10 CIOs share advice on career development

Just starting out in your career, or feeling stuck in a rut? CIOs share the career lessons that got them to where they are today
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CIO as Digital Leader

Whether just starting out on our professional journey or many years in, we all face hurdles in our careers. When the going gets tough, it can be helpful to have core values and guiding principles to lean back on. 

Recently, finalists in the 2022 National CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards each shared a piece of advice they had collected over their careers. We’ve rounded up the 10 best quotes on career development below. Read on, or download the complete quote book for advice on leadership, soft skills, career development, strategy, and more. 

10 guiding principles for career development

Borrow this wisdom to get to the next step in your career journey.

Lean into possibility thinking and the power of words

Kristy Simonette

Kristy Simonette, SVP of Strategic Services, CIO, Camden Property Trust: I attended an executive challenge program that was pivotal for my career. I learned about “possibility thinking” and the “power of the word.” I cannot pick one over the other mainly because they are intertwined; both concepts have been instrumental in my professional success.

First, possibility thinking. Embracing this concept means I do not limit my options by what I know. It gives me the freedom to think BIG, see possibilities, and not limitations. Since learning about possibility thinking, I have developed a muscle to help me see the future state without knowing how to make it happen – yet.

Next, the power of the word. Words shape action, create energy, and make things happen. You have to say it (put it out there) to make it a reality. Grab ahold of what you say, commit to it, and manage it into existence.

I specifically remember getting this advice and how I put it into action. I first told a co-worker that I wanted to be Camden’s CIO; it set the wheels in motion. I was mentored and developed to rise to the occasion and was proud to be named Camden’s CIO within a few short years of joining the company.

Word, in addition to work, creates change and innovation. Creating a breakthrough environment with possibility thinking is an investment for growing a high-performance team. Managing the integrity of what you say, your word, and then standing for it leads to innovation, creativity, and possibilities.

Small acts can have big impact

Anita Klopfenstein

Anita Klopfenstein, CIO, Little Caesars Enterprise – Ilitch Owned Companies: I grew up in a poor household. I wasn’t considered very smart and quite frankly, the concept of going to college was never in the cards. In a freshman speech class, we had to give a speech about ourselves. Afterward, the speech teacher, Mr. Siefert, gave me a piece of paper that stated, “Great job! Come talk to me about the speech team.”

That one act ignited an enduring flame of hope and confidence. It was the first time I had been told I was good at anything. I joined the speech team and many other teams. I loved learning and I was the first person in my family to attend and complete college.

I still have his note and when I have moments of self-doubt, I read it to remind me of the incredible life adventure I have been living.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

John Lambeth

John Lambeth, EVP & CIO, Maximus: Always remember that there is someone out there who, in their own life, has some experience or wisdom that is greater than your own. Discover what that special something is and remember it. The next time a complex problem comes up, forget individual heroics, humbly lean on that person, and solve the problem in a fraction of the time.

[ Related read: IT leadership: 6 questions mentors should ask mentees ]

Cris Ross

Seek out important problems and good people

Cris Ross, CIO, Mayo Clinic: A boss long ago advised me to seek out important problems and good people. That advice has never failed me.

[ Also read 3 E’s of effective leadership. ]

Look for opportunity in chaos

Daryl Maraj

Darryl Maraj, CTO, GA Telesis, Digital Innovation Group: One of my early bosses and mentor, Marcia Waite, saw my frustration one day while working on multiple ill-planned conversion processes for the university. She politely calmed me down and gave me a small piece of advice that has helped me grow my career tremendously. Marcia said there’s always opportunity in chaos – rather than run from it, embrace it because it is the best way to develop and showcase your skills and expertise.

Marcia also emphasized that active listening was an important component of finding opportunity in chaos, making a conscious effort to understand the other party’s point of view.

Later in my career, another one of my great mentors, Kimberly Gramm, turned me on to the value of trust and helped me understand relationships founded in trust allow for better communications, easier collaboration, faster decisions, and ultimately swifter results.

