Kevin Hart was named chief executive officer of Segra, one of the nation\u2019s largest independent fiber network companies, following an 11-year tenure as executive vice president and chief product and technology officer for Cox Communications. Hart\u2019s journey from CIO to CEO is a story of intention and grit, with an equal focus on lifting others as he\u2019s climbed. It\u2019s also an example of the unique strengths technology leaders bring to the top job when they combine their technical, operational, and transformational expertise with strategic, innovative leadership to grow the business.\n\nOn a recent episode of the Tech Whisperers podcast, Hart, who also served as CIO at both Clearwire and Level 3 Communications, shared his journey to the CEO role and the leadership principles and mindset that have served him so successfully along the way. We also discussed his dedication to elevating those around him by developing and mentoring countless CIOs and technology leaders over the years.\n\nAfter the show, we spent some more time talking about why he is so intentional about growing leaders, his advice for building a world-class IT leadership team, and how he sustains a high-performance, high-engagement culture. What follows is that conversation, edited for length and clarity.\n\nDan Roberts: With 50 CIOs who\u2019ve been through the program you put together called CIO University, and the countless other leaders who\u2019ve benefitted from your mentoring and teaching, you have a proven track record when it comes to developing successful leaders. What core values or key pillars guide you?\n\nHart: First is having clarity of vision. You have to paint the vision \u2014 and realize that different people connect with different forms. Some of it\u2019s going to be verbal, but some could be graphical, some could be experiential. It\u2019s about illustrating the vision for people in ways that they can connect with.\n\nYou also have to understand what business you\u2019re in, how your company makes money, how people thrive, and how they connect with their communities, their customers, and employees \u2014 and then translate that down to individual people\u2019s roles. How do they help the company be successful? Too many people don\u2019t understand what makes your company tick, and that\u2019s a problem. So that\u2019s always been a big part of CIO University, and it\u2019s just my philosophy in general. Get people up to speed, give them a little mini-MBA on how your company operates.\n\nTeamwork is another pillar. Everyone says it, but you have to actually enable it. You have to reward people for teaming. You have to provide them feedback if they\u2019re not teaming to make sure they\u2019re collaborating and sharing best practices, because more likely than not, these functions are interdependent. They\u2019re codependent on one another upstream or downstream. So you\u2019ve got to have a passion for teamwork.\n\nYou\u2019ve also got to believe in what you\u2019re doing. If you don\u2019t, then stop doing it because it\u2019s not worth the effort. You\u2019ve got to believe you\u2019re doing something good, and you have to have the passion to do it. Coupled with that is perseverance. You\u2019re going to have some tough days and setbacks. You\u2019re going to have some outages. You\u2019re going to have some vendor failures. You\u2019re going to have some stakeholders who don\u2019t believe you can get the job done. But you have to overcome until you get there.\n\nHonesty and trust are also essential, and you build them by being transparent. Tell people what you know. Tell people what you don\u2019t know. And then go find out what you don\u2019t know. And then go make it happen.\n\nLast, but not least, pay for performance, or help individuals achieve their professional success, because it\u2019s not always about money. Sometimes it\u2019s about recognition, new opportunities, or just feeling like a valuable part of the team.\n\nThose are some of the values that guide me that I share with my team. I\u2019m sure I\u2019m not perfect, but I try to put those into motion, because I think your behavior and your actions speak a lot louder than a poster on the wall.\n\nWhen it comes to teamwork, what\u2019s your advice to CIOs who have a team they need to turn around? Where do they begin?\n\nFirst and foremost, as the leader, you have to believe. You have to set the tone around optimism. And you get people to continue to believe when you interject realism: \u2018Guess what, folks, we\u2019re not as good as we think we are in certain areas, and to become best in class, we\u2019re going to have to improve. We\u2019re going to have to make investments. We\u2019re going to have to get the CEO of that vendor on the phone once a week until we get that solution put in place.\u2019\n\nYou have to recognize even minor victories along the way but not get too distracted, because you\u2019ve got more to accomplish, and there are going to be some steep hurdles to overcome. And you need to get your team and your leaders to believe. Build that strong sense of belief that we can become the best, we can do it, and we\u2019re going to build on our success. Even if you don\u2019t believe 100%, you have to act like you believe 100% until you get there.\n\nDo that and the next thing you know, you\u2019ll be beyond where you set your goals because of that belief, the force multiplier effect of the optimism of the team, the collective talents of the team, and just that passion, perseverance, and winning culture that celebrates success along the way. Because success breeds success.\n\nWhat are some of the things you do as a leader to make sure people are able to do their best work every day? How do you create that culture and sustain it?