Leading CIOs describe a soft skills they are actively working to improve.

We recently asked a group of leading CIOs to tell us about an important leadership soft skill they are actively working to improve in themselves over the next twelve months. Here is what we heard. 


Resisting the instinct to give an answer to people on my team who ask me what I think about something. First, it denies them the opportunity to think through something for themselves and feel that they own a decision. Second, it will free up my time when they know that 90% of the guidance they seek they can come to on their own.

Greg Meyers
Corporate VP and CIO, Motorola Solutions



Listening. I need to do less talking and more listening. It’s always interesting to call on someone who hasn’t spoken up at a meeting. They typically have very relevant and sometimes passionately held opinions about the topic under discussion, but they need a verbal invitation to express their views. If all the ‘talkers’ in the room use up the available air time, you’ll never know what the listeners are thinking!

Mark Settle



Mine is listening. I work with many capable, knowledgeable people – and if I am not truly listening to understand (as opposed to listening to respond), I will almost certainly miss out on the best that could come from our shared ideas. Listening is now an item on my weekly reality-check: “This week, was I the leader I want to be?”

Chris van Liew
CIO, Weyerhaeuser



For me, personally, it is culture. Since I have been with Omni Hotels and Resorts for one year, it is important for me to fully integrate into the culture, and because it is "the secret sauce to customer satisfaction," in my opinion, it is very important to help embrace it throughout the organization!

Kris Singleton
CIO, Omni Hotels & Resorts



I'm always working on soft skills across three main categories: communication, influence, and leadership. There are many facets to each category so I do try to hone in on a single item at a time in order to build and update good habits that will improve my overall skill set over time. Right now, in communication I'm working to get better at putting more things in writing and to improve the quality of my writing. This plays into influence since so much communication happens over email. Improving my writing skills helps me to more effectively disseminate information, ideas, and my perspective on matters. This does not by any stretch supplant influence in face-to-face and other methods, but it does help to support and enhance those efforts. In the realm of leadership I'm actively working to cultivate this in others wherever possible by being mindful of that goal so that I get myself to focus more on creating the conditions for others to step up, encouraging leadership behavior, and being a supportive coach.

Tom Catalini
CIO, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



I'm planning to improve my storytelling skills. The way I'm going to do this is by reading articles and/or books on the topic, and then by practicing in business and social settings. I've been researching books on Amazon, but haven't found the right one yet. I'm open to recommendations.

Kevin Field
CIO in the insurance industry



The biggest soft skill really is getting back to ‘walking around’ and finding out what people are actually doing. I am finding that with email, social media, Yammer, etc. that we can tend to hunker down in our offices. Getting out to the troops I am finding invaluable. Another skill I have honed here at Daymon is to connect with other CIO’s of the retailers and suppliers that Daymon works with. I have done this consciously to expand my network, get to know my peers and what they are pressed with delivering.

David Berry
CIO, Daymon Worldwide



Negotiating. The give-and-take required in the board room, at the executive table, with peers, colleagues and staff is constant in leadership, often requiring a degree of empathy and sense of what levers are most valuable and that allow all the other parties involved to be fully committed to the requisite tradeoffs. My plans include working more closely with my peers and vendors to understand their objectives, so that I can prioritize and come to the table with better ideas for making headway when we reach a trade-off situation, and to help key leaders within my team develop the same skills and perspective.

Ken Grady
VP & CIO, IDEXX Laboratories



Right now I am focused on improving my networking skills. That’s a skill area that I’ve neglected. So I’m getting going on LinkedIn, and reaching out to folks to network more. Basically putting myself out there more, attending events that I would not have in the past, etc.

Norm Fjeldheim
CIO, Qualcomm Incorporated



My number one has been and continues to be how I can lead through influence (rather than position). For me, that means:

  1. Putting the purpose of the organization over my personal agenda
  2. Holding myself and my teams accountable for results
  3. Having and showing genuine concern for and interest in others
  4. Leading with humility and believing that I might need to change
  5. Keeping my commitments
  6. Listening and understanding others

Now, why are these a challenge? Because they are contrary to my nature. So, I have to work on the entire list but right now I am focused on #1.

Niel Nickolaisen
CTO, OC Tanner



I am spending time learning to influence my peers to change through data driven discussions and open dialog. Probably something most know how to do, but I continue to develop this skill.

Rich Richardson
VP & CIO, Spirit AeroSystems



As a leader, I believe the most important soft skill that I can continue to develop and refine is to  ‘create followership’. I need to do this with my business colleagues, our Board members, my IT team, my industry, etc. When successful, the outcome is that these stakeholders see value in my leadership, my IT expertise, my contribution to the business, etc. It also invites my participation in more conversations and furthers my goal of being considered a valued thought leader.

Sue Kozik
EVP and CIO, Group Health Cooperative

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