The Learning Log: A Day in the Life of the CIO

Author’s Note: Goal number #4 of our University System’s Strategic Plan calls for investment in the University’s human resources. To that end, the President’s Emerging Leaders Program was initiated to develop and hone the next potential generation of University system leaders. I’ve been privileged to have been selected for this opportunity and will share some of the nuggets of leadership gold I have gleaned from this program with you.

As part of my PELP experience I have had the unique opportunity to be mentored by our VP/CIO an experience I previously chronicled in this post. Part of the mentoring experience is a monthly meeting which we’ve adhered to (I’ve just been too busy to blog over the past month of two, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that if you’re a regular reader).  Yesterday I had the very unique and special privilege of shadowing our CIO for the day to gain a view of the “Day-in-the-Life” of an Executive.  For me it was a very rewarding and eye-opening experience to see how a highly successful person (we’re talking that Top %1 of the Population) operates.  Again, out of respect for privacy and confidentiality I won’t be talking specifics but instead will speak to some basic principles and observations I noted during my day tailing our VP/CIO.

Breadth and Scope

First off, I must say that I am truly amazed at the breadth and scope of the issues a person at this level has to tackle.  If you’re a friend of mine and follow me on Twitter you’ll note I’m very much a “meeting” person who floats from meeting to meeting throughout the day working on various projects.  Not surprisingly an Executive pretty much floats from meeting to meeting as well (having worked closely with Administrators most of my career I can easily attest to that).  During our day together we attended two meetings and 3 conference calls which amounts to a “slower than normal day” according to the VP and his secretary.  I don’t doubt that for one second 🙂

What TRULY amazed me though was the various issues and scope of reach each of these meetings spoke to.  Our VP/CIO is a person who sits at the near literal top of the food chain in a public University system so some of the issues that were discussed and people we were in contact with just literally boggled my mind.  Here’s a general sampling and scope of some of the things we discussed:

1.  Departmental Project Update meeting on new videoconferencing systems (departmental level)
2.  Stakeholder group meeting for implementation of a new system-wide financial management system (talk about Change Analysis nightmare!!!) (University System level)
3.  State Broadband Taskforce Conference Call (State level)
4.  Grant Proposal Conference call with external partners (Regional level)
5.  PTC Board of Governors Meeting Conference Call (International level)

Most of my work revoles around issues at the departmental and campus level with occasional cross-over to the system-level in my small sphere of influence.  In the midst of my work my main goal is to set-up and develop projects that can foster interdeparmental and inter-campus collaboration.  That alone is a big challenge for me.  The idea of working on and leading projects and initiatives that have an effect at the Statewide, Pacific Region or International level is currently unfathomable to me (but is something I greatly aspire to!!!).

What most impressed me was how easily he was able to “shift gears” from one thing to the next which to me is truly amazing.

Highly Organized

Needless to say, he is an EXTREMELY organized individual.  To juggle that many projects at that level you need to be.  Being a fellow geek it definitely warmed my heart to see how he uses and welds the technology to keep himself organized and on track.  Bonus points?  We use some of the same stuff 🙂  (Evernote, ftw!!!)


After sitting through the first few meetings I noticed just how disparate they were in terms of issues and what not it became quite clear to me just how vast the scope of his duties are.  In one meeting we discussed the intricacies of different video conferencing technologies and in the next we discussed adaptable current financial practices to best fit a new financial management system solution based on industry best practices.  The total 180 degree shift really boggled me on just how up to snuff on different things you need to be at this level.

As I’ve progressed through my career and have observed our administrators and key leaders in action I have always been amazed at how they can handle so much, know so much and still (relatively) smile and I’ve always wondered, “how the heck do they do that.”  It’s a question I myself am asked once in a while by junior colleagues and/or classmates in regards to how I manage to juggle so many projects and stay on top of things.  I had to seriously chuckle when he told me, “I hang out with smart friends” as that’s usually the same answer I give other people!

Like most effective people, he is extremely well-read and well-networked.  Possessing genius level intellect helps too.  In a nutshell, he has no problem finding the information and/or resources he needs to get done what he needs to get done.

As with a lot of things I’m finding out about myself through this WoLC/PELP process, I’m glad to know I’m (relatively) on the right track with things so I guess there’s hope for me still somewhere.  🙂  I suppose in time if I can continue to learn and apply what I am learning well I too could perhaps be at “that level.”

Conscientious Altruistic Self-Starter

The final thing I really noticed was how passionate and altruistic he is in regards to his work.  He truly seems like a person who “never stops working” as he seems like the type of person who is always striving to find a “better way” to do things or improve things in general for the system.  He’s definitely not the “Rest on my Laurels” type of person.  I discovered this is response to a question I asked of how he gets involved in the types of projects he does, are these projects requested of him or assigned?  The answer:  he sees a need somewhere and seeks to find a solution.  If only we had more folks like that on this planet!!

Funny thing a lot of people always warn me about which I do agree is true (I see it more and more as each year goes by based on my e-mails and phone calls), “The reward for good work is MORE work.”  I suppose when you get to the top level the work truly never stops but I think when you do get to the top you have the ability to “pick and choose” the tasks you choose to take on but by that point the motivation is more internal because it seems like at that point you take on projects you feel are most important and will benefit the most people.  The external rewards at that point (increased pay and prestige) mirrors the internal rewards (making a positive contribution and difference).  That to me is the epitome of awesome!

In the mean time, this Padawan will continue to soak in and learn from his many Masters.


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