by Christopher Koch

Stress Not CIO: Tips for Coping

Aug 01, 20033 mins

Accept the unfairness. There are a lot of unfair things about being a CIO—for instance, trying to get people to use new systems without having any authority over them. It can all cause stress. Try to put the job in perspective. “Every morning when you get to work, imagine you’re pulling up a window screen and it says, Complaint Department,” says Jean Hollands, CEO of Growth and Leadership Center, which coaches executives. “Calculate how much you make per day and imagine that at the end of each day there’s a slot in the door where you pull your money out. Your job is to take complaints and know you’re being paid for it.”

Level with people. In a previous job, Carlos Covarrubias, now CIO of Dole Fresh Flowers, avoided going into detail when businesspeople asked him technology questions. “I thought I was protecting users, but it made my discussions with them difficult,” he says. It also angered the businesspeople, who experienced that as evasiveness. Now Covarrubias addresses the deeper technology issues. “It lowered my stress level.” he says. “It allowed me to have a different type of conversation with executives.”

Think about how you come across. “We have more CIOs sent to us than any other profession; they simply will not understand that they need to learn to read others and learn their impact on others,” says Hollands. Covarrubias found this out the hard way, in a 360-degree review, when people said he was less than communicative. It stung him badly, but at least it provided him with a clear path to improve.

Take five. Breaks during the day can turn off the fight-or-flight response, at least temporarily. Shutting the door for five minutes and taking a few deep breaths helps, as does visualizing something nice, such as a vacation. These tactics can staunch the flow of stress chemicals that damage the body, says Sue Parkerson Wisner of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center.

Control what you can and delegate the rest. Feeling out of control starts the stress hormones gushing, so increase your control where you can (if one of your direct reports is doing something that annoys you, tell him to knock it off), and shift accountability for things you can’t control to those who can. For example, giving businesspeople responsibility for technology projects is an alignment best practice. It’s also a good way to lower your stress level.

Build a support network outside of work. Join a CIO peer group, a softball team or a church. Keep in touch with friends. Talk to them about what you’re experiencing. Just don’t talk about it in the office. CIOs should avoid unburdening themselves to subordinates or colleagues. Those confessions could be used against you.