Johns Hopkins' Stephanie Reel: What makes a great CIO

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Stephanie Reel has been vice president for information services at Baltimore-based John Hopkins Medicine since 1994, where she oversees IT implementation and optimization across the health system. In 1999, her role was expanded and she became head of IT for the entire university as well.

Below, she shares her thoughts on what makes a great CIO.

1. Have passion for the organization and the people who work there. "I have enormous respect for the history, mission, vision and values of Johns Hopkins," says Ms. Reel. "I value the contributions of previous and current leaders, and I enjoy working with colleagues across the university and health system — almost without exception. They are among the brightest, most talented and most dedicated people on the planet." This admiration and respect is what helps drive her to be a better CIO.

2. Anticipate needs. "I believe that it is my job — our job — to anticipate and provide solutions to difficult problems, while partnering with our customers to imagine the future," she says. "Our partners are the experts in their clinical, business and academic units, and we are their partners in innovation."

3. Balance innovation and service. CIOs need to be leaders and innovators, but also need to address the current needs of the organization, says Ms. Reel. "We must lead, and we must serve, and we must be passionate in our respect for the missions and the people who carry them out," she says. "Balancing innovation and service is difficult but critical. Our customers often have choices, and they could go elsewhere for their services."

4. Work with customers. A CIO's job is to work closely with customers to ensure their needs are well-defined and ultimately met. This is accomplished through building partnerships and relationships and keeping a spirit of collegiality, cooperation, candor and trust, says Ms. Reel. "Sometimes it requires a degree of humility," she says. "Sometimes it requires 'earning the right.' But the rewards are great."

5. Use customer satisfaction as a metric for success. To Ms. Reel, how customers perceive services rendered is an important factor in determining their success. "At least 50 percent of an annual performance review that I conduct for my directors relies on customer input, directly or indirectly," she says. "The remaining component relies on our ability to deliver innovative, safe, high-reliability, quality products as a part of a team."

6. Have good listening skills. The ability to listen is one of the most important skills for a CIO to develop, says Ms. Reel. "Careful listeners often anticipate needs, and provide outstanding solutions with less effort than might be required otherwise," she says.

7. Have a team spirit. "If we do not have healthy relationships with our vendors, our clients, our partners, our staff and one another, we have no chance at success," says Ms. Reel. "There is no way one of us can win, if others lose."

8. Overcommunicate. CIOs can never communicate too much. Email is a useful tool, but communication should be done in-person as well. "Nothing beats human interaction, careful listening and candid conversations — and they can't happen electronically," she says.

9. Be fiscally responsible. "Fiscal responsibility and accountability are critical to our success," says Ms. Reel. "Project plans and budgets are essential management tools, and expected to be respected and met."

10. Train staff members in adherence to institutional values. Staff development and mentorship must comply with the organization's mission and values, says Ms. Reel. "It is not optional, and it is the responsibility of each member of the leadership team." she says. "Developing our successors is our responsibility. Doing so respectfully, with a commitment to diversity and inclusion, is essential."

More articles on CIOs:

The life of a healthcare CIO: Truman Medical Center's Mitzi Cardenas
CIOs: 3 steps to a strategic vision
Taos Health Systems COO, CIO to step down

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