\n\nWe have a weekly cross-functional meeting with the top leaders in the company where we go through every major function, every major KPI, and we talk about our successes, and we talk about our challenges. I\u2019m able to learn a fair amount from that and ask pretty decent questions and also bring solutions to the team.\n\nI think when the leadership is modeling the behavior, it shows that we are a team. We\u2019re going to do whatever it takes to get to where we need to be, and we\u2019re going to help each other out. That breeds camaraderie and teamwork and a can-do spirit as opposed to people feeling like they need to cover their bases or just look out for themselves.\n\nWhat motivated you to invest time and money into leadership development and CIO University? What\u2019s the ROI on that?\n\nAs every good team leader or coach knows, you\u2019re only as good as the players on your team. If you go back 10 or 20 years ago, a lot of the really proficient technology leaders weren\u2019t necessarily as astute in terms of business acumen, so they got a lot of pushback from CFOs around the cost investments. I thought, why don\u2019t we build a bridge between our stakeholders and educate our teams on things like what it means to hit your quarterly revenue or EBITDA numbers, what it means when you\u2019re trying to generate free cash flow, etc., so that we can walk in their shoes and, in turn, do a better job delivering to benefit them and us.\n\nA lot of it was around communication, personality types, and business acumen. I started getting feedback from my stakeholders like, \u2018It\u2019s working. Your team is actually listening and they\u2019re compromising to find win-win solutions that can move the business forward.\u2019\n\nI also created something called the value meter that captures revenue growth, cost reduction, and vendor cost optimization. I had one instance a few years ago that generated $1.4 billion in cost savings, cost avoidance, or revenue enablement. When you sit down with the CFO or stakeholders and talk about the financial problems of the company, and you deliver solutions that contribute to the financial success of the company, that gets their attention. You can only do that if you have a team that understands how the business operates and can communicate, connect, and deliver to benefit the growth of the company. Those are just a couple of examples of how I know that the investment in your team pays off.\n\nYou\u2019re also trying to build a great workplace. I\u2019ve taken over teams in the past with engagement scores and employee NPS scores that were below average for the company. Because of the communication skills of the leaders that we were fostering and investing in, those scores, in most instances, had increased to be at par or at the top of the company. Employees like to communicate with their supervisors and be heard and provide input.\n\nFundamentally, most of technology is about people, so investing in your leaders to help them enable others to rise to the occasion is definitely a worthwhile value proposition.\n\nYour CIO, Rose Chambers, told me that one of your biggest assets is that you listen before speak. Does that come from your consultant training?\n\nI think so. When you show up as a consultant, you\u2019re not there to tell them how great you are; you\u2019re there to help them solve their problems. You\u2019re asking, what problems do you have, what are you trying to solve, and then you can start pairing up your particular solutions or scenarios that might be a fit for what they need. At the end of the day, they\u2019re only going to hire you or engage you if you can actually help them be successful in their roles.\n\nIn general, I\u2019m a lot more analytical than otherwise, so I\u2019m trying to listen and process information. I look for patterns and solutions before speaking. I also try to keep in mind that when I, as the leader, say something, people will start to line up around that, and it might not be the best outcome. I\u2019ll caveat things by saying, \u2018Here\u2019s an idea. It doesn\u2019t have to be this way, but let\u2019s start with this and then see if we can make it better.\u2019 I want to avoid a situation where people just say, \u2018Well, he said this, so that\u2019s what we have to do,\u2019 because I\u2019ve seen that a lot and it doesn\u2019t tend to end up that well.\n\nDan Roberts: From your vantage point as CEO, what advice would you offer CIOs and IT leaders about how to make the biggest impact?\n\nNow that I\u2019m the CEO, I look at the CIO role and think, wow, that was a lot harder than I could ever imagine it being. When you\u2019re in the middle of it, you just do what you have to do. But when you\u2019re observing the situation, she or he is supporting every function in the company. Everybody wants something, everybody wants it yesterday for low cost or free, and it just doesn\u2019t work that way. So you need to be able to navigate, be a consultant, and put financial priorities in place, because you have to protect your team, too \u2014 you can\u2019t just burn them out. You basically have to be an international ambassador of goodwill to try to keep the peace with everybody and keep the progress moving for the company.\n\nAt the end of the day, you need to stay focused on, what business problem are we trying to solve? Is it revenue? Is it EBITDA? Customer experience? It sounds like an easy question to ask, but in too many meetings, people have no idea what they\u2019re trying to solve. Ask that question. Get focused in on the solutions, and as a CIO or technology leader, translate the tech talk into business speak. Then be a partner and a consultant and you\u2019re going to end up in a good spot.\n\nFor more insights from the leadership playbook of CIO-turned-CEO Kevin Hart, tune in to the Tech Whisperers podcast.