9 tips: How IT leaders can build better relationships

CIOs from Hasbro, Monsanto, and more weigh in on their most important work relationships and how to nurture them
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For any CIO or IT leader, the work relationships you take the time to cultivate can have a make or break effect on your career. If an IT leader doesn't build trust and establish open lines of communication, the best-laid plans can quickly go awry. We asked CIOs what the most important relationship in their current role is and how they work to maintain it.

While we heard a variety of responses on which relationships matter most, the advice for how to nurture those connections proves valuable for any CIO or IT leader looking to boost their interpersonal skills. Read on for nine tips. 

1. Be a partner


Lee Congdon, CIO, Ellucian: “I maintain my relationship with our chief operating officer by being the IT business partner, essentially the service coordinator and strategist, for the COO. He and I not only have regular meetings, we make it a point to discuss a broad range of topics and issues – not just IT projects. I personally focus on trying to add business value for the enterprise, not simply to solve IT problems.”

2. Be transparent


Paul Brady, CIO, Arbella Insurance Group: “The relationship I have with my business partners is one of the most important for me to nurture and maintain. It’s all built on delivery, and meeting my commitments – that’s foundational to the relationship. But once you have that, you can further build the relationship on open and honest transparency and communication. Whether you’re sharing good news or bad news, you’ll maintain a positive relationship if you are open and truthful in all situations.”

3. Be truthful


Muthu Arumugham, SVP & CIO,  Financial and Risk Management Solutions, Fiserv: “You need to take care of your team; that’s really important. And then there are your superiors – e.g. CEO or President. And the third relationship is your customers. With all these relationships, it’s important that you be honest. You don’t always have to tell them what they want to hear. It’s important to be truthful; that’s how you gain respect.”

4. Be in constant communication


Jim Swanson, CIO, Monsanto: “Maintaining a positive relationship with our executive team, as well as the board, is key to my role. We’ve brought so much change into the company over the last two-and-a-half years that it can make people’s heads spin. And it’s never without pain; you can’t achieve this amount of change in such a short period of time without issues. So, it’s imperative that I keep the executive team and board abreast of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and progress we’re making along that journey.

Continual communication, both at the board and the executive levels, and having them as key sponsors and stakeholders is really critical, and it’s been one of the reasons why we’ve been able to accelerate so fast.”


5. Be OK with being wrong


Joe Kinsella, co-founder and CTO of CloudHealth Technologies: “One of the most important relationships, for me, is with our CEO. He’s my business partner. I view us as solving two halves of the same pie. I invest heavily in maintaining this relationship, which means there is two-way transparency between us. Either of us can be wrong at any given point in time, as long as we converge towards what the right decision is from a business perspective. Constant openness and collaboration is what has made our relationship work.”  

6. Be in the moment


James Noga, CIO, Partners Healthcare: “The most important relationship in my current role is the relationship in the moment. Whether I’m working with a team or with an executive, whether I’m talking to the CEO, or saying ‘hello’ to the environmental services worker, being in the moment is what matters. It’s the most important relationship on a continuous basis.”

7. Be engaged


Steve Zoltick, CIO, Hasbro: “My direct reports are extremely important to me, as well as the other senior management team members that lead the company. But, truthfully, there’s probably a million answers I could give because all the relationships I have are very important to me. To maintain them, I make sure we meet frequently, stay engaged, and I try to add value by listening to them. When I first started in my role, I was having one-on-ones with all the senior management team, my direct reports, and other folks in the organization to make sure that they knew that I was not just somebody that was going to sit in my office, but I was going to be extremely engaged. I never stopped having these meetings as I grew into my role. That’s worked for me.”

8. Be a team player


Kathy Kountze, CIO, Eversource Energy: “My relationship with my leadership team is critical to me. I have to trust that they’re on board in messaging what I want messaged, and they’re pushing my agenda throughout not just IT, but the rest of the business community, because I can’t be everywhere. I also need strong leadership to speak up when I’m making a mistake. We work as a team. I don’t want to feel like their boss; I want to feel like their partner and that we're all driving to the same goal.”

9. Be candid 


Don Anderson, CIO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston: “Since the very beginning, my most important relationship has always been with my team. These individuals strive to do their best and achieve the mission of the organization each day. Better than anyone else, team members on the front lines understand risks and problems – and most importantly – they identify key opportunities for improvement. I want them to know their ideas are heard; I am their partner and enjoy exploring possibilities and solutions alongside them each day.


I strive to maintain a candid relationship with as many people as possible so that we can openly express ideas and opinions, and frankly, so that they tell me when I am totally off base. I want them to recognize that they have as much power as anyone else in the organization to change the environment and influence the outcome.”

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.  

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