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IT leadership tenets: How to become a relationship-driven CIO

Executive coach Michelle Lederman schooled the audience at SIMposium 2016 on the three leadership tenets of the relationship-driven executive.

IT leaders worried about talent retention, employee disengagement and declining employee loyalty should take a...

look in the mirror, executive coach Michelle Lederman told a roomful of senior IT leaders at the recent SIMposium 2016 conference.

"Guess what -- it's all your fault," Lederman said. "The No. 1 reason year over year that people report as the reason that we are having all these problems, is the boss. 'I'm leaving because I don't like you; I can't work with you; we are just not getting along.'" 

The bad-boss syndrome comes at a cost. Statistics from the Bureau of National Affairs show U.S. organizations lose $11 billion annually due to employee turnover, said Lederman, who suggested a solution for reducing turnover and increasing employee engagement: IT leaders should work at building relationships and becoming relationship-driven leaders. The No. 1 driver of employee engagement with work is the belief by employees that their manager cares about them, she stressed.

"When we have relationship, we have engagement; when we have engagement, we have productivity; and when we have productivity, that goes straight to our bottom line," she said.

To drive home her point about the importance of becoming a relationship-driven leader, Lederman asked attendees to think about a boss who got the most out of them and why that happened. In the examples cited by the audience, it became clear leadership traits such as readiness to build a personal connection, trusting and empowering team members, and willingness to partner were of key importance.

"When people get that relationship-driven leader connection ... they go, 'I will do anything for them, whatever they ask,' and they work harder," she said.

1. Leadership tenets: Authenticity

Becoming a relationship-driven leader starts with authenticity, Lederman said.

"Approach your teams, your conversations with authenticity. And when you feel that you don't have that wall between you and the other people you are working with, that's when you start building trust," she said.

Being your authentic self often does not always come naturally at work, where there are many competing agendas. To help achieve this, she suggested IT leaders divide their tasks into four categories: "Get to, want to, should do and have to." Get tos are tasks that excite them, as in, "I can't wait to get to this;" want tos are those tasks they choose to do; have tos are tasks they dread, but need to be done; and should dos are those they feel compelled to do, but don't want to do.

The have to and should do tasks are challenging, and IT leaders need to figure out a way to bring their authentic selves while performing such tasks, she said. Another option is to reframe such tasks by finding a new angle that would make them want to do such tasks, she suggested.

When a should do task is such that they simply cannot bring their authentic selves to it, then leaders need to think about deleting the task. She gave the example of having dinner with her two rambunctious young sons every night, a should do activity that -- after many frenetic, food-on-the-floor meals -- she finally realized she could not bring her authentic self to. "I don't have to have dinner with my kids every night, and I don't feel guilty about it anymore," she said.  

2. Leadership tenets: Transparency

One of the top drivers of employee job satisfaction is workers feel they are in the loop on things, Lederman said. As transparent leaders, CIOs should let employees know how their work contributes to company goals and how it affects the bottom line. Transparent leadership spurs employee engagement by promoting an honest exchange of information and keeping team members updated on developments, she said. 

Lederman cited a Gallup study that found organizations with engaged employees have a 90% better growth trend and outperform their business competitors by 147% in earnings per share.

Transparent leaders value feedback from their team members and appreciate the different voices within their team, she said. Transparent leaders also do not assume the worst about employee motivations.  People who work for a boss who assumes their intentions are good are more likely to work together toward achieving a common goal, she said.

Providing feedback to team members is critical, but a nuanced approach is required when it comes to disseminating information, Lederman said. Information with purpose builds trust, so instead of berating team members for their mistakes, leaders should help them focus on the lessons learned from those mistakes.

3. Leadership tenets: Vulnerability

Projecting an air of invincibility is not the right approach when it comes to building connections, according to Lederman. Employees are more likely to feel loyal toward leaders who don't mask their imperfections, she said.

"Vulnerability leads to credibility," she said. "Teach people all the mistakes that you have ever made."

Be consistent

All of these IT leadership tenets, however, mean nothing without consistency, Lederman emphasized. When leaders develop a reputation for being consistent in their words and actions, team members will trust in their ability to lead effectively.

"Trust is hard to build and easy to break, and consistency is the place it breaks the fastest," she said.

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