We’ve all heard it the stereotypes about young leaders. They tend be more “more energetic and innovative” than their older counterparts, but are lacking in “management skills and balanced judgment” (Inc.com). And get its worse: they “know they are not ready for leadership, but want it anyway” (Forbes). With these types of perceptions floating around, it can be a lot for a young CIO to overcome. But what we found in interviewing four CIOs is that overcoming obstacles (and disproving assumptions) is all part of the job. In this interview, we spoke with Bryan Bliven, David Chou, Joey Hobbs, and Anna Turman about the challenges they faced when assuming the CIO role; the strategies they used to establish themselves as leaders; what characteristics are necessary in younger leaders; and what they’ve learned from their older counterparts. They also reveal the tough conversations they’ve had to initiate, the importance of work-life balance, and how the CIO role is evolving.
- 4 paths to CIO
- Youth vs experience — “You could be young and still have decision-making skills.”
- Bringing in “fresh ideas”
- Think globally — “Understanding the business is a big key component for all future CIOs.”
- The ever-evolving learning curve
- From interim to full-time CIO — “Show me you’re doing the role.”
- “I had to be really a good listener.”
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When you’re growing through the business, you understand the global perspective, and so you’re not just thought of as IT. They also see you as having a global opinion.
That’s a big differentiator, I would say, in terms of my knowledge versus some of the other folks who have only been in IT, where I actually understand the entire picture of a healthcare operation.
By being willing to build that network of your peers and leaders in the other areas, it provides a great base for knowledge that you can learn from. I really relied on those relationships as I progressed.
It was a necessity for me to get the CHIME certification, as much for myself as to be able to show the organization that CHIME is the standard body and that’s the only certification out there to show that you know what you’re going to need to do within this role.
The question was what does it take and how can I prove the relevance of the role and work from the ground up — a lot of research, a lot of time and building relationships, and understanding the processes.
Gamble: Hi guys, thank you so much for all taking the time. It should be really interesting discussion. To give our readers and listeners a little bit of background information, if you could just do a quick introduction by stating your name and then giving a brief overview of your organization just to let everyone know who you are. Bryan, we’ll start with you.
Bliven: Hi, thanks for the invite. I’m Bryan Bliven. I’m the Chief Information Officer at the University of Missouri Healthcare. We’re an academic medical center in the middle of the state of Missouri. We have a five-hospital system with approximately 57 ambulatory locations spread throughout mid Missouri.
Chou: Hi, I’m David Chou, I’m the Chief Information Officer for the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Similar to Bryan, we are an academic medical center. We are the only academic medical center in the state. We have over seven hospitals and about 30-plus clinics, and what makes us unique is that we have a consolidated model. I have direct responsibilities for all healthcare verticals — higher education and the research vertical.
Hobbs: Hi, I’m Joey Hobbs, the Community Hospital Anderson CIO. We’re a single hospital, 207 beds, and we also own and operate five nursing homes. We’re an affiliate of the Community Health Network within Indianapolis, where our single hospital is located about 30 minutes northeast of Indianapolis.
Turman: Hi, I’m Anna Turman with Chadron Community Hospital. I’m the CIO as well as the COO. We’re a critical access hospital located in the northwest part of Nebraska. We’re small, but mighty. We also have long-term care assisted living, many community clinics and rural health clinics, as well as home health hospice and much more. We are 53 miles from the next critical access hospital and 100 miles from the next largest hospital.
Gamble: Okay. Let’s give kind of a brief overview of how long you’ve been at your organization and the path that took you to the CIO role, just to further lay that groundwork. Bryan, can you start with this?
Bliven: Sure, absolutely. I’ve been in the healthcare for about five years, in my current position for about two years. Prior to that, I onboarded as director of applications and operations for the IT department. I was first named Interim CIO prior to be named the permanent.
Chou: Hi, this is David. I’ve been in my current role at the University of Mississippi Medical Center for a little bit over a year and a half. I’ve been in healthcare for 13-plus years, primarily in the healthcare space. So this is my first venture into the academic side managing students and research, in addition to the medical center.
Hobbs: This is Joey. I have actually been at the hospital for 16 years. I started right out of high school working in the storeroom in the winters and mowing the lawns in the summer through college, and was able to get into an IT internship and have continuously moved up. I have been in the CIO position for a little over two years.
Turman: This is Anna. I have been with the hospital for 14 years. I kind of worked my way up much like Joey did, from answering phones to IT Director. I’ve been a CIO for 12 years and the COO for the past two years as well.
Gamble: As we can see too by your organization, it seems like we have pretty good mix. I think that that should make for an interesting discussion too. All of you obviously have one thing in common being young CIOs. This is something that I think is really interesting. When I did research on young leaders, one issue that kept coming up was this debate of youth versus experience, which will often pit things like creativity and familiarity with technologies against the need for discipline, decision making, and experience in the trenches. It’s something that I’m guessing that you have all heard before, but I wanted to get your thoughts on this debate and the perceptions that young leaders will often face. Joey, do you want to start with this?
