CIOs and IT Staff Learn From Unusual Mentoring Program

A pilot program from the Society for Information Management shows the value of taking on a protege from outside your own organization.

A newly formed IT leadership team recently gathered on a retreat. Asked what legacy they wished to leave, the team members spoke of the value they wanted to add by implementing state-of-the-art information systems and by enabling business-model changes. Speaking last, the CIO turned to his team and said, "You are my legacy."

Such a legacy can be left not just to your organization, but to your entire profession. That's the idea behind a mentoring program being piloted by the Society for Information Management (SIM). Several members of SIM's Advanced Practices Council (APC) are participating in the program, which expands their mentoring beyond the IT leaders in their own firms to high-potential direct reports of other APC members. The program is getting high marks so far.

Joe Bruhin, CIO of Constellation Brands, says that his mentoring of Matt Peters of Computer Aid has developed into a mutually beneficial relationship. "In addressing some of Matt's challenges, I am not just pulling from my experience base and sharing relevant stories, but I am also sharing what I would do differently today--and frankly it is highlighting to me my growth over the years."

Peters, in turn, appreciates the quality of Bruhin's advice. "I've floated what I believe are some pretty difficult challenges his way," he says, "and he has consistently provided excellent advice."

But couldn't Peters' own CIO do that as well? In fact, Peters says he receives "a great deal" of mentoring from Computer Aid CIO Steven Heilenman, but "the exercise of trying to step far enough away from my own problems to be able to make [Bruhin] understand them has helped me gain perspective, and his specific questions and recommendations have been extremely valuable.

On more than one occasion, he has almost completely changed my mind about how to approach a problem," and Bruhin has consistently been right.

Bruhin, meanwhile, has experienced another benefit from the program. "Oddly, I am finding that my overall role as a mentor to my own organization has increased." He explains that, because mentoring is a conscious effort, it places him in "the mentoring frame of mind," and he is more inclined when talking to members of his own team to look beyond outcomes and focus on behaviors--the "how."

Peters' enthusiasm for the program has made at least one of his colleagues jealous, he says. Explaining that Heilenman has one "exchange" protege of his own, Peters says that his colleague "is pressuring Steve to take an additional mentee so he can get a mentor of his own."

If Heilenman feels like Bruhin, he might not mind. Says Bruhin, "It feels good when someone tells you that they have been able to get tangible value from your coaching, guidance and mentoring."

Madeline Weiss is director of the Society for Information Management's Advanced Practices Council (APC). June Drewry is the former CIO of Chubb and an adviser to the APC.

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