Promotion brings interpersonal challenges

Stepping into a senior role means adapting to new relationships with those you've previously worked alongside, new CIOs tell Mary K Pratt

Jerry Bartlett says one of the hardest things about becoming a CIO was having his circle of confidants shrink at the same time his responsibilities grew.

“You’ve got to sort through a lot more, either by yourself or with just one or two others,” he says, explaining that CIOs and other executives often deal with issues whose details can’t be disclosed or shared with colleagues who might offer useful insights.

He says it’s true: it’s a bit lonely at the top.

But Bartlett, who is CIO at TD Ameritrade, found a way to counteract some of this by cultivating relationships with new peers with whom he can discuss ideas, seek insights regarding tough situations or just vent.

Kathy Hill, a professional coach in career and life transitions, agrees. “You have to have a support network. It’s important not to try to do it all by yourself. You don’t have to have all the answers,” she says.

Until promoted executives develop a network, she says, they can find the support they need by hiring a coach or by seeking advice from others who have been in similar situations. She also suggests that they join or create a “mastermind group”, a small group of executives in the organisation at the same professional level who meet regularly to discuss challenges.

Regardless of what you call this group, she says, “almost every successful person has been part of one”.

Bartlett says newly promoted CIOs not only find it difficult when previous superiors become their peers — it can also be awkward when those who were peers become subordinates. “There’s the potential for discomfort. But my rule of thumb is that I will treat [my employees] the way I want my boss to treat me.”

Another recently-promoted CIO advises against issuing edicts as a way to show strength. “In no way [should you] go in and declare, ‘This is the way it’s going to be,’” he says.

To avoid that, he worked to establish a team environment, where he and his staff could collaborate.

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