Technology teams played the parts of corporate superheroes during the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerating digital strategies to ensure that their enterprises remained operational. IT leaders get the credit for the exceptional execution, but CIOs know that success is fleeting and stability is tenuous.\nIn fact, 68% of 500 CIOs surveyed say their departments are not completely prepared to help their companies withstand another major business disruption, according to a recent survey conducted by professional services firm Genpact and the MIT CIO Sloan Symposium. The poll was intended to gauge the lessons IT leaders learned in weathering the storm of the pandemic, along with their preparedness for the journey forward.\n[ Learn from your peers: Check out our State of the CIO 2021 report on the challenges and concerns of CIOs today. | Find out the 7 skills of successful digital leaders and the secrets of highly innovative CIOs. | Get weekly insights by signing up for our CIO Leader newsletter. ]\n\u201cTransformation pilot CIOs that drive alignment across the C-suite and put the organizational focus on building resilience and innovation will be the co-creators of new business models and future-ready companies,\u201d says Genpact CDO Sanjay Srivastava. \u201cCIOs who do not will see their organizations struggle.\u201d\nHere IT leaders share critical leadership lessons learned while navigating the outbreak \u2014 tips that will continue to serve them well and prepare their peers for future Black Swan events.\nLead with empathy\nConsultants have been harping on CIOs to improve their \u201csoft skills\u201d for so long that it\u2019s taken on broken-record status. But if there was any time for IT leaders to demonstrate empathy it\u2019s now, as colleagues, peers, and subordinates struggle with any number of pandemic-related health issues, economic concerns, and political strife, according to Howard Melnick, CIO of Signet Jewelers. CIOs accustomed to holding firm grips on their organizations should eschew \u201ccommand and control\u201d leadership stances in favor of a softer touch.\n Signet\n\nHoward Melnick, CIO, Signet Jewellers\n\n\nThis approach should cascade down through the IT ranks and product teams \u2014 something Melnick has endeavored to do at Signet, which had to virtualize its jewelry consultant experience in double time last year. Also important is bringing the right team to help you succeed, an ethos Melnick borrows from Jim Collins, who exhorts leaders to \u201cget the right people on the bus\u201d in his seminal book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don\u2019t.\n\u201cThis year was a year like no other year,\u201d Melnick says. \u201cYou have to have a flexible mindset and be comfortable with change.\u201d\nMake time to build relationships\nPart of leading with empathy includes getting to know one\u2019s staff. To wit, One Call CIO Mark Bilger dedicates hours at the beginning and end of each day to network with peers and staff.\n One Call\n\nMark Bilger, CIO, One Call\n\n\n\u201cHaving good relationships with my staff and business peers is critical for the trust that\u2019s needed for us to work together,\u201d he says. Bilger also hosts one 30-minute one-on-one meeting with each of his 130 IT staffers every year, enabling him to learn a lot of about the company and his team, while letting employees know that they are valued and that managers don\u2019t sit in an \u201civory tower.\u201d\nFinally, Bilger maintains a special-purpose email address: Ask_The_CIO. It\u2019s there for any employee (especially IT employees) to ask questions or make comments. \u201cIn the COVID era it\u2019s meant to reinforce my open-door policy \u2014 the idea that any employee can approach the executive team at any time.\u201d\nAsk for a pre-read and polish your storytelling\nTo prepare for a presentation, Workday CIO Sheri Rhodes requests a \u201cpre-read,\u201d essentially a synopsis of what the presenter plans to discuss. She also provides such pre-reads before presenting to the board of directors. This affords participants to think about them material and come up with smart questions.\n Workday\n\nSheri Rhodes, CIO, Workday\n\n\n\u201cIt sounds basic, but it\u2019s about understanding the story you want to share and the input you want to receive,\u201d Rhodes says. She also storyboards, crafting a narrative of what she wants to say rather than listing bullets and actions to produce better outcomes from the meeting. If it it\u2019s good enough for Amazon.com\u2019s leadership, it\u2019s good enough for CIOs worldwide.\nAlign OKRs between tech and business teams\nBusiness lines like to feature their own objectives and key results (OKRs) for products, but this can get in the way of business alignment.\nAt Workday, upwards of 80% of OKRs are shared between the business tech team and other business units, including sales, service, and finance, to communicate how the products link back to objectives, Rhodes says. Ask yourself: Is your team aligned with others in the company? How do you measure success together? Then rally around OKRs to help achieve desired business outcomes \u2014 essential during a time of myriad disruptions.\u00a0\u00a0\nBe strategic about change management\nAutomation\u2019s steady march across the enterprise has made employees wary of losing their jobs. Will my job be automated? What will happen to me if it does? These are valid questions, and CIOs must have valid answers. Ajay Kamble, CIO of 97-year-old industrial concern Turtle & Hughes, knows the challenge all too well as he implements robotic process automation (RPA) and augments customer service with artificial intelligence software amid a pandemic that already has people worried about their economic welfare.\n Turtle & Hughes\n\nAjay Kamble, CIO, Turtle & Hughes\n\n\n\u201cThe minute you use the word \u2018automation,\u2019 people fear that their job is in jeopardy,\u201d Kamble says.\nTo assuage peoples\u2019 concerns, Kamble has articulated the importance of this transformation internally to leaders, peers, and the rank and file, looping in stakeholders on the strategic benefits of his team\u2019s work early and often and soliciting feedback to secure buy-in and \u201cfeed the human hunger to be valued.\u201d In short, make change management part of your corporate fabric, rather than thinking of it as a one-off for every project, Kamble says.\n\u201cTheir whole mindset changes,\u201d Kamble says. \u201cThey don\u2019t feel like they\u2019re punching a time clock.\u201d\nOptional reading\nThis is just a small sample of hacks that work for practicing IT leaders. For an additional punch list of advice, including nuggets of wisdom about cascading information, delegating, handling problem escalations, and working more effectively with boards, consider reading Atif Rafiq\u2019s tips for operating in the C-suite. Rafiq, currently president of customers, commercial, and growth at MGM Resorts International, is the former CDO of McDonald\u2019s and Volvo Cars.