#2/10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO - Communication

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Based on the scars and callouses I`ve earned in my career, and combined with the experiences of colleagues who have been highly effective in leading IT teams, I've distilled a list of the 10 competencies which are critical for IT leaders (CIOs, Directors) as well as anyone else in leadership in today's globally focussed, results driven environment. 

Note: These postings are intentionally short. They are designed to stimulate additional thinking and conversation. I'll unpack these ideas further in subsequent postings, as well as incorporate any comments you may add to the mix.

Without these competencies in action, IT leaders risk being relegated to the unrewarding mission of controlling costs, or watching IT services being outsourced (yes, that is still happening) to an IT provisioning company, or having your end users continually bypass your department and contracting for software, services and infrastructure in the cloud.

This is the second in the series on 10 Crucial Survival Skills for the 21st Century CIO. Today`s topic is communication.


While there is no particular order to this list, but this one should be at the top. The 21st Century CIO needs to be a master communicator - written, spoken, and listening. This isn't just about being able to throw a PowerPoint presentation together, it's about knowing your message, your audience, and the best medium to ensure your message is understood.

Communication in practice looks like this:
  • You engage people in discussion. You make the first move. You don't wait for others to start the conversation.
  • You are timely and professional in your responses to requests.
  • You can separate the issues from the emotion, and work to resolution.
  • You do not shy away from difficult conversations.
  • You have mastered the art of succintness. You can discuss the key points of your project in 60 seconds or less. See my posting on this topic here.
  • You are a presentation god. (Thanks to Scott Schwertly, founder and CEO of Ethos3 for this term. He wrote a great book on this subject. My advice? Buy it here.)
  • You have removed 90% of the text off of your PowerPoint presentations.  People no longer fall asleep when you present.
  • You are known as a great listener. This skill is one of the most difficult to master. As Winston Churchill said "It takes great courage to stand up and speak. It takes even greater courage to sit down and listen."
  • You look for every opportunity to tell your story - in conversations, using Social Media, or seeking out speaking opportunities.
  • You are multi-lingual. You can frame the conversation, or presentation in the language of your audience. To the CFO, you can talk in financial terms. To the production supervisor, you frame your language in his language. To the board, you can define how your projects will help advance the strategic goals, or differentiate the organization.
As I said, communication is WAY more than a PowerPoint presentation.

There are some resources I have found most useful.

For the art of having crucial conversations, see the two excellent books from Vital Smarts - Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations. These provide an excellent framework for the interactive, productive communication skills you need to excel.  You can follow VitalSmarts on Twitter @VitalSmartsNews

For resources to help with your presentation skills, see my post here.

You will never be perfect at communication. This is a skill you develop, and keep on developing as you go. But I guarantee you can be better immediately if you start now.

I'll be presenting one competency per posting over the next while, and compile them into one big, long post when complete.

Here is the list of all 10 competencies with links.

Next posting: Collaboration

How would you describe communication in action?


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