\u201cLife can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards,\u201d wrote Danish philosopher S\u00f8ren Kierkegaard. That\u2019s true, but what if by some stroke of magic we could go back in time and give a pep talk to our younger selves. What would we say? To provide some indirect counsel for first-time CIOs, we asked IT leaders to have a quiet word with their younger selves when they first took on a senior IT leadership role.\n\nGive yourself the gift of time\n\nSome CIOs pondered how they managed that most precious resource: time.\n\n\u201cI wish I\u2019d have told myself to buy myself more time, setting out a three-year, step-by-step plan, and not try and get everything right on day one and solve everything in the first year,\u201d says David Henderson, chief technology and product officer at music and entertainment group Global.\n\nGregory Morley, CIO at services provider United Living Group, says he\u2019d say to the younger Morley: \u201cStop and take more breaths,\u201d and many others we spoke to agreed, adding that going 100 miles per hour was at best counterproductive and at worst a recipe for burn-out and making yourself unpopular.\n\nSpeak up\n\nA tendency to bottle up thoughts is a regret for some who felt cowed or overwhelmed by bosses, fellow execs, or their own teams when they were new to the IT leader role.\n\n\u201cI wish I focused on talent and culture over strategy,\u201d says Henderson. \u201cThe right team with the right culture can do anything, and early on, I wasn\u2019t courageous enough to deal with the cynics, time wasters, and the toxic few that affect the majority.\u201d\n\nSimilarly, Caroline Carruthers of global data consultancy Carruthers and Jackson recommended being true to yourself.\n\n\u201cIt\u2019s something I tell a lot of younger people at schools,\u201d she says. \u201cDon\u2019t limit yourself based on other people\u2019s expectations. I felt I had to be like other people at that level and say certain things and behave in a certain way. When I freed myself and said, \u2018That\u2019s not right,\u2019 my career really took off.\u201d\n\nSeveral CIOs say they wished they had more gumption.\n\n\u201cOnce you take the hot seat, don\u2019t second-guess yourself,\u201d says Lenovo global CIO Arthur Hu, with the benefit of hindsight. \u201cThere\u2019s a difference between being cautious and being too tentative, and there were times when I could have been more confident. The company puts you in the chair because they trust you.\u201d\n\nNic Bellenberg, an experienced CIO at publisher Cond\u00e9 Nast and elsewhere, had some practical advice.\n\n\u201cI\u2019d say be fearless,\u201d he says. \u201cI bit my tongue so many times in the first year in my first CIO job [and] I regret not saying to company directors, \u2018No, you\u2019re wrong. That\u2019s not the way to do things. What we need to do is\u2026\u2019 I remember being ambushed by two of the owners, who knew that they had underinvested in tech and the tech team for many years. Their opening line was, \u2018Well, things aren\u2019t really all that bad, are they?\u2019 I should have said, \u2018Worse than you can possibly imagine.\u2019\u201d\n\nInterim CIO at TDS Consulting Tony Healy added: \u201cThe most significant risk you can take is not taking any risks, getting bogged down in analysis paralysis and not making a decision.\u201d\n\nIt's not (just) about tech\n\nCIOs were at pains to stress they sometimes overly focused on the tech aspects of the job.\n\nRichard Steward, CTO of UAE real estate company Nakheel, offered a simple formula. \u201cThink and talk business first, technology second,\u201d he says. \u201cThere are thousands of technology investments that can be applied to improve a business, but to make the right decisions, you need to understand what your business really needs next and get aligned with your CXO colleagues on that.\u201d\n\nHealy concurred.\n\n\u201cMake a concerted effort to meet the business stakeholders on day one,\u201d he says. \u201cShow them you aren\u2019t just a techie but someone who can make technology work for them. Read the business strategy, understand it, and make it your mission to help deliver it. Focus on how technology can work better for external and internal customers.\u201d\n\nBruna Pellici, CTO at law firm Linklaters, agreed. \u201cIt\u2019s not all about the tech. It\u2019s as much about the people, creating an equitable and diverse team, keeping people motivated and laying the path for development and growth.\u201d\n\nBuild bridges\n\nSimilarly, fostering deep relationships with others within the organization is something many IT leaders wished they learned earlier.\n\n\u201cI\u2019d tell myself to spend way more time with the board, execs and non-execs, educating them about the true value of tech, rather than it being largely seen as PCs on desks, printers and servers, and periodic upgrades to application software,\u201d says Jerry Fishenden, an experienced IT leader and expert on government digital strategy. \u201cI\u2019d aim to be better at challenging and educating them about some of their most basic assumptions of how the organization operates, how it connects with those it\u2019s there to serve, and where it will be in the future.\u201d \n\nHealy also had some advice for his younger self.\n\n\u201cBuilding relationships with your peers, colleagues, and stakeholders is critical to your success as a CIO,\u201d he says. \u201cTake the time to understand the needs and concerns of different departments and build relationships based on trust and collaboration. Focus on outcomes rather than outputs. Don't get bogged down in the technical details. Instead, focus on how your IT initiatives can help the business achieve its goals.\u201d\n\nGet some training\n\nToday, all CIOs need to think about having a culture of continuous improvement and lifelong learning for themselves and their staff. And they certainly recognize the value of training for new CIOs.