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9 Personal Skills You Should Hone

IT expertise can do only so much. You need to polish your personality to move up the ladder. Start with these.

Communicate Clearly

Experience shows that nothing beats open and clear communication. Take Mother Dairy's example. When the company was migrating to SAP, there was reluctance from some business users to migrate completely. They wanted to continue with some customized legacy modules, recalls Annie Mathew, CIO, Mother Dairy. "We put lot of effort in convincing everybody about the risks that would crop up if we took the easy way out. For instance, achieving just-in-time transactions for fruits and vegetables would be challenging considering their high perishability and the limited window available for transaction entry. We worked with the business to simplify and streamline transactions so that the entries were reflected in the system in real time.

But it needed multiple sessions with users to discuss their pain points and arrive at workable solutions. It is very important to keep the communication channels open."

Listen Better

Listening is probably one of the most under-rated skills among most CXOs. Worse, it's sometimes not even recognized as one, especially among family-run businesses. But Sebastian Joseph, executive VP and head-technology, Mudra Group, takes listening seriously. He uses what's called the 'ladder'approach, which is short for: Look at the person speaking to you, ask questions, do not interrupt, do not change the subject, empathize, respond.

Listening has helped Joseph save money for the advertising group. The company's printing team observed that if they could decrease the amount of paper used in telephone directory printing, they would be able to save money. The IT team tweaked the pagination system and increased the number of entries per column, which introduced huge savings in paper cost. "When we all looked at the numbers we saw an opportunity," says Joseph. But that conversation only took place because the IT team listened to what seemed like just another idea.

Know When to Say No

Right-sizing expectations is moving up on the list of must-have skills for CIOs. Sure, technology is breaking new ground everyday but there is a limit to what it can do and how much time it can be done. And that's something CIOs need to be able to tell their CXO peers. Learning to say no to business' unending expectations can be difficult but as a business leader CIO need to learn to put their feet down. "Saying no is always hard to do but a great way to get most of your high priority things done," says CIO columnist and former CIO of Xerox Patricia Wallington. Marketing IT internally is good, over-selling it, not so much. It's the CIOs responsibility to ensure that business has realistic expectations from IT.

Build Contacts

CIOs rely heavily on their peers for skills enhancement well as professional growth. And networking is a great way for the CIO career opportunities. But how can CIOs expand their circle of peers? Events is one way. Another is keeping in touch with former bosses and colleagues and reaching out to new ones can be facilitated by social networking sites like ryze.com, Spoke.com, or ecademy.com encourage real time interaction, helping real contact building.

Evaluate Risk

A greater number of IT leaders are moving closer to the CEO's cabin. But according to CIO Research, only 23 percent of Indian CIOs currently handle P&L responsibilities. This is a clear indication that CIOs need to hone their risk-taking abilities -- and their risk-evaluating skills -- if they want to be trusted by the management. Taking risks and innovating should be an integral part of any CXO's personality. But the first step is to be able to evalaute it and not just from the gut. The truth is few are born with the ability to evaluate risk and IT leaders need to learn the skill.

Hone Financial Acumen

With IT no longer a mysterious back-office, CIOs need to not only pay for themselves, but also rake in profits. When talking money, IT leaders need to be fluent in financial jargon. More often than not, business and business people are measured by what they achieve financially -- and growth is measured on a YoY or QoQ basis and profitability is gauged by EBIT margins or PAT. "Obviously that's a lot of jargon, so if a CIO doesn't understand how those measures are calculated, what factors move these measures in the right direction, and what he can do to improve these metrics, he will be at sea," says Prateek Agarwal, CFO, Hexaware Technologies.

Control Your Emotions

Professor of Organizational Behavior and an expert in emotional intelligence, Richard Boyatzis once said: "At its most basic, emotional intelligence is, literally, the intelligent use of emotions."

If only it was as simple as that.

But that's exactly what Ratnakar Nemani, CIO, VST, did and won the respect of his team members. When Nemani turned his in-house SAP team into a revenue-generating center, he was confronted with a slew of new challenges, he didn't have to face as CIO. Among those were irate customers. D. Naren Babu, a SAP consultant who reports to Nemani, remembers one high-pressure, client-facing situation, (which is all he is willing to divulge) in which Nemani's ability to show restraint came shining through. "He patiently handled all the accusations thrown at him. I was amazed at how cool and calm he was and how he came out a winner," he says.

Manage Your Time

When they said you can't negotiate with death and mothers, they forgot to add the number of hours in a day. But smart time management can increase your efficiency significantly. Start by making making to-do lists, prioritizing work, focusing on one thing at a time, and setting deadlines for yourself. Or you could take a leaf out of Ishita Sen's book. "I believe that you can manage to do a lot of work in a limited time if you organize your day well, sometimes even weeks and months in advance," says the VP and center-head of Reliance Tech Services. Another piece of advice that works for her? "There should not only be provision for a Plan A, but also a Plan B, so I don't get flustered at the last minute."

Mentor

Now, as it has always been, nurturing and mentoring the best IT talent needs to be near the top of CIO skills. Ensuring a constant dialogue with your team makes sure that high performing resources know they are valued. Identifying the best talent should be a constant endeavor, and singling them out to train them for a leadership role is a good retaining strategy. But mentoring the best talent has to be a gradual process, a structured activity. The mentoring activity should start by introducing the person to management roles, inviting them to strategy meetings and allow them to take independent decisions.


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