4 soft skills leaders will need in 2022

CIOs and IT leaders will face myriad challenges in the new year, including hybrid work. Experts identify the most-needed soft skills you should cultivate
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The CIO role isn’t easy – and the transition to remote and hybrid workforces has made it even harder, creating new and often unforeseen challenges. Today’s CIO needs to have a full, 360-degree view of their organization so that they can spot inefficiencies and identify ways that new technology and infrastructure can streamline workflow. That challenge becomes exponentially harder when teams are dispersed.

To overcome new obstacles, CIOs are depending more and more on soft skills. By tapping into highly developed interpersonal abilities and communication tactics, CIOs and IT managers can stay integrated with their teams and retain the comprehensive view that is critical to success.

[ Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask. ]

4 key soft skills for leaders in 2022

We work with a number of instructors who teach and cultivate these skills, and we asked them which ones they feel are most important. Here’s what they said.

1. Patience

“Patience will be needed to find some clarity amid uncertainty,” says Dr. Annabel Beerel, a leadership and change management executive with Annabel Beerel consulting, working with senior executives. She explains that exhibiting patience can keep IT leaders from rushing into quick-fix answers when problems arise.

[ Want more insight on developing emotional intelligence? Read also: 10 books to build your people skills. ]

How many of us have worked for companies whose infrastructure was held together by the IT equivalent of band-aids and duct tape? That often results from an impulse to solve problems immediately, but not necessarily permanently. It can be especially easy to fall into this trap when you have a remote workforce driving what seems like a million little requests. Dr. Beerel advises that patience is the cure and is an invaluable skill to develop.

2. Empathic listening

Eldridge Gilbert III, Chief Schools Officer at Coney Island Prep and a Brooklyn–based DEI and leadership trainer, believes that empathic listening will be a critical skill for CIOs in 2022 and beyond.

“Empathic listening takes the habits of active listening and applies different questioning techniques,” he explains. “This allows you to enhance relationships with a stronger understanding of what is being conveyed, both intellectually and emotionally.”

Managing IT and company infrastructure requires a complete understanding of what company staff members need – their pain points and frustrations as well as their pie-in-the-sky wish lists. Important decisions can be made only after empathetic listening.

Trish Foster, a consultant and workshop facilitator, notes that the ability to hold and lead inclusive, authentic conversations is vital for leaders. Foster maintains that these skills are the most essential day-to-day tools to “…help create a caring, inclusive, psychologically safe culture – especially in a world where the boundaries between personal life and work have blurred.”

3. Storytelling

“It’s even more imperative that we find ways to get people to lean in and want to learn more."

Beth McCarthy, a Tufts University professor and consultant who helps organizations think through tough challenges, feels that storytelling will emerge as the most important soft skill next year. “I think this is largely due to the fact that we’re working in a mostly remote environment that is full of so much distraction,” she explains.

“It’s even more imperative that we find ways to get people to lean in and want to learn more. A good story can get us to buy into what someone else is saying and potentially take action/change a behavior.” Certainly, this is a critical skill for leaders who are trying to initiate major change on an almost daily basis.

4. A collaborative mindset

James Crader, a biobehavioral coach, educator, and facilitator, shared his view that a successful 2022 (and beyond) starts with a “collaborative mindset.” A collaborative mindset requires that all voices are heard, and contributions valued. To Crader, this is the benchmark of establishing a sense of safety and belonging in and out of the workplace.

“A collaborative mindset leads to a healthy nervous system, improved creativity, social interconnectedness, and ultimately, personal dignity,” he explains. “We are moving through unprecedented times. Legacy beliefs and practices often lack answers for facing an ever-changing and unknown future. Relying on diverse collaborations, especially intermixed with self-awareness and compassion, can be the answer.”

To meet the many challenges of 2022 and beyond, CIOs will need to tap into their existing soft skills and cultivate new ones. Solving many of the technology and infrastructure challenges that 2022 will bring requires our most human skill sets.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

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Jason Lavender is the Co-founder of Electives, a Boston-based corporate Learning & Development platform that empowers companies to build their own unique faculty and bring employees together through shared learning experiences.

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