Last week I attended a small, informal breakfast for CIO’s, mostly located in the New York City area. The event was well run, with no hidden agenda, and was genuinely about getting CIO’s to talk about their challenges and foster stronger relationships. We talked about business alignment, challenges with mobile technology (Apple, Android, and enterpise access), security, social networking, fostering innovation, the concept of IT as a profit center, and the day to day joys and misery of being a CIO. It was about 2 hours.
After the session, I went back to my office and later that afternoon met with my boss for a weekly one on one. He mentioned in the meeting I seemed more upbeat than I have in a while. We have been in the midst of some very, very complex projects, and there have been some extremely high highs, and extremely low lows, and I tend to be more impacted by the lows than the highs. So I have been pretty worn out. But, I have to say, after that breakfast with the other CIO’s, I have been feeling better. And, I guess it was noticeable to my boss. I was more positive in my thinking, comfortable with talking about some good news, and looking at some of the challenges in a more positive light. I joked with him that I had just come from this CIO breakfast and realized that there are others out there who have just as many problems, or worse, and that the breakfast was a bit like therapy.
The day after that, I read this article from one of the bloggers at HBR and it really hit home. The blog is on empathy, and how a leader can utilize empathy to be a better leader. It is a great article. But it also got me thinking about the CIO breakfast, and that once in a while you just need to talk to some peers who aren’t trying to sell you anything, aren’t trying to “fix it for you”, but have the look in their eye that says, “yeah, I know what you mean”.
The point of this post isn’t so much to talk about a great breakfast meeting or a great article on leadership and empathy. The point is, that for the channel, there is a great opportunity for you to create this type of environment for your customers – getting them together informally, in small groups of similar backgrounds – to discuss their issues in a non-sales/non-solve-it-now, kind of environment. The company that ran the breakfast was relatively new to me, but I am now a loyal friend or partner. They didn’t sell me anything, but they helped me out alot more than they realized. These types of sessions can be relatively cost effective for you to have with your customers. You won’t see a dime in the immediate term, but you should expect (if you pick the right mix of participants) to see a stronger, longer, deeper relationship over the long-term.