4 new IT leadership habits for the new year

In 2022, consider focusing your leadership development in these four areas - from continuous learning to active listening
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The new year offers a natural time to set new goals and build strong leadership habits that can help you achieve everything on your priority list for the year ahead. It’s also a good time to take a hard look at practices that are no longer serving you.

We asked CIOs who recently won the 2021 SoCal CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards what habits IT leaders should try to cultivate in the year ahead, and which they should leave behind. The awards were presented by the SoCal CIO Leadership Association, a professional community that annually recognizes CIOs for their excellence in technology leadership.

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Read on for four skills CIOs should hone in 2022.

Nurture continuous learners on your team - and be one yourself

Leadership CIO of the Year

Mary Gendron

Mary Gendron, SVP & CIO, Qualcomm: One of the most important habits to cultivate is continuous learning. Leaders must embed learning within their organizations so everyone is focused on enhancing their strengths, improving upon their weaknesses, and staying abreast of what’s new. Ways I like to embed learning include: leading by example, encouraging timely and regular feedback, requesting formalized development plans, supporting stretch and rotational assignments, capitalizing on the everyday teaching moments, sponsoring formal learning sessions, creating space for reflection and deep work, promoting mentor relationships, and rewarding learning.

If we look to be the most valuable experts in our field, to advance our organizations in the most significant way and to make a true impact on the world, we must always be looking for ways in which we can grow ourselves and our teams.

In line with forming new habits, leaders need to resist the habit of falling back into their comfort zones. IT is a constantly evolving area; CIOs need to move beyond evolving with the rest of the world and instead help drive change to bring added business value to the organizations in which they work.

[ Read also: How to build stronger teams in 2022: 10 must-read books ]

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Large Enterprise CIO of the Year

Todd Inlander

Todd Inlander, SVP, Information Technology and CIO, Southern California Edison: In order for us to continue to deliver value to our customers and continuously improve, I think it’s critical to embrace discomfort. If we don’t feel at least a bit uncomfortable and we forge ahead, we aren’t pushing ourselves enough to transform and adapt to our environment. This is particularly true in this pandemic environment that requires us to constantly shift and adapt.

Innovative technologies we work with like AI/ML, RPA, and predictive analytics, require us to take a hard look at our data and our processes and challenge ourselves to drive automation and continuously do better. We currently have a corporate initiative focused on gathering ideas across the company to challenge ourselves to work smarter and more efficiently. If we do it right, we’ll be a little uncomfortable along the way, but the outcome will be worth it.

Another behavior worth honing is our inclusivity. We must seek to understand people’s unique situations and diverse perspectives. At SCE we constantly anchor ourselves to our company values, and it’s making a difference. We see it in our results and that uplifts us and encourages us to stay on this path.

[ Want more on change management? Read How to hire change-ready people: 8 signs. ] 

Move employee experience to the top of your priority list

Enterprise CIO of the Year

Ted Ross

Ted Ross, CIO & General Manager, City of Los Angeles: Great leaders evolve. With the new year, we have a great opportunity to level up our management habits. For 2022, I will be focusing on employee experience and career paths for direct reports. Employees have choices. Our ability to engage, develop, and retain staff (during hybrid telework) must become a core competency.

An outdated habit to drop would be overreactivity. Adapting to change is the new norm. Take changes in stride, respond in the context of your company’s strategy or values, and have a periodic reassessment process to refine execution. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater will not be acceptable in 2022.

Be an active listener - and flexible enough to respond to diverse needs

Large Corporate CIO of the Year

Randi Levin

Randi Levin, CIO & Director of IT, NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory - Caltech: Leaders in 2022 need to cultivate effective listening and flexibility skills across their organizations. As more companies are moving toward hybrid work environments, it presents a critical moment for leaders to listen to their teams and customers to get a true sense of what they need to remain productive, and in doing so look to all levels of the organization, not just the executive/management branch; the best ideas may come from a surprising source. 

When solutions are identified, leaders need to demonstrate flexibility in balancing the needs of personnel with the organizational environment and help bring the ideas and concepts to fruition. Finally, it is imperative for any leader to embrace and participate in DEI (Diversity, equity, and inclusion) or DEIA (Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility) initiatives. DEI is not a catchphrase for the times; it is a real and substantive movement in the workplace, and now is the time to examine how you can help promote DEI to create a wholly inclusive environment.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

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.