Archive | August, 2013

Technology Leadership Series: Being Authentic

Have you ever been employed by a company and worked for a manager whom you felt wasn’t authentic? As an employee it is miserable to work for a manager who constantly changes the target of expected behavior- or worse yet- doesn’t attempt to meet the target themselves. A leader that continually stresses the importance of a characteristic to his or her team, that they themselves don’t posses or strive for, will soon have a poorly performing, disengaged team consisting of people that don’t respect them. To avoid this, and be successful, leaders must be authentic, genuine and consistent.

Being Authentic means a leader needs to model the behavior they expect from their team(s). Conversely, being unauthentic means operating under the “do as I say,  not as I do” creed. Successful leaders hold themselves to a greater standard of excellence than they expect from their employees.

Being Genuine is imperative; giving honest feedback, criticism and praise is a must for any CIO, CTO or technology leader to be successful. A leader cannot be authentic if they insist on either giving their employees praise, and not meaning it, or worse yet refusing to openly praise the work their team does. Successful leaders understand the importance of giving credit where credit is due, and they mean it when they praise individual members or the team as a whole.

Being Consistent is integral to authenticity. I used to work as a freelance audio engineer- recording and editing all sorts of media. I had a large, nationally known, client I regularly worked for. I would constantly document the scope of work for each project, monitor, record and fulfill change orders and deliver all files ahead of schedule Without wail there would be countless changes and revisions before the final product was completed; ultimately the final file was in no way, shape or form representative of the original scope. It was miserable and defeating working this way on each project and ultimately it led to me dropping them as a client. Inconsistency in leadership is identical in nature, and equally defeating for your employees. Successful leaders demand consistently excellent performances. Don’t move the target on your team then be surprised when the precision drastically suffers.

The necessity for authenticity in leadership cannot be underestimated. Modeling desired behaviors, holding yourself to a higher standard of excellence, genuinely praising your employees and having a consistent standard of expectations all lead to comprise being authentic. Having the right blend of professional skills and credibility in the eyes of your peers, employees and stakeholders is important for any CIO, CTO or technology leader.

Each Friday, for the next several weeks, a new post will be released with another key characteristic of what it takes to be successful in technology leadership. These posts are in no particular order; I’d love for you to provide feedback and let me know if you think I’m missing something, or if you’d like to see a particular trait addressed please feel free to email me, or leave a comment. I’m hoping this will be a useful dialogue about what is necessary to become a successful technology leader.

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Leadership, Technology

Technology Leadership Series: Feedback

As a leader not providing a mechanism to receive feedback, or worse yet- solicit and not respond to feedback can be the most arrogant and self defeating action one could possibly take. The lack of opportunity to provide feedback has the potential to increase employee frustration and as a result decrease workplace engagement. Soliciting feedback, and ignoring it is perhaps the most self serving stunt a leader can engage in. It is important to earnestly seek and honestly respond to the opinions of your employees.

Certainly not all feedback given by employees will be unbiased, accurate and actionable; but it can all be useful and beneficial. It’s extremely important to be able to ask for- and fully accept- feedback regularly from a range of people you interact with, both above and below you. Fully accept and appreciate feedback; a culture of accepting feedback and proactively responding to it is the healthiest company culture around. Accepting and using feedback constructively engages and empowers employees.

All great leaders are great listeners, and by extension life long learners. Listening isn’t a skill a CIO, CTO or Technology Manager easily masters; it more involved than simply hearing and understanding what is being said. Leaders who listen well hear, understand, consider and act on what is being said to them.

Feedback requires flexibility. Depending on feedback that is received, either within the organization or from sources external to the company, a leader might need to deviate from their vision; or even decide to forgo it altogether if it is in the best interest of the organization.

Technology leaders need to rely heavily on feedback. Employee feedback informs the execution of the vision and the direction the department will head. A CIO/CTO cannot have a keep and expert understanding of all facets of their teams’ responsibilities. A great technology leader must solicit feedback to ensure the vision is appropriately tailored to what is possible, and in the best interest of the organization.

