Seven Essential Ingredients for Leadership

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Page 7
Page 7 of 14

4. The Art of Diplomacy

The best way to develop diplomatic skills is by observing others.

By Mary K. Pratt

As executive sponsor of an upcoming merger, Debra Sleigh had to execute plans for bringing newly acquired offices into her California-based company.

Sleigh's initial strategy was to go into those Midwest offices with her plan on how things would happen. But her mentor suggested that she step back and first consider the ?uman aspect -- who would report to whom, how often they would communicate and other factors.

Debra Sleigh

Debra Sleigh

Image Credit: Seth Joel

She took that lesson in diplomacy to heart. Now Sleigh, vice president and CIO of clinical applications at Sutter Health, a Sacramento-based nonprofit organization of hospitals and physician groups, puts the art of diplomacy high on the list of skills needed by IT executives. "The true diplomat is the person who can make a situation amenable," she says. "It's an extraordinary intuitive skill, but you can develop it."

As the IT profession has continued to mature, IT workers have had to develop competencies in areas that have nothing to do with actual technology. They need leadership abilities, business acumen and, yes, even a knack for diplomacy. But colleges generally don't offer Diplomacy 101, which means many IT people enter the workforce without understanding this age-old art. Not to worry. Even though today's IT leaders see diplomacy as an essential skill, they admit that they, too, had to cultivate it.

"It's definitely attainable," says Bryan M. Sastokas, director of information services, strategy and architecture at Universal Service Administrative Co. in Washington. "But it's not something that will just happen on its own. You really have to plan it."

Top IT leaders say a mentor can be one of the best means of learning diplomacy. Those mentors can be within IT, in other departments or even outside the business.

Barry L. Shuler says his first mentor in diplomacy was his father, who would cite the old saying "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." "It doesn't mean you give up on your principles. It just means you have to project that you have the other person's best interests at heart," says Shuler, now senior vice president of IT strategy and chief technology officer at Marriott International Inc. in Bethesda, Md.

What It Takes

Rick King, former CTO of Thomson Legal & Regulatory and now executive vice president and chief operating officer at Thomson North American Legal, has a great diplomat on staff. King says that person can sit down with anyone anywhere and break down issues to arrive at a solution that the technical people can execute and the business people are happy with.

"I've said to myself, 'How do I develop more people like him?'" King says. The answer: by sending other workers to watch how this diplomat listens carefully, influences and persuades.

But observation is only one way to learn, Sastokas says. He recommends books and courses on negotiation and coalition-building. He also recommends building up confidence in public speaking -- another critical component of diplomacy. Likewise, Ken Lehman, group director of shared services operations at Northrop Grumman Corp. in Los Angeles, recommends training in negotiations, communication and client relations -- all of which help build a better understanding of other people.

Diplomacy: How to Soak Up the Skill
  • Seek out mentors and role models who can provide insight into your diplomatic strengths and weaknesses.
  • Develop empathy. The ability to understand others' viewpoints is a linchpin for good diplomacy.
  • Read up on related topics, specifically sales and negotiations. Recommended authors include Napoleon Hill and Zig Ziglar. One suggested title is Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Penguin, 1991), by Roger Fisher, William L. Ury and Bruce Patton.
  • Get out from behind your desk. "Diplomacy is the business of building relationships," says Dale W. Meyerrose, associate director of national intelligence and CIO at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Page 7
Page 7 of 14
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon