We’ve all heard talk about the evolving role of the CIO, but just how big of a role does relationship development and management play? If you ask Tim Stettheimer, it’s as much as 80 to 90 percent. Whether it’s being able to talk about the business on a deeper level with fellow executives or knowing your people well enough to identify the high performers, CIOs will not thrive unless they are willing to get personal, says Stettheimer, who is regional CIO for Ascension Information Services. In this interview, he discusses staff engagement and the waterfall effect, the question he asks to get to know people better, and how he works to maintain a strong presence despite being at a large organization. He also offers advice for introverted CIOs, and talks about what it takes to create a sense of trust.
- The introvert’s challenge — “It can be draining.”
- Having self-awareness
- Today’s CIO role: “80-90 percent relationship work.”
- Becoming a “leader of leaders.”
- His go-to question
- Showing gratitude — “People want to know they’re appreciated.”
- Change agent vs long-term leader
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Regardless of whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, the CIO job will have challenges, and you have to start with self-awareness — knowing what really does energize you and what drains your energy. And for those things that drain your energy, you have to manage the amount of time you spend there.
In a world where our work really does represent so much of our life, it is important to be aware not just of a person as a laborer or as a worker, but as a person — to know that they do have a background, they have family, they have preferences, hobbies, things they enjoy.
That question sounds simple, but it can be have layers of depths to it, because where you’re from speaks not just to where you live now, but where you grew up and where your family is from, and where you have your roots. That is filled with personal depth and meaning.
Being able to know people is a starting point for the CIO job, frankly. You can’t get things done if you don’t — or if you do, you’re going to get them done on a very short basis, and you’ll fall into the category of leader that sort of cycles through different organizations.
Gamble: One thing that I find pretty interesting is that although we’re seeing some changes in the types of people who hold roles like the CIO, but there is sometimes still a tendency to maybe be somewhat more of an introvert or not as outgoing. Do you have any suggestions for CIOs and how to really keep open communication lines, especially if that’s something that’s not necessarily their nature?
Stettheimer: It’s a great question. Having had my first career path be within clinical psychology, I’m well in tune with the different gifts that people come with in terms of personality types or skill sets, things like that. For introverts, it can be draining to be continually pressing the flesh, as it were; being out and about and trying to work relationships and have presence can be draining.
So I would offer a few things. For those people who, rather than finding relational time energizing find it draining, I think what you have to do is create a balance for yourself. You have to be self-aware and know how you recharge and what is important in terms of your own personal time, whether it’s time to reflect, time to be outside, spending time on your health, or just reading a quiet book. Whatever it may be, recharging, if you have introvert tendencies, is crucial. You will just be miserable if you don’t do that.
Now, that’s also important for extroverts, but I guess, the benefit extroverts have in the CIO job is that relational work, today, is the biggest part, and the most important part of what they do. Don’t get me wrong — extroverts have their own pitfalls that they can stumble into in this job because extroverts — and I’m generalizing here — often prefer not to be spending their time at the desk or going through detailed reports, or really spending time getting deep in a particular issue. That can be generally true, and, frankly you have to do that on some fronts these days. It’s just, unfortunately, a situation where in many ways you have to be all things to all people.
So regardless of whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, the CIO job will have challenges for you, and you have to start with self-awareness — knowing what really does energize you and what drains your energy. And then for those things that drain your energy, particularly, you have to manage the amount of time you spend there. And frankly, the CIO job today is 80 to 90 percent relationship work, so if you are in an introvert space, you really have to be intentional about how you spend your down time, because it takes a lot of energy. So hopefully that helps.
Gamble: It is interesting. You talk about how much of this role really is about relationships and that really pertains so much to the staff. I wanted to get some of your thoughts on the challenge so many CIOs face in being able to retain and continue to grow their key people.
Stettheimer: What has been true forever is still true. Most of the time, when staff are unhappy and they end up leaving, it’s because the leader that they’re following they don’t fit well with. Usually that’s their direct leader, and that has implications for the CIO in that the CIO is the leader of leaders. They have to exercise a high degree of awareness about the leadership team that works for them. And that can be all layers, whether you’re in a small organization with perhaps two or three direct reports and that is your management team, or whether you’re in a large complex organization with layers of directors, senior directors, and others who you’re responsible to lead. A large amount of your time has to be spent in developing those leaders, and that means personal time in terms of relationship work.
And again, when I say relationship work, let me be specific. For your leadership team, you need to know who they are. If you don’t know their names, you’ve got to get that down first, obviously. But in a world where our work really does represent so much of our life, it is important to be aware not just of a person as a laborer or as a worker, but frankly, to be aware of them as a person — to know that they do have a background, they have family, they have preferences, hobbies, things they enjoy. You have to begin to know people as people.
I’ll give you another good example. When I mentioned the breakfast in Indiana, I was able to spend some time with some of our teams in Oklahoma and Kansas this past week who I’m just getting to know because they’ve just come into the region. I usually will ask people a question that sounds like this as we’re introducing ourselves: ‘tell me about where you’re from.’ That question sounds simple but it can be have layers of depths to it, because where you’re from speaks not just to where perhaps you live now, but where you grew up and where your family is from, and where you have your roots. That is filled with personal depth and meaning.
So it’s one of my favorite questions to ask people when I’m meeting them for the first time. And even if you’ve been around maybe your team for years; it’s a great question; you just go a little deeper with them on. ‘Everybody, let’s just sit around the table. I want us to just share a little bit on this question. Let’s talk about where we’re from.’ And what’s funny to me is as I have done that sitting around tables with different leaders at different times, I may go sit down at a table where everyone around the table has been working together for 10 years or more. But when I ask that question, I can hardly think of a time that something didn’t come out about most, if not, every person at that table that not everyone else knew. And in the connections you’re able to form, the depth of relationship becomes a whole lot more significant. And why is that important? Because people want to be in places working and serving, where they are known and where they’re appreciated.
And again, I mention the relationship word. That’s got to start with the relationship. It’s hard to express appreciation in a way that’s meaningful for someone if you don’t know them, because everyone has sort of their own language that they hear when it comes to praise and appreciation. For some people, a verbal ‘thank you’ is what they’re really looking for. For some people, a little thank you card may do much more. For some people, it’s some simple gift. There are all kinds of things, like doing something for someone — an act of service — may be another way.
We all have different languages that we are able to build relationships on, and being able to know people is a starting point for the CIO job, frankly. You can’t get things done if you don’t — or if you do, you’re going to get them done on a very short basis, and you’ll fall into the category of leader that sort of cycles through different organizations in the short term. I find that while some enjoy coming in as change agents like that, I’ve always preferred the deeper connections within an organization that are possible which can help the organization truly in its journey toward its mission, vision, and realization of the values that the organization has. That’s truly meaningful.
Gamble: Right. So it seems like so much of this just focuses on really being invested and showing that you’re invested.
Stettheimer: You have to care. If I was to sum it up, you really have to care. You have to care about the organization and you have to care about the people you work with. That’s sort of a fundamental starting point. If you don’t, you can build that attitude, but again, it has to be something that you’re committed to doing. If you’re coming in just to deal with the problem and then get out, and that’s it, that’s just not going to inspire a depth of trust relationship or confidence from people who are already there and have dedicated probably years, if not, decades of their lives to the place you’re serving at.