Leaders: don’t be arrogant ask for feedback from stakeholders internally and externally. Consider the feedback honestly and completely, adjust and make changes where appropriate. Use feedback as an opportunity to engage and empower your employees to share in the vision and the direction of the organization. Feedback is essential to the continued success of any vision; it creates a shared vision experience.

Each Friday, for the next several weeks, a new post will be released with another key characteristic of what it takes to be successful in technology leadership. These posts are in no particular order; I’d love for you to provide feedback and let me know if you think I’m missing something, or if you’d like to see a particular trait addressed please feel free to email me, or leave a comment. I’m hoping this will be a useful dialogue about what is necessary to become a successful technology leader.

 

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Leadership, Technology

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Technology Leadership Series: Self Awareness

Leaders at any level, whether CIO, CTO or even lower management, need to have a firm grasp of their team’s pulse, as a result it is important for all leaders to have tremendous self awareness. It is important for a leader to have a good accounting of their own strengths and weaknesses drawing on strengths when necessary and avoiding pitfalls of their weaknesses when confronted by them.

Leaders must be able to take a complete inventory of the perception of themselves within their team(s).  All too often leaders don’t take this important step, preventing them from being as successful as leaders who accurately utilize introspection and awareness. Without being insecure, leaders must be able to use this inventory to ensure they are providing their teams with meaningful leadership, direction, vision and emotional intelligence; guiding them towards success and solidly supporting and empowering employees.

Another key component of leadership having exceptional self-awareness is to always be cognizant of ensuring leaders never blame others for team or department failures. I’ve heard it said one of the simplest keys to being a great leader, and having highly performing teams, is to avoid personalizing failures and actively share successes with your team. Self Awareness is also integral to another key concept previously discussed: building successful teams.  A leader needs to be aware of their deficits to ensure they build teams with complementary strengths, in order to be as complete and diverse as possible. Leaders who are not self aware, or actively taking inventory of their strengths and weaknesses are susceptible to failure in the blind spots. It is crucial to constantly be aware of how your attitude, actions and leadership affects others.

Each Friday, for the next several months, a new post will be released with another key characteristic of what it takes to be successful in technology leadership. These posts are in no particular order; I’d love for you to provide feedback and let me know if you think I’m missing something, or if you’d like to see a particular trait addressed please feel free to email me, or leave a comment. I’m hoping this will be a useful dialogue about what is necessary to become a successful technology leader.

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Leadership, Technology

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Technology Leadership Series: Vision

Successful leadership always starts with a vision. Compelling visions have led to several of the greatest moments in human history. President John F. Kennedy’s vision to place a man on the moon forever changed the way we look at a nighttime sky. Likewise, every CIO, CTO and technology manager must have a far-reaching vision of where their department must be in twelve, eighteen and thirty six months into the future. Without a vision, or any concrete direction to move in, IT departments become stagnant and obsolete virtually immediately. A leader must be able to see where the organization is heading to position their teams in the best possible way, in order for the company to be successful. For a vision to be successful it needs to be:

Clearly set with the organizational direction and purpose. Visions must be in line with company core values an directives. Contradictory directives can derail any successful, high-performing team.
Help employees believe they are part of something bigger than themselves and their daily work. Everyone wants to be part of something larger than themselves. Vision empowers employees to make their daily work more than just a task list, but a series of steps in a much larger, more important, journey.
Flexible. This is the most important part of any vision, and probably any leader. Flexibility to change, adjust and adapt a vision is vital. As often as technology and technologies change, every vision must be adapted or they will quickly become anachronistic

Vision is imperative to the success of an organization. Leaders can be good, even great, without possessing some of the qualities previously discussed. However, a leader must have a vision and a direction as to where to lead their teams. Without a direction and a vision, any movement is controlled chaos at best and a complete disaster at worst. Take a step back, solicit feedback and constantly re-evaluate the direction and effectiveness of your vision. Don’t become too committed to the vision to be flexible and adapt when necessary.

Each Friday, for the next several months, a new post will be released with another key characteristic of what it takes to be successful in technology leadership. These posts are in no particular order; I’d love for you to provide feedback and let me know if you think I’m missing something, or if you’d like to see a particular trait addressed please feel free to email me, or leave a comment. I’m hoping this will be a useful dialogue about what is necessary to become a successful technology leader.