I used the first lesson to accelerate my career and the second to build amazing long-term relationships, break barriers, and deliver amazing results.

Tara Long

Step out of your comfort zone

Tara Long, Head of Technology, MMUS (MassMutual United States) MassMutual: Some memorable advice I received throughout my career that still guides me today is to remain focused on continuous growth and learning, intentionally pushing myself into new experiences and purposely leaning into discomfort. I always try to keep that advice at the forefront, especially when I am taking on a new role or responsibilities.

When I’m feeling uncomfortable, I remind myself that is the feeling of growth as I stretch myself, which keeps me sharp and focused, broadens my skillset and capabilities, and ultimately keeps me relevant.

Another piece of advice I always try to follow is to surround myself with the best, brightest, most diverse, and inclusive team members. You can have a diverse team, but if you don’t establish and sustain an inclusive environment, you can’t draw upon the power of that diversity. That is something I take to heart, and I always try to build diverse and inclusive teams to harness the power of different experiences and perspectives to deliver exceptional results.

Last but not least is to make sure that I always make time to do things that I enjoy and get fulfillment from. We spend so much time at work, and we can take our success to another level when we are doing things that we are passionate about and enjoy.

Sharon Kennedy-Vickers

Work for leaders who care about individual team members

Sharon Kennedy Vickers, CIO; Director, Office of Technology & Communications, City of Saint Paul: As a child growing up, my parents modeled the power of being in service to others. Working on our family farm, I saw the power of individuals working collectively to meet each other’s needs in order to accomplish great things together.

Guided by this example, I found myself drawn to leaders who exhibit the same people-centered mindset. I’ve observed that leaders who are focused on caring for one another and who value the individuals on their teams often achieve excellence.

As I became a leader, I tried to model this people-first mindset as well. I believe being centered and focused on people – the people you serve and the people who you are serving alongside – makes the work you do worthwhile. I work alongside my team members and ensure they feel valued and cared for, which results in amazing outcomes.

Curt Carver

Act as a mentor

Dr. Curt Carver, VP & CIO, University of Alabama at Birmingham: My first 28 years of professional life was as a soldier and Army officer. I was told to do everything I can for the soldiers under my care. I could do no more and they deserved no less.

As I transitioned to lead technology organizations at universities, I have striven to follow that advice and do everything I could to mentor and develop my employees. They are the future of technology leadership.

After more than forty years of public service, my greatest achievement and greatest source of pride are these future leaders who will change the world for decades to come. If I did it the right way, they will embrace that people are our most precious resource and continue to mentor and develop future leaders to achieve extraordinary results.

Melanie Kalmar

Always set the bar high

Melanie Kalmar, Corporate VP, CIO, CDO, Dow, Inc: I will never forget the day a leader came into my office and asked whether I wanted the good news or the bad news first. The good news was that I was getting assigned to a major project that came with a lot of travel. It was a huge opportunity with new challenges and much more responsibilities. I won’t go as far as to say it was a dream job, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity.

And then came the other shoe. In this moment of great excitement and recognition, this same leader – in the same conversation – told me that this was probably as high as I would get in the company and that I should get comfortable at that level.

After a few moments of shock, frustration, and disappointment, I harnessed my motivation to prove him wrong. And of course, as I sit here today in the role of Chief Information Officer and Chief Digital Officer for Dow, I most certainly did just that.

While this wasn’t something I would classify as advice, it’s something I’ve carried with me as a leader ever since. Those words changed my entire outlook on leadership. What this “advice” taught me is that I’ll never tell someone they can’t do something. As a leader, I always set the bar high and see what the team is capable of. Chances are, they’ll surprise you … but more importantly, they’ll probably surprise themselves, too.

Michael Zahigian

Discover what motivates you

Michael Zahigian, SVP & CIO, Amgen: Master yourself first. Discover what motivates you, and what drives you. Once you’ve got that squared away, it’s much easier to help other people.

[ Leading CIOs are reimagining the nature of work while strengthening organizational resilience. Learn 4 key digital transformation leadership priorities in a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. ]

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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