Hobbs: Sure. I think one of the things that come to mind as people talk about this is I think as you get into the leadership roles — in my particular situation, growing up in the organization — you have a little bit of trust from the organization that’s already there because you have grown up there, but you also have people that still see you in the roles that you were in prior. And I think it takes a lot of work to show that you have the experience. That’s kind of why you were promoted and why you’ve earned those roles that you’ve moved up to. With our leadership team in our organization, our average tenure is at 28 or 29 years, and I think one of the things a younger executive is able to bring is ideas that are fresh. I think you have to be willing to understand that just because you’re bringing that idea, there may be other reasons that it doesn’t work. But having a team where you’re able to bring that and they embrace those ideas, you can find the balance of the people that are experienced plus the youth and hope to continue to innovate things.
Turman: I could speak on that as well in terms of growing up, earning your way, working hard. We’re not on our 20s anymore. The frontal lobe which allows you to do that decision making is actually fully developed within your 20s, and so I think you could be young and still have decision-making skills. And you earn that in time — basically a lot of time. I think the big to that is having the business perspective. When you’re growing through the business, you understand the global perspective, and so you’re not just thought of as IT. They also see you as having a global opinion. You’re looking at it for the business, not just for IT.
Chou: I think Anna hit the mark with what she just said about looking at it from a business aspect. I was really fortunate early in my career starting in healthcare where I was an analyst in IT. One of my mentors, who is the chairman of the board, pretty much told me roam all of the departments in the hospital, get to understand the operation, and then figure out how the technology fit in. That’s a big differentiator, I would say, in terms of my knowledge versus some of the other folks who have only been in IT, where I actually understand the entire picture of a healthcare operation. And then also going through mergers and acquisitions of hospitals. I’ve never sold a hospital yet — I’ve always been on this merger side, and then also being in a startup hospital and a Greenfield environment also helped me see operations from the ground-up.
That’s why I think understanding the business is a big key component for all future CIOs. I hear it all the time — even when I was getting recruited for this role at Mississippi — the fact that I don’t have as many years under my belt versus some of the other candidates who had been in the industry for 30-plus years. My rebuttal to that was the fact that I have seen more in my 15-plus years versus their 30. I think just understanding the business aspect is one of the critical components of a successful future CIO that’s in the younger generation.
Bliven: I will just add that technology, IT, is a great way to build relationships, because a lot of departments obviously have key needs in the technology space. By being willing to build that network of your peers and leaders in the other areas, it provides a great base for knowledge that you can learn from. I really relied on those relationships as I progressed; as I moved from first director of applications and then to an interim role, I was still reaching out to a lot of the leaders in the other departments, and I continue to this day. There is definitely an evolving learning curve that I keep trying to evolve myself, but relationships were absolutely key to having the organization feel comfortable in my leadership skills, and then maybe just looking a little older, I think I have that as well too unfortunately.
Gamble: When you do step into that CIO role, I want to talk about what you do to establish yourself, and whether that can be a little bit difficult when you are working alongside people who have been doing this for a long time. Bryan, because you stepped in from the interim role, I want to start with you. What was your strategy there in going from interim to CIO? Was there anything you did to establish yourself and say, I’m the permanent CIO?
Bliven: Missouri is pretty much known as the show me state, so it’s kind of, show me you’re doing the role. My strategy, even when I was progressing to my other role, has been, what does it take to accomplish the tasks that a good CIO needs to do? Can I start working on those and learning in that space prior to having the job and showing that I’m already doing this? So let’s move into the formality stage and out of interim status, because I’m already working at that level. That was how I approached it, and I think that was something that the organization appreciated too. I think that there wasn’t really a surprise when it evolved to, hey Bryan is now the permanent CIO — it was just trying to keep improving, and I’ve tried not to change that as I’ve continued to hopefully grow in my career.
Hobbs: I think mine is a little bit similar. We actually went for a couple of years in our organization without a CIO and had dual directors leading different sides to the organization. As we had a new CEO in place and I knew this was a role I wanted to do, I enrolled in the CHIME CIO Boot Camp. It was a necessity for me to get the CHIME certification for the CHCIO, as much for myself as to be able to show the organization that CHIME is the standard body and that’s the only certification out there to show that you know what you’re going to need to do within this role. So for myself, that was one of the things that I wanted to do. Our CEO was the prior CNO with the organization so it wasn’t really a cultural changeover, but there were some changes within the leadership team. Being able to get on that team and spend more time with the CFO and COO and those type of roles was very important for me to be able to establish myself and work with them to make sure everybody was on the same page.
Turman: I’d like to speak off what Joey had to say a bit. I’m similar as we did not have that role existing when I was hired. The question was what does it take and how can I prove the relevance of the role and work from the ground up — a lot of research, a lot of time and building relationships, and understanding the processes. Building it from the ground up because it really didn’t exist prior. I had to be the plethora of information for folks so they can make informed decisions. So there was a lot of catching up to do.
Chou: My experience was pretty much the opposite where I’m walking into the largest department in the institution, and I have the largest budget on campus. We have about 400 on staff. In my role, I had to be really a good listener. I had to really listen as far as what employees were advocating. I was also brought on to be a change agent, so at the same time knowing that we needed make various changes for the institution. A lot of listening and lots of relationship building with my peers and counterparts in a highly matrixed environment is extremely critical.