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The Professional CIO

MassMutual's Christine Modie is still honing her skills after more than 20 years on the job.

""It's a scary transition,"" she adds, ""but once you make it, it sets you free to step into that big-picture strategy role of a leader.""

None of this can happen without trust, Modie stresses. ""In the process of pushing decision making down, people have to trust that they're going to have what they need to make the decision, and ultimately that decision's going to stick,"" she explains.

In dealing with her 15 direct reports, Modie prefers to set overall goals and leave it to them to translate those into specific action plans. ""I see my role as more direction setting than command-and-control decision making.I get upset when I have to make a decision, because it means something had to be escalated to me.""

Because her own performance is tied to that of her subordinates, Modie spends a lot of energy in getting them to function both independently and interdependently. ""Team building is essential. There are superstars out there, but to really get the job done you have to have a functional team."" The other key ingredient is diversity. ""Our biggest resource is the knowledge and experience that many groups of people brings to the table.""

Again, this is part of the transition from being a traditional manager to a team leader. ""The team that you form could be very informal and ad-hoc. They might not even know that they're a team,"" she says.

Modie holds periodic formal sessions with the rank-and-file IT organization. These tend to be top-down presentations in which Modie and members of her staff talk about important changes and initiatives taking place within the company. She also holds small, informal meetings and lunches with employees with whom she might not interact on a daily basis, just to gauge their opinions and allow their voices to be heard. ""I always say, 'You can ask me anything. You can tell me anything.' That kind of open communication, whether it's positive or negative, is extremely important."" The practice of empathic communication—listening before seeking to be heard—is very important to building trust, says Modie.

Reflecting on her career, Modie says, ""I have been happiest in situations where I have felt that what I bring to the table—what I think as well as what I do—has value.""

As for the future, she intends to remain in her current job at least three more years. ""I have a huge challenge in front of me that will keep me fully engaged. Where I go from there I don't know. I don't know where CIOs go.""



BACKGROUND: Modie joined as CIO in 1999, following three years as CIO of Citigroup's Travelers division. Previously, she had held senior management positions with Aetna Life Insurance, Batterymarch Financial Management and State Street Bank and Trust.

IT STAFF: 1,500

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree from the University of Vermont.

RECREATION: Modie's personal life revolves around her family, including her 13-year-old son. An avid cook, she enjoys entertaining friends and family at her Simsbury, CT, home. Modie also enjoys skiing in her free time.

PROFESSIONAL INFLUENCES: Personal Accountability, by John Miller, and How To Be A Star At Work, by Robert Kelley.

KEY QUOTE: ""I have been happiest in situations where I have felt that what I bring to the table—what I think as well as what I do—has value.""

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