by Kim S. Nash

What My Mentor Taught Me

May 02, 20083 mins

IT executives share the leadership lessons nthat shape their success.

No one ever forgets a good mentor, or the lessons they teach. Five CIOs share the best advice they ever got from their mentors.

1. Never stop asking questions.

“When I was working for the U.S. Navy an old chief petty officer told me one day that if normally rational people are behaving irrationally, that means you don’t have all the information they do. I was complaining about something and he was quite clear with me that I was a young kid and I didn’t understand. Ask a lot of questions.”

-Lance Wilson, SVP and CIO, Assurant Health

2. Be decisive.

“I had a wonderful mentor who told me the speed to make a decision is an important quality of an executive. When you move from being an analyst and developer—someone who expects to have all the data before making a decision—up to executive, you have to understand your gut feelings play more of a role. You reach a level where you’re being paid to rely on your experience. If you wait for every single data point, every time, you may be seen as indecisive or weak.”

-Robert Urwiler, SVP and CIO, Vail Resorts

3. Acknowledge what you don’t know.

“I was in my late 20s working as a corporate IT manager under the CIO, at Melville, a retail conglomerate that used to own CVS, Thom McAn, Marshall’s, KB Toys and other stores. I worked at the holding company headquarters and they’d send me off on these missions to the store divisions to try to get IT unified. I was a fish out of water, not knowing how to be a diplomat or how to influence change. I really didn’t have the track record but they trusted my judgment. The CIO was this wonderful, wonderful man from Mississippi. A really warm, big-brother Southern guy who was constantly there to revisit how it’d gone and the pluses and minuses of what I’d done.”

-Steve Morin, CIO, TAC Worldwide Cos.

4. Learn to listen.

“One of my first mentors gave me confidence because he listened to me. There was a huge project I was going to lead. I said, ‘What if I fail?’ He said, ‘You have done projects. You do them really well. What is causing your hesitation?’ He coached me through it.”

-Catherine Boivie, SVP of IT, Pacific Blue Cross

5. Treat every job as your last.

“People often see their current position as a stepping-stone to the next one and don’t embrace the role and give it their best. But I’ve learned that by treating every job as if it’s your last, I can take a role and make it much more than it is today and be fulfilled.”

-James Kane, IT program director, Defense Group, Northrop Grumman, and 2008 Ones to Watch honoree