it.

One thing I’ve always stayed true to is a belief that if you work hard, treat people right, and have some good ideas, good things will happen to you. I also don’t ever want to achieve anything to the detriment of anybody else. I want to win, but I don’t ever want to win by someone losing."

- Paul Brady, CIO, Arbella Insurance


7. Work cross-functionally

Brian Beams

"When I started my career, the first thing I did was to say, 'I want to be on the business analyst side, because I want to really understand business first.' Nearly 30 years later, I think this mantra still holds. The only way you’re going be able to have meaningful interchange with others in your company is if they respect that you can talk their language.

As a football guy, I think of it like this: if you’re the quarterback you have to know what everybody should do on every play, at every position.  And at the end of the day, I do think that when it comes to process, we in IT are the people that really understand that.  Even if we’re a bit more like offensive coordinators rather than quarterbacks.

Today, if I were going to tell somebody going into a CIO job what to do first, it would be to really focus on what cross-functional means in your organization. Even today, as an IT guy, it’s still easy for me to fall into the infrastructure-side speak. Then you lose people because not everybody understands that."

- Brian Beams, VP, Corporate IT & Business Resilience, Pharmavite

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