CIO Roundtable No. 3 with Kumud Kalia and Brian Lillie

Episode 91

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Welcome to our third CIO Roundtable. Joining us at the table this time are Brian Lillie (LinkedIn), who won CIO of the Year for Silicon Valley in 2014 while he was in the role for Equinix, and Kumud Kalia (LinkedIn), a multiple-time CIO who most recently held the title at Cylance. Together with Ian they discuss having a sounding board of other CIOs to talk to, leveraging your network to get things done internally, work-life balance, and how to be both a good CIO and a good person, and so much more. 

 If you’d like to check out our previous CIO Roundtables click here and here or any of our other episodes check out Mission.org/ITVisionaries.

Key Takeaways:

What does a new CIO aim to do in his or her first 100 days? — (2:00)

According to Kumud, the first 100 days is about figuring out how a company works and how it makes money. You also need to learn about who is who in the company, how do decisions get made and what are some of the biggest challenges among both customers and employees. After you have done all of that, you have an idea of what needs to be done and what should be done, so you should come up with a draft plan of attack to circulate around and get input on before then putting the adapted plan into place.

Brian agrees and he notes that when he went into the CIO role, he had not been a CIO before. He approached the similar to Kumud by learning the ins and outs of the company and the people. He also places an emphasis on relationship building. 

Both men agree that you also need to expect the unexpected at the start. There will be something that comes up in the first 90 or 100 days that you did not plan for. That is when the relationships you built come in most handy because you can lean on people and move forward in a positive way without being overwhelmed. 

Brian: “I think what is equally important is relationship building. You can’t do anything as a CIO without building bridges. I’ve seen people fail over and over and over again when they try and say, ‘My way or the highway,’ or they don’t have those relationships. There is this notion of an emotional bank account you have to dip in, especially if a project fails or it’s late or whatever. And so how you start is from the ground up building relationships.”

Leaning on other CIOs — (8:00)

At times, being a CIO can be incredibly difficult. You are constantly facing impossible challenges, tough choices, and decisions that can make or break your company. In the hard times, having others who are in the same situation that you can lean on is important. They are the only ones who can relate to the complete cross-company aspects of the role because CIOs are the only people who work in all aspects of the company 

Both Brian and Kumud joined a group for CIOs in Silicon Valley that brings the members together to share ideas, troubles, and stories. Coming together, Brian found not just a trusted community to lean on, but he also was impressed that these people were not just technical, in the weeds CIOs. Rather, the group was made up of people who were very strategic business people, which speaks to just how the role of CIO has changed.

Using the network is also important because it helps you achieve things internally you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. A lot of what companies and other CIOs do is not public information. But having a relationship with other CIOs means that you can call them up to ask how they solved a certain problem or what solutions they are using that might be applicable to you. 

Brian: “When you’re a CIO and you’re in the muck, cause sometimes with this job you’re in the muck, it’s helpful to know others that are sort of sharing that pain with you.”

Kumud: “If you look at a CIO’s role within a company, there’s nobody else in the company that gets what the CIO’s role is about, even the CEO doesn’t really understand it. And it’s the only role that truly works across all functions in the company. You see all parts of the business, but you see all the minutia that the CEO never sees. And so you have this sort of very unique perspective in the company. And if you talk to any of the other leaders on the team, they don’t have that view…. It can be a lonely place because you’ve got no one else to talk to who understands the tradeoffs you’re trying to make because there are all sorts of constraints on you. There’s budget constraints, people constraints, time constraints. And you’re trying to figure out like how do I get all this stuff done? Who do I let down so that I can move forward with this critical initiative for the company? And so it’s natural to reach out to other people like yourself to say, ‘You get what I’m going through? How did you do this?’”

Work-life balance as a CIO — (14:50)

Ultimately, being able to balance work life and home life is all about prioritization. Brian recalls growing up as an athlete with a single mom and how hard that was for her and for him because she wasn’t always able to make it to his games. When he got married and became a father, there was no arguing the point of whether or not they would be his priority. Of course, succeeding in work was still important as well, but he was adamant about prioritizing the things that mattered most, and by doing that, he was even able to coach his children in their activities. Brian explains that it’s about keeping your promises and being honest with your kids and your employees or bosses about what you can and can’t do. If you aren’t able to do something, tell them straight away because saying you can go and then not showing up is the worst thing you can do. 

Additionally, when you set those priorities and live by them you as a leader set an example for the rest of the team about the ways to integrate some balance into their lives. It’s about breaking the expectation or the obscured set of values that people hold that for some reason places work over everything else. You don’t have to work all day and night or come into the office and just look busy. You need to prioritize things that matter, get them done and delegate and set boundaries so that you can have a full and successful life at home and at work. 

Brian: “I think it’s prioritization. It’s probably sacrificing sleep because you’re going to be online later. But it’s also just communicating to your boss and to your peers and everybody that this is a priority and that I promise I will be back online later.”

Brian: “Be direct with your CIO or your VP or your leader about what is it that you sir or you ma’am need to do, and what is it that I need to do? Have that direct conversation. Because in this thing with your family, you’re going to have a very good candid conversation about what’s important to you, what you want to prioritize because you want to have an integrated life, you know, you know, cause balanced life I think doesn’t exist. It’s an integrated life.”

Kumud:  “What we need to do as leaders is live so that people see us having that balance and giving time to priorities outside of work. So then we’re giving them permission to do the same because they see us doing it completely.”

Kumud: “I’ve always looked at myself as not necessarily a leader of a team or leader of an organization. I see myself as a leader of leaders. And so I’ve got to inspire them to do the right things for their teams.”  

Brian: “I think the best employees and the future leaders are those that have a personal life, that have this professional life, that develop their spiritual side and that really feed their intellectual curiosity. You know there’s a lot more to a person than just can they write a sequel or can they code or can they do CRM business analysis.”

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In our third CIO Roundtable episode, Kumud Kalia, a multiple-time CIO most recently with Cylance, and Brian Lillie, a CIO of The Year award winner, join Ian to discuss the challenges CIOs face on the job early on and then throughout their career especially when trying to find a work-life balance.

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