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Leadership, Technology

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The Changing Face of Higher Education Technology

Across the nation, higher education technology departments are working at a feverish pace to ready themselves for the onslaught of returning students and the deluge of connected devices they wield. Five years ago most of the previous sentence wouldn’t have made sense. I remember sitting in college classes as a senior, in 2009 looking around the room and seeing a large percentage of students were using laptops to take notes and research facts in the classroom, with a tiny percentage also owning some other connected device (smartphone, PDA, etc.). I also remember sitting in the same classroom four years earlier and the percentage of students using computers in class was significantly lower. Now, four years removed from my senior year of college, the number of connected devices on campuses nationwide is staggeringly high. A white paper, written in 2012 by CDW-G, estimates the ratio of connected devices to students is as high as 3.5:1. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine the ratio is drastically higher today.  I have at least 6 connected devices in my office at any given time and students living on campus are likely to have more devices than that given the proliferation of smart TVs, gaming consoles and media players over the last two years.

University IT departments are preparing for this blitzkrieg of bandwidth-sucking devices by increasing internet connections and placing stricter security measures on campus networks. Millions of words have been written on the subject of BYOD in the classroom and in the enterprise; but it’s important to also remember the effects of BYOD on network utilization. Network Admins everywhere are placing enhanced security devices in the network to compensate for the vulnerability brought by a surge of connected devices with suspect, if not sub-par, security measures.

Any device connected to the network represents a potential vulnerability to malware and viruses; we all know this. Connected devices such as gaming consoles, apple TV’s, smartphones, tablets, iPods and other media players represent increased vulnerability to networks. More and more equipment, configurations processes and procedures are necessary to protect networks, keep users connected and manage bandwidth. The higher education technology landscape, much like any enterprise technology landscape, has drastically shifted in the past five years. It will be interesting to come back to this post in five years, and see how archaic this really is. The good and the bad of working in technology is things never stay the same. I look forward to watching the landscape grow even further, and the new challenges it presents.

 

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Technology

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Technology Leadership Series: Building Successful Teams

One of the best moves a CIO, CTO or technology manager of any level can make is to build a strong, competent and complete team.  While this idea seems to be common sense and commonplace it’s more integral to the success of the organization than it seems. There are endless books, blogs and seminars on the topic of team-building strategies, compiling successful, high-performing teams isn’t difficult.

 Hire people who are smarter than you. As a leader, personal insecurity shouldn’t be part of any decision making process, ever. Not being concerned with individual perceptions is important. Any true leader knows it is the team, not the leader who is the catalyst for success. Surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you, who make decisions differently than you and whom process information differently than you will allow more creativity into the decision making and brainstorming process.

Insist on all team members being an excellent cultural fit. Every company, intentionally or not, has a company culture. Making hiring decision based on company culture is imperative. With rare exceptions, every employee contributes to team morale and culture. Each employee being highly skilled and competent isn’t enough. Each team member must contribute positively to the success of the enterprise as well as the company culture.

Clearly define expectations and roles. Few things contribute to high turnover, low morale and under performing teams than unclear expectations. It’s nearly impossible for employees to stay motivated while working towards a moving target of poorly communicated expectations. It’s simple to increase team productivity; efficiency and morale by ensuring team members are clearly understanding all expectations. Making smart hires and developing employees are important but nothing will keep employees engaged longer and deeper than clearly defined goals and expectations.

No one person is capable of doing everything, no matter how much we try. Leaders aren’t leaders unless they have followers, it’s important to ensure teams of followers are assembled in the best way possible. Hiring competent, intelligent and diversely talented people who are committed to the values, goals and culture of the organization; and then clearly and plainly setting reasonable expectations are the ingredients to strong, engaged, effective and successful teams.

Each Friday, for the next several months, a new post will be released with another key characteristic of what it takes to be successful in technology leadership. These posts are in no particular order; I’d love for you to provide feedback and let me know if you think I’m missing something, or if you’d like to see a particular trait addressed please feel free to email me, or leave a comment. I’m hoping this will be a useful dialogue about what is necessary to become a successful technology leader.

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Leadership, Technology

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