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Career Watch

May 10, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Q&A: Mary Finlay

Title: Deputy CIO

Company: Partners HealthCare System Inc., Boston

What she does: Heads IT for a group of 10 hospitals employing a total of 1,100 IT professionals. A 2001 graduate of the Society for Information Management's Regional Leadership Forum, Finlay is a firm believer in the critical importance of the soft skills the forum focuses on. Since the RLF was launched in 1992, more than 1,200 IT professionals have graduated and many of them are now CIOs at top organizations, including Cigna Corp. and Sharp Electronics Corp.

How do SIM's Regional Leadership Forums work? A forum meets every six weeks for two days, over a period of about eight months. Throughout that time, we read about 35 books focused on a range of topics. Speakers come in to facilitate peer-to-peer discussions. The main purpose of the forum is to take a holistic view of leadership. You spend very little time talking about technology. It's more about the skills you need as an IT leader, which range from thinking about IT governance and measuring value to negotiations and softer skills, such as building relationships with the executive team, communications and professional networking.

Mary Finlay, deputy CIO at Partners HealthCare System Inc.
Mary Finlay, deputy CIO at Partners HealthCare System Inc.

In such a tight economy, has the emphasis on soft skills for IT personnel fallen off somewhat? There has been a greater emphasis lately on how to do more with less, and there has been more of a demand for financial skills and the ability to deal with regulators. But at the end of the day, if you're in an IT senior-level position, you have to be able to get up in front of a room of people and sell ideas and negotiate for what's important. I haven't seen that go by the wayside.

How about managing people? What an IT person wants from a manager is to know that the manager cares about their success and professional development. At the bare minimum, I have my directors ask all of their reports what they want to do next and how the director can help them get there. That question should be integral to ongoing discussions with direct reports. If a person feels a manager doesn't care about them as a person and a professional, that person will leave the company.

What do you consider the most important nontechnical skills that IT leaders should develop? Relationship skills, including how to build relationships with your functional counterparts and others on the executive team, and communications skills. You need to write well and speak well. One of the things they had us do in the Regional Leadership Forum is prepare and give our "elevator speech." That's the speech you give when the CEO gets in the elevator and you have three minutes to convey what you're doing. Always have that elevator speech in your back pocket.
—Julia King

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