CIO Leadership: 3 Lessons Learned At Harvard Business School

Orlando Cintra

When you’re surrounded by technology, it’s easy to forget the power of the personal touch. In my role at SAP, I work with CIOs in Latin America and the Caribbean who influence technology decisions for the long-term benefit of the company. The foundation of my relationship with each CIO is not how much better our technology is than others. The strength of these relationships is based on human elements.

Over the past 20 years of my career with technology companies, I’ve sustained a strong belief that there’s a place for machines and there’s a place for people. As basic as it sounds, I never forget the people element in my business interactions. A leadership program I completed through Harvard Business School really emphasized the power of personal connections. When I look back on the program and think about how I’ve applied lessons learned, I see three fundamental truths as most impactful on my point of view.

1. Remember that people are people

Regardless of a person’s position within their company, no matter where they started or where they are in the world – people are people. Empathy goes a long way to building relationships. Whether I’m dealing with CIOs, peers, direct reports, or supervisors, I focus on traits like honesty and sincerity, being open and aligned no matter what. No one likes to deal with someone who acts like a machine.

Once, during a complicated and tough negotiation with a CIO of a global multinational company, we were unable to resolve service-level agreements. After many days of discussion, we were stuck on three final points in the contract. At that point we started to talk about what the future would look like, the trust shared by members of both companies, and who would lead the project from both sides. By shifting the focus away from contract negotiations to talk about people, I could appreciate the CIO’s point of view and vice versa. We agreed to show a united front to the members of both teams and state our vision for the future and our commitment to the success of both companies. After that we were able to resolve the contract in a matter of hours. Why? Because we focused on trust, good faith, and empathy. This shift opened our minds and inspired our teams in ways we did not imagine.

2. To capture the mind, you need to touch the heart

Before making an investment in technology, companies need to vet the decision. It requires a solid business case, one that is well thought out and calculated, which is all good. You need these things. But to advance any cause, making a change usually requires more than a solid business case. It requires touching the heart. When you touch the heart, you get a flavor of the soul. Then you can capture the mind of those you’re trying to influence, whether it’s your customers or your management team.

Every company needs to innovate to stay ahead of the competition – and in some cases, to survive. How can you innovate when you have day-to-day cost pressures, ongoing market demands, and leadership asking for bigger and better results? Think about how you can change the behavior of your customer to identify possible ways to innovate your services or products. Buying is both an emotional process and a rational one. How can you tap into both? Touch the heart of your customers with your innovation.

3. Never underestimate the need for fun

When you think of an executive or a business person, you typically think of someone who is very serious. Even so, having fun is as important as working hard. It has the same value. It’s therefore important to celebrate milestones and achievements with your teams, your boss, your peers, and your clients. Whether the celebration is a large event or a small personal exchange, inject some fun into the business equation. It helps build a bond and often sparks inspiration.

If you want to know what mark you left on a team, on a customer, or on the market, ask how much fun you helped them have. It serves as a good measure of impact and one area where machines are at a disadvantage. You can’t set up an algorithm to automate fun. Fun is typically a shared emotion that involves other people.

The future of leadership

I’ve said there’s a place for machines and there’s a place for people. Today, technologies like machine learning and the Internet of Things enable the melding of both. But at the end of the day, it’s people who drive innovation. Therefore, throughout the technology lifecycle, from the business case through implementation and training – it’s important to remember the power of personal connections as a key enabler of success.

In future posts I’ll explore the technology side of business more directly. Look for stories about companies in Latin America and the Caribbean that are achieving success by embracing people and technology. 

For more leadership strategies for the digital era, see How To Become An Authentic Leader In The Digital Era.


Orlando Cintra

About Orlando Cintra

Orlando Cintra is senior vice president of Innovation and SAP Cloud Platform for the Latin America & Caribbean region, supporting companies in their digital transformation roadmap. He helps companies take the right journey for the future, where digital transformation is the main – and current – focus in many markets and industries, using innovation as a key element of disruption and business value creation. An author and speaker, Orlando has more than 20 years of experience in IT and business in leadership positions with SAP, HP, and Informatica Corporation. He holds an Information Technology degree and specialization in Leadership from Harvard Business School, and lives in São Paulo, Brazil.