The one skill every CIO needs for better board conversations

For IT leaders to stand out as strategic business contributors, simply presenting your materials isn't enough: Engage the board with a few great questions of your own.

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Every board of directors has at least one. That board member who knows how to ask the best questions—the penetrating, insightful, thoughtful kind that make everyone in the room stop, think, and reconsider.

One of the first lessons fledgling board members learn is how critical that ability to ask good questions is to their new oversight and governance responsibilities, says experienced board director Frank Modruson, the retired CIO of Accenture.

“It’s a learned skill. It’s about listening hard, asking the right questions, and doing it in a collaborative spirit,” says this veteran director of six company boards and two non-profits. He vividly recalls how much he learned early in his board career from watching one masterful colleague at work. “He would ask the question and you’d think, ‘Perfect. That gets right to the heart of the whole thing.’”

MIT’s Hal Gregersen, author of Questions Are the Answer (Harper Collins, 2018), coined the term “catalytic questions” to describe those kinds of queries that spark creative thinking, reframe old problems in a new light, or illuminate the ‘unknowable’ factors in any source of disruption.

“Questions are about learning,” Modruson adds. “What I sometimes find frustrating as a board member is that senior executives want to present their materials instead of generating a dialogue with the board.”

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