\n\n\u201cGet some formal leadership training,\u201d says Keith Baxter, head of IT and InfoSec at Carlow, College, St Patrick\u2019s, in Ireland. \u201cI did my MSc in leadership a little later and it really added a great toolset of frameworks and knowledge to my roles, allowing me great outcomes in various areas.\u201d\n\nOthers said a grounding in the nuts and bolts of business operations would have been valuable.\n\n\u201cI think the one thing I would have told myself when starting as a CIO was to get training in understanding balance sheets, EBITDA and finance,\u201d says David Ivell, group chief product and technology officer at edutech company Team Teach. \u201cOften as CIOs, we come from a tech background and then we advise organizations on M&A, accelerating growth, and business restructures, and it's not just about the tech anymore. I have gained that experience over time, but I could have short-cut that journey.\u201d\n\nBe a storyteller\n\nToday\u2019s CIOs need to translate what\u2019s happening with tech for others who may not understand its nuances and implications. But many are going further and trying to be true storytellers in order to be in a better position to persuade and cajole.\n\nPhil Brunkard, a former CIO and CTO at telecoms giant BT, emphasized the importance of psychology and the power of narrative.\n\n\u201cStakeholder engagement and how you influence and get people on board is critical to their perceptions of you, and around technology and the IT team,\u201d he says. \u201cIf they are protective and change- or risk-averse, that affects initiatives. When you think about implementing change, it\u2019s all about how you speak to the little voice in people\u2019s head. Think about storytelling in films, identify a hero, be aware, and definitely get some training.\u201d\n\nHealy agreed.\n\n\u201cNobody in a boardroom is going to be interested in technical details,\u201d he says. \u201cTell a story they can understand. Read and subscribe to magazines, understand the latest trends, follow other CIOs on LinkedIn and look at what they follow or read.\u201d\n\nInvest in your team\n\nSeveral CIOs stated the importance of teambuilding and team development, including giving people the guidance, resources and tools they need.\n\nLenovo\u2019s Hu said he was influenced by business writer Jim Collins, author of Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap\u2026 And Others Don\u2019t, who argues that even if circumstances change, having the right people with you makes a huge difference to the success of the organization.\n\n\u201cOne of his books talks about who\u2019s on the bus and who\u2019s off that bus,\u201d he says, adding that following that guidance and figuring out the team made a big difference to eagerness and tangible results.\n\nBut sometimes, managing teams needs to have a \u2018get tough\u2019 component too.\n\n\u201cDon\u2019t underestimate the effort needed to get your team performing and onside,\u201d warns Bellenberg. \u201cYou need to be fearless in dealing with weaker team members, dissidents and the generally two-faced. I remember trying to be encouraging, supportive or diplomatic, rather than just telling staff straight that they were not doing well enough or that they were simply out of order. It\u2019s all about managing change and that\u2019s a bigger subject than you can ever be prepared for until you\u2019ve been through it at an organizational level. But if you can cultivate enough fearlessness, you\u2019ll make progress.\u201d\n\nBalance work and life\n\nThe CIO role has high levels of responsibility, but some leaders would like to go back and remind themselves that work, and speed of work, isn\u2019t everything.\n\n\u201cOne of the things I didn\u2019t have was patience, so I was pushing hard on the people around me,\u201d says Federal Reserve System CIO Ghada Ijam. \u201cI used to be very hard on myself too: \u2018Why aren\u2019t you making the progress you said you were going to make?\u2019 I was super-focused on outcomes. So be kind to yourself. Be realistic in your expectations and the pace of your output and the people around you. Bring people along by touching their hearts and minds, not just with objectives and incentives. \u2018A\u2019 was the only grade I would accept for myself, and that meant very long hours so there were family sacrifices from that. Running at that pace takes its toll eventually.\u201d\n\nIjam adds that the Covid lockdown also changed attitudes and made people more attuned to dissatisfaction with working conditions and culture.\n\n\u201cThe most fascinating thing that happened to the workforce in the pandemic is it forced us to step back and come back home, find time for hobbies and to enjoy nature,\u201d she says. \u201cThat\u2019s one reason why we saw so many job transitions in corporate America.\u201d\n\nThink about equality, D&I, and be kind\n\nUnited Living Group\u2019s Morley said knowing what he knows today, he would have pushed harder and earlier for diversity. A lot of progress has been made to promote ED&I in the CIO community, he says, but adds that it\u2019s also important to recognize the contributions of people whose work often get overlooked.\n\n\u201cHave a greater appreciation for the many unsung heroes in each business,\u201d he says. \u201cThese are the diligent and patient PAs and the administrators in HR, finance, legal, etc. who quietly grease the wheels and make a CXO's role that much easier.\u201d\n\nGlobal\u2019s Henderson said bringing outsiders in can provide a valuable perspective too. \u201cI wish I\u2019d embedded more people in the business,\u201d he says. \u201cGetting ambassadors and experts in among the wider business always pays off.\u201d\n\nEnjoy it\n\nSpeaking to a range of CIOs uncorked lots of memories, a few regrets, but also laughter and reminiscences. One CIO said that if they could go back, then taking a job at Apple or Microsoft could have been a smart move in terms of share options renumeration. But lots of CIOs said that no matter how many instructions or warnings they would have liked to give their younger selves, one thing is clear: the CIO role is a great career path so, whatever you do, don\u2019t forget to enjoy the journey.