CIO Career Coach: Be a good storyteller

Become a better storyteller, and you'll be a better IT leader

Welcome back to “CIO Career Coach,” a video series I created with CIO.com and IDG.tv. All throughout this second season, we’ve been discussing the competencies required of CIOs to be successful in the new era of IT. 

This installment, episode 8, is the final episode of season 2. I hope you have gleaned some inspirational information and real-world examples that help you meet the challenges you face as an IT leader and help advance your career.

The CIO competency we are talking about today’s is one of my very favorites: storytelling.

Since the beginning of time, people have loved to hear stories. “Tell me a story!” we would beg our parents when we were little. “Tell it again!”

When two parties come from different backgrounds, a shared story can allow them to get closer to common ground on something complex and abstract, like technology.  For this reason, storytelling is one of the most important skills a CIO can possess.

In the boardroom, the story is one of finance. In your IT leadership meetings, the story is one of vision, teamwork, and value. And with your customers, you tell a story of comfort, convenience, revenue or happiness.

How a story got a CIO an ERP system

When Malini Balakrishnan became CIO of building materials company BMC, she used the plot from the movie Speed, starring Keanu Reeves to make her case for a brand-new ERP system.

Reeves plays a police officer in Los Angeles where a maniacal Dennis Hopper has planted a bomb on a bus that is careening down the freeway. If the bus drops below 50 mph, it will explode. 

So, Reeves comes up with the plan to have a second bus drive up alongside the first one at the same speed. Passengers would have to walk across a rickety plank from one bus to the other.

Balakrishnan found that the movie reference was the first critical step in change management for a new ERP. She explained to her colleagues that “we cannot pull over, stop the old bus, and all transfer in an orderly fashion to this beautiful new bus. We need to keep the business running. Just like in the movie, staying on the old bus was not an option.”

When IT moves from enabling business strategy to defining it, the story of IT needs to change. IT is not an expensive but necessary evil. IT does not wait around to be told what to do. IT is consultative, is proactive, and drives innovation, value, and results. Recasting IT’s role requires major oratorical talent. 

Now, recounting elaborate Hollywood plots is not the only way to tell the story of IT.  Learn more in my latest CIO Career Coach video.

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