5 Leadership Lessons from NS2’s CIO, Kim Brannon

Kim Brannon |  November 2020

One year ago this month, I took another step forward in my career journey when I joined SAP NS2 as the Chief Information Officer (CIO). It’s crazy how fast one year goes by. I’m humbled to have this leadership role, especially in a field where less than a quarter of CIOs/CTOs are women.

As I reflect on my first year as CIO, I’ve been thinking about the leadership lessons I’ve accumulated over my 30-year career.

Here are the top five leadership lessons I’ve leaned into the most over the past year.

1. Own your career.

This is classic career advice, repeated often, and I am adding to the drumbeat. My career has been a journey – a mixture of opportunities that were presented to me based on my skills and experience, and other opportunities which I carved out for myself. In my most recent career move, I decided it was time to throw my hat in the ring for a CIO position. They say luck is where opportunity meets preparation – and the timing was right to join NS2.

Bottom line: Think about where you want to be next and make a plan to get yourself there. (Definitely don’t wait for someone else to show you the way).

2. Ask for what you want.

I’ve spent a lot of calories understanding how I approach work that I do, in comparison to how other people approach similar problems. I’ve observed that men and women can approach problems differently, which helps to create diversity of thought (always a good thing). The difference – and the problem is – that women may not always be as assertive when starting a position or offering a solution. They tend to make do with what they have. According to one of my favorite books (thanks to one of my mentors) “Years of socialization have taught women the dangers of appearing too aggressive.” It’s time to change that. Close the door to imposter syndrome voices and start saying what you mean and getting what you want.

Bottom line: Don’t settle for the cards that are handed to you. Negotiate for better cards.

3. Be an authentic leader.

I’m fortunate to work with a great leadership team and company which encourages me to bring my whole self to work. I’m empowered to challenge the status quo and share new ideas. As a team leader and people manager, it’s essential to model, cascade and reinforce this sentiment across all levels. When you are authentic, you build trust with your team and get the best version of them, too.

Bottom line: Authenticity (and sometimes vulnerability) build trust—which is the backbone of an effective team.

4. Focus on the fundamentals.

From day one on the job, the IT team and I have been focused on our foundational elements: people, process and technology. Underlying all of those is security. I often remind myself that the goal of an IT organization is to support the business—and what that looks like is always changing. But without a strong foundation, you’ll have trouble building anything of value.

Bottom line: Build a strong foundation, but always be ready to pivot, reorganize, and rebuild.

5. Find the silver lining of a crisis.

One year ago when I took on this role, I could have never predicted a global health crisis would upend the way we work. But there I was, six months into the job and facing the biggest disruption of my career. Practically overnight, most of our workforce began working remotely. The IT team and I took the opportunity to accelerate our digital transformation, without compromising security or our enterprise architecture approach to our technology roadmap. In very short order, we rolled out collaborative technologies that were completely new to the NS2 workforce. But you know what? People are adaptable and change can happen.

Bottom line: Sometimes change is forced to happen quickly, with little time to deliberate or prepare. But big risks can bring big rewards.

Final thoughts

Finally, as I reflect on my career journey, there have been so many teachable moments along the way. I’m proud to work for a company that prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion through employee engagement programs.

For example, NS2 has a group called the Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) which helps to advance NS2 women through professional skills enablement, an inspiring speaker series, and a mentorship program. Along those lines, my passion is to ensure that, as a society, we continue to open more leadership opportunities for women.

NS2 also gives back to the community through initiatives like NS2 Serves, our nonprofit organization dedicated to training and employing veterans in high-tech careers.

Our Corporate Social Responsibility program, NS2 Gives, allows employees the opportunity to make a difference in their communities, and contribute to causes that are most meaningful to them.

From October through the end of the year our employees will be taking part in NS2’s Season of Service, volunteering (virtually) and fundraising for worthy nonprofits. I’m proud to be part of it.

Kim Brannon

Kim Brannon

Chief Information Officer, SAP NS2

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