Archive | Leadership

Strategy vs Planning

business planI sit in a lot of meetings, I mean a lot of meetings, whether it is in the capacity as technology manager for a university, a writer, or an independent consultant working with education, house of worship and corporate clients, there’s a common thread: the consistent confusion of the differences between strategy and planning. . This problem certainly isn’t unique to audiovisual or information technology (IT) fields as corporations often struggle with this in communication and marketing as well. 

When sitting with clients, again regardless of the capacity, I like to first flesh out their requests and get a picture of what their request looks like five years down the road. I want to know their plan, and see how I can design a system, or change a process, to meet their long-term goals. This helps me determine exactly what their plan is, what they want to implement and most importantly what they want to accomplish.

Don’t get me wrong, it is very important to have a plan. It’s important for everyone in leadership to know, or at least have a targeted vision, of what their department looks like five years down the road, ten years down the road etc. This is how companies grow and profitability expands, but the plan certainly isn’t the primary focus.

More important than the plan,  is the strategy. If the plan is the “what” in what the department and/or company looks like in five, ten or fifteen years then the strategy is the “why” it looks that way. Often times, executives build five and ten year plans that seemed to be arrived at by throwing darts at a bunch of different ideas; which results in a scattered list of strategic initiatives which reads like a list of projects.

Developing a holistic strategy makes long term planning easier and more accurate. Each initiative or goal needs to have a measurable connection to your department or organization’s strategy. Five and ten-year plans are often more accurate and reliable when they are tied to the organizational strategy and core values than if they are just a list of projects to complete and goals to check off.

Spend more time developing a complete strategy and let that be the reason and the guide for long term plans. After all, long term plans are just a blueprint to execute your strategy.

 

Image credit: LexisNexis

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Technology Leadership Series: Caring

There’s an old adage that is used quite often. In fact you can probably find a cross-stitched pillow bearing this monicker at any craft store. It says, “People don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.” It’s certainly sometimes true, but I never ask my mechanic how much he cares about my car, or me, before I ask him to change my oil. One of the most important pieces to the puzzle of corporate culture is is whether or not employees can consistently answer the question “Does my supervisor, or someone at work, care about me” with a yes. Employees want to work for managers and leaders who are caring.

Do you UNPLUG? Are you, as a technology leader, CIO or CTO view your employees as people or as resources? Are you caring enough to allow your employees to unplug? A good indication of how much a company or a leader cares is the balance they create, and insist on, between work and non work. I have worked places that have really struggled with this- requiring me to be available for phone calls and emails when I was on vacation, even internationally; or discouraging me from taking vacation altogether. I’ve also worked for companies which required all employees to use all their vacation days each year. As a leader, caring can simply be allowing your employees to have a life outside work that is more important than their life at work.

Do you DEVELOPAnother old anecdote has a Mid and Senior Level executive talking, the mid-level executive asking the Senior if they can send some employees to training. The senior executive replies with “what if we pay for their training, they develop the skills the need, and then they leave?” The mid-level executive ponders for a minute then retorts “what if we don’t train them, and they never leave?” One key way to be caring os to develop your people. Nothing is more caring than helping and allowing your employees to be able to take the next step in their career, even if it isn’t with your company.

Do you REWARD? Recognizing employees’ contributions is a free, and easy, way of affirming a culture of caring. Whether it is sharing positive customer experience feedback throughout the company, or regularly scheduling appreciation lunches, employers who recognize and reward the hard work their employees contribute understand the value they bring to the organization.

Caring is significantly more than remembering birthdays, and writing get well soon cards when people are sick; although these are important as well. An easy way to retain key employees is to be caring, allowing them to unplug when they need and want too, pouring resources into developing them for the next step and then rewarding employees’ success regularly.

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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Technology Leadership Series: Failure

Whoever said “failure is not an option” is a complete idiot. Actually, they weren’t- it was Gene Kranz, NASA’s Flight Director during the Apollo 13 mission (if you aren’t familiar with the Apollo 13 mission let me know, I’ll mail you my VHS of the movie). Kranz knew failure wasn’t an option, he has several astronauts stranded in space with a limited oxygen supply. Kranz’s world and the world of technology are totally different. Being in technology almost requires a mindset that views failure as not only ok, but failure should be sought after. Certainly failure is not the endgame, and nobody sets out in life to become a failure and although being a failure ins’t glamorous it doesn’t mean it’s bad to fail. Failure is actually a really important step on the road to success.

Failure is a result of not playing it safe. Companies don’t become wildly successful by “playing it safe.” In order to be successful in IT/AV it’s important to innovate and to push boundaries. Great CIOs, CTOs and Technology leaders don’t expect their team to adopt a ‘play it safe’ strategy.

Failure helps you learn. Companies developing products sink obscene amounts of money into research, development, testing and quality checks of these new products. Yet, inevitably, something doesn’t work perfectly or there is a hiccup with the product. The company doesn’t throw away the product, take down the marketing materials and start over. Instead they deconstruct the failure and learn what can be done differently, and better, the next time.

Failure is incredibly important. If you’ve never failed at anything then maybe you’re the idiot. Just kiding, but maybe if you’ve never failed you should consider whether or not what you’re doing is really worth succeeding at.

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: Humor

It’s important for leaders to have characteristics that are unique to business, or work, such as delegation, team building, management skills and organizational vision. It’s also important for leaders to have characteristics that are foundational to personal interaction. For example, leaders need strong interpersonal skills, empathy and humor just as much as decisiveness, intuition and budgetary skills. The importance of humor as a leader, or at least a sense of humor, is essential. I’m not suggesting that stand up comedians make great leaders, nor that leaders are necessarily the funniest people in the room. All I’m suggesting is humor generates a positive energy within your team that is extremely important to success.

No matt how much research, planning, development and documentation goes into your work, inevitably there will be times where bad things happen. Whether it is the launch of a website that has been three years in development that produces bugs that weren’t present in the QA phase or a control system that errors out during a high profile audiovisual installation. How a leader reacts and chooses to handle these failures can make, or brea, a successful team. This is where a good sense of humor can pay off. Encourage, and allow, your team to be comfortable laughing at mistakes instead of crying over them. If you are constantly learning to find humor in the struggles your work environment will become happier and healthier. The type of environment your employees look forward to working in, rather than dread coming to each day. Make it a point to lighten the mood by joking with members of your team, and use humor as a method to keeping the workplace emotional environment light. These actions help keep productivity high and morale levels even higher.

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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Technology Leadership Series: Development

Good managers work diligently to get the most out of their employees in their current positions. Great managers work tirelessly to prepare their people for advancement. While the difference in practical application is ever so slight the difference between the two philosophies speaks volumes. Getting the most out of employees is important, and greatly benefits the organization; however, spending time on each employees’ personal and professional development is better than to simply seek efficiency and productivity. The concept of leadership and professional development isn’t new, nor revolutionary, but often times the execution of this concept leaves much to be desired. There are several ways to improve professional development within your organization to ensure your people aren’t just high performers but that they are ready to take the next step in their careers.

Have a plan. Provide guidance on professional development and options of a career path for all employees. If you have employees approaching their review, or work anniversary, take the time to ask them “where do you see yourself going within the organization?” Share your thoughts as to where you see them going and what opportunities exist for them to be challenged.

Know what you can change.  It’s crucial for leaders not only to attempt to provide professional development for all personnel, but to do it correctly. In reality, people don’t change all that much. As a leader, know your people, and know not to waste your time attempting to put in what