There’s no roadmap. No standard approach. No required certifications. No tried-and-true methods to guarantee success. Executive coaching sounds like a profession at the opposite end of the spectrum from the CIO role.
Yet for former CIOs Jim Rinaldi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Jim DiMarzio of Toyo Tires and Mazda North American Operations, their recent career transitions to coaching felt like a natural next step after the mentoring work they’ve done for decades.
“Coaching is very individual,” says DiMarzio, who retired from Toyo in July 2021 and now serves as an IT Executive Coach with IDG’s CIO Executive Council. “It’s really about exploring the person’s plans and getting to know who they are professionally. His clients are first-level through mid-level IT managers. “The good thing is, they all want to talk to you and improve, so it’s positive right out of the box.”
“More people in our profession should learn how to coach, not just how to manage,” says Rinaldi, who retired from NASA/JPL earlier this year and now serves as executive director for Innovate@UCLA. “The workforce we have coming up today is digitally enabled but lacking experience.”
Catching up with these longtime IT leaders recently, we talked about the challenges they’re hearing about and helping with in their new coaching roles.
Maryfran Johnson: In today’s hybrid/remote workplaces, how are coaching needs changing when it comes to developing next-gen leaders?
Jim DiMarzio: There are a lot of nuances with the way people are managing remotely today, but communication is still the No. 1 concern. In some cases, managers are finding it easier to reach those people who used to hide in their offices and not answer the phone. But it’s also more difficult now—without those face-to-face meetings—to get your visions and ideas across about where technology can take the business next.
Jim Rinaldi: I see two changes that are really happening. First, we have a growing workforce that can work from anywhere, and second, this new workforce expects managers to treat them the way they want to work. How does a manager and team look at the expectations of this new workforce? How do you make sure it’s inclusive and has much greater decision transparency?
As we get through all this business and digital transformation, there needs to be a management transformation, too. We need to rethink how this new workforce is being managed and motivated, and there’s not enough focus on it yet. One resource I’ve been recommending lately is Keith Ferrazzi’s new book, “Competing in the New World of Work.”
What leadership lessons did you learn the hard way (and are now sharing as a coach?)
Rinaldi: Acceptance of change and how you deal with it, personally. I grew up in the days when if you didn’t move upward in the company, you weren’t moving. My reward system was always based on that. Now I wonder: Why didn’t I go and do something more, like get an advanced degree in computer science or math?
When I’m talking to someone today who has an opportunity to grow in a different way, I say, ‘Why not?’ Should it always be about money, promotions, and titles? Make sure you’re doing what you have a passion for, not just another stepping stone.
DiMarzio: There are three top things I talk about in my coaching work. No. 1: Have a vision and a strategy, regardless of your level, that you can rally your team around and feel good about. At the director level and up, that needs to be a business strategy everyone understands. No. 2: Always ensure you’re talking honestly to your staff, especially at the middle management level. Make sure they are talking to their staff, too. You have to have trust in those people to tell you what’s going on. No. 3: Make sure you have a good environment for the team. It takes only one person to poison that atmosphere.
Looking at your own career strategically, what was the best decision you ever made?
DiMarzio: I was working at Subaru on the east coast in the 1980s, and it was very large organization at the time, doing really well. As an IT manager in a very large shop, I knew I needed to work with the business more. But the reaction I’d get was always ‘You’re the IT guy, why are you talking?’ So, I went back to school to get my MBA. Once I was able to talk about the business, working with them on a vision of how technology could help, that was a turning point in my career.
Rinaldi: I’d say the best decisions are always around hiring good people. When you get the right people for the organization and job, your life is so much better! When you don’t, you’ve failed and have to fix it. I figured out early on that I enjoyed working with people like scientists, executives and professionals who I could trust and build relationships with. I learned that I enjoyed working at places that celebrated their successes and valued me as an employee. My desire to exceed expectations was driven by the environment I worked in.
What do you wish you figured out earlier in your career and would advise other IT leaders to do today?
DiMarzio: I’d have to say the value of networking and talking to other CIOs—not just for career purposes but to find out the best info about industry vendors or hear about where others are finding talent. The networking I did in the automotive industry was also important. For example, I kept in touch with the president of Land Rover after I left there, and he was one of the reasons I ended up at Mazda, where I stayed for 15 years.
Rinaldi: My advice is to find a leader you admire, and then watch them, listen to them. Most CEOs and bosses are pretty good and you can learn from them, but also look at CEOs you don’t know. The important point is to observe people and watch their styles. And realize that in your 20s and 30s, you don’t have a leadership style yet! But you will develop one.
This article originally appeared in CIO’s Career Strategist newsletter. Sign up today!