True Adorning

If you were to ask this year’s Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader honorees to identify the skills that were most essential to them in achieving their goals, you’d probably be able to predict many of the top responses before you even posed the question. You might have guessed that “the ability to lead” would be No. 1 on the list of must-haves and that the honorees would also cite skills such as strategic thinking, diplomacy, business acumen and technological prowess.

You would likely find it no surprise, moreover, that No. 2 on the list is “the capacity to communicate.” What might not be so readily apparent or easily appreciated, however, is how the very best IT leaders communicate. But you won’t get very far into reading our Premier 100 special report before it hits you, and as you continue reading, you’ll see how recurrent that message is.

The message reminds me of one of my favorite quotations, an admonition that’s attributed to a 19th century Persian prophet: “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.”

It’s a sublime message, and one that’s communicated with remarkable consistency by our Premier 100 honorees. Yes, it’s important — crucial, in fact — to share ideas, specify goals, articulate strategies and build consensus. And yes, top-notch verbal and written communication skills are prerequisites for all of those activities. But it’s what IT leaders convey without uttering or penning a word — and likely without even thinking about it — that is really the hallmark of their capacity to communicate.

Ask Lynn Vogel, CIO of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston, about the importance of communication, and he may well cite the example of how the center communicated a new governance model through a three-step process involving formal presentations, group discussions and e-mails. Yet, as essential as such a process might be, it’s what Vogel and other IT leaders accomplish bytheir actions that lies at the heart of successful communication.

Anthony Cicco Jr., former CIO of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, conveys the message this way: “I tried to be on call for anyone who had an issue so nothing got hung up. Whenever you do that, people get energized and they know ‘This guy’s going to be here.’” His actions say it all.

Mark Hopkins, CIO of Academic and Community Hospitals at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, is “in the hospital at 3 a.m. to make sure a system works,” says Liz Concordia, a senior vice president at the center. There’s little that Hopkins could say or write that could communicate as much to his co-workers.

IT leaders’ deeds speak for them, and it’s what those deeds convey that gives CIOs what they need to effect positive change: influence.

Former Reynolds & Reynolds CIO Yen-Ping Shan speaks of IT now being “actually able to influence the business process and the business model.” Yahoo Inc. CIO Lars Rabbe notes that in IT, “more than in other areas, you manage more through influence than positional power.”

Gaining that influence, our Premier 100 IT Leaders find, can be rewarding in any number of ways.

“We can actually influence the job we’re in,” says Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo Passerini. “The dream job is not what the job is, but what we make it.”

When Vogel, Cicco, Hopkins, Shan, Rabbe, Passerini and the other 94 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders of 2007 are honored in March, a medal will bedeck each of them. But their deeds will always be their true adorning.

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.

See the complete 2007 Premier 100 IT Leaders special report.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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