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New CIO Asks: Is Schmoozing With the Business Side Required?

A new CIO asks: Can I still be an IT geek, or must I schmooze with the business side?

"I'm a new CIO, and my predecessor helped groom me to take his place. He and I have very different styles. I'm an IT geek; he has an MBA. He used to have dinner with the CEO and his wife; I don't want to schmooze with my boss. So, on one hand, I have a better relationship with the IT department than my predecessor did. But on the other, the business side appears to have trusted him more. Should I try to be more like my predecessor?"

Our expert panel weighs in:

Kim Batson, Career Management, Sammamish, Wash.
First thought: In your new role, you need to adopt a new mind-set: Connecting is the operative word here; it's critical for success at this level.
Best advice: Don't try to be your predecessor but reach out to the CEO and other executives to build these relationships.
Next step: Schedule individual lunch meetings with executives and get to know them in a personal and a professional way. Ask questions about their interests, families and career history. Ask how IT can better serve them. You'll learn a lot and build a connection that serves you over time.

Renee Arrington, Pearson Partners International Inc., Dallas
First thought: Your professional growth as a CIO is just beginning. Stay true to the skills that won you the position and learn new ones.
Best advice: Use your own style to build trust with the business; otherwise your CIO career will be short-lived.
Next step: Schedule time with other executives on a regular basis; it doesn't have to be during dinner. Understand the company strategy, and articulate how IT can contribute. Then deliver on those commitments.

Jean Fuller, Fuller Coaching Woodside, Calif.
First thought: Learn to translate rather than fake it. (When Americans go to Japan, for example, they use common courtesy so as not to offend but don't try to change who they are.)
Best advice: You goal should be to expand on the competing strengths at play here. You want to emphasize what you and your CEO bring to the table.
Next step: Pick key communication opportunities, and practice your ideal business style. I'd also suggest the book People Styles at Work, Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better by Robert Bolton and Dorothy Bolton.

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