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Why the CIO Should Heed Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits

by Chris Curran on August 7, 2012 [email] [twitter]

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Steven Covey, author of the highly acclaimed management book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” passed away recently. I’m dedicating a post to him because his book and teachings were memorable during my early management training and his simple, but profound principles are particularly timely for CIOs today.

When I look back at Covey’s legacy, two overarching themes come to mind: working effectively with others and time management. Both are interrelated and incredibly relevant to CIOs whose services touch every employee and impact their efforts to collaborate and be more productive. Given the complex organizational climate, these themes are also important to the CIO herself as she continues to prioritize her valuable time in forging relationships within and outside of the enterprise.

Mastering the Art of Interdependence

Executives and employees across silos are contributing their voices more than ever to decisions about which technologies should be tapped and why. Covey’s guidance on mastering the art of interdependence is worth a fresh look as CIOs broaden their outreach into all aspects of the business.

Most CIOs I know want to create conditions where the organizations can fully reap the rewards of technology deployments. Covey referred to this as a “win-win” and stressed the importance of striving for “mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships.” However, too many times management doesn’t seek the CIO’s advice before procuring technology.

Why is IT overlooked as rogue technologies are rolled out? One of the reasons is that IT leaders are so strapped for time that they don’t get enough personal relationship building with their peers and leaders in the field.

Making Time to Make Friends

Covey’s Time Management Matrix is spot on. We tend to focus on what is urgent while neglecting what is important. Cultivating relationships is often sidelined because CIOs are centered on putting out fires rather than sowing seeds.

Recently, I asked the CTO at a financial services company how often he sat down and met with the Chief Strategy Officer, who was responsible for the business roadmap. He confessed that he never scheduled any time with the CSO outside of regular staff meetings. You simply can’t develop a relationship if you only interact with individuals at fire drill and leadership meetings. These meetings aren’t conductive for building the relationships that will be necessary for the CTO to impact technology deployments.

On the flipside, I know a CIO who understands exactly what it takes to position himself as a trusted partner. Every quarter he invites a different business unit leader to an IT-related leadership roundtable discussion or conference, outside the office, where leaders from other companies gather to discuss the challenges and opportunities they face. Venturing on this eye-opening outings has enabled this CIO to develop a rapport with business heads across the company away from the “urgent but not important” noise.

Leading through Listening

Covey’s habit, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood,” is essential as CIOs find themselves sharing the head of a table with various executives. Covey said, “Use empathic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.”

Typically, there are two types of leaders. One leader listens with an open mind and asks thoughtful questions before offering opinions. The other leader dominates meetings with ideas and assumptions. I was fortunate to have a mentor, early on in my career, who stressed the importance of leading by listening.  At first, I thought “this guy doesn’t know anything…all he does is ask questions.” Later, I realized that not only does question-asking provide more time to build context but it also builds trust as you show that you are interested in your colleague’s perspectives.

Covey also said, “How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us and keeping this picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most.” This is sage advice for CIOs who are undergoing a tremendous amount of change.

Did Covey influence you? How is he still shaping your decisions today?

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