7 skills CIOs say are core to their jobs

From self-awareness to time management, IT leaders share which non-tech skills have had an impact on their careers
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Soft skills, like emotional intelligence, empathy, and communication, often set great leaders apart from the rest. These traits may come naturally to a lucky few, but most people need to be intentional in building and continually improving these skills.

We recently asked CIOs how they have worked to develop their soft skills throughout their career – and which ones have been the most beneficial in their role. Here’s what they had to say.


Pal Narayanan

Pal Narayanan, EVP & CIO of the Americas Region, GEODIS: I try to live by Maya Angelou’s famous quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Oftentimes, the human component in IT is unfortunately overlooked. To me, it’s important to lead with heart and soul to help our IT team feel recognized, heard, and valued as integral members of our company – which they are. We foster strong collaborative communication, roundtable feedback discussions, and coaching and training opportunities for employees at all levels with senior leaders.

Self-awareness is a soft skill that has assisted greatly in my personal development in IT. It has helped me become more empathetic toward each teammate's cultural and individual differences, so we can best work together and meet our goals. Ultimately, prioritizing self-awareness ladders back to my mantra of leading with heart and soul.

[ Read also: The new CEO: Chief Empathy Officer ]

Relationship and trust building

Robert Mills

Robert Mills, EVP, Digital, Strategy & Technology Officer, Tractor Supply Company: Today’s technology leaders are a critical part of running any business and have been awarded a seat at the table to partner and drive progress. This requires that IT leaders not only understand the technology and the industry as they have in the past but also the value of building strong relationships and trust in the organization.

To build these relationships and trust, I have significantly focused on listening and understanding different points of view. With business partners, this allows you to truly understand the business problems being brought to the team to solve and dig below the surface to ensure you provide robust solutions for the customer. This instills trust and confidence in the group.

Equally important is listening to your team members, truly understanding the work they are engaged in and why it matters. When the team understands the end goal, it drives empowerment that leads to innovation and efficiency. It allows the team to contribute to the company’s success by being a part of the solution, not just executing against a predefined plan.

Listening and time management

Keith Perry

Keith Perry, SVP & CIO, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: Throughout my career journey, I have found some of these abilities came naturally while most required deliberate sharpening on my part. This was not always easy, but looking back, I now see how they shaped me into a more empathetic individual.

The soft skill that has been the most beneficial is active listening, as it is foundational to others. By truly listening, you allow yourself to be a better teammate and problem-solver. Another instrumental soft skill was learning to manage and prioritize my time. Other abilities, including communication and strategic thinking, build off the competency to effectively manage one’s time.

[ Related read: Most-wanted soft skills for IT pros: CIOs share their recruiting tips. ]

Adaptability and analytical skills

Phil Crawford

Phil Crawford, CTO, CKE Restaurants: Soft skills are foundational aspects for IT leaders since we mesh and interact with various team members at all levels within the organization. As a leader, I lean on two soft skills that require continual conditioning – adaptability and analytical skills.

Being adaptable and flexible to ongoing changes and transitions while supporting and collaborating with my team members has been key to my success. I also continually analyze and evaluate processes and procedures, which helps me make solid strategic decisions. To keep my soft skills sharp, I’m continuously learning through professional education (seminars, classes, and readings), mentoring (learning from peers), and emersion (practicing and evolving).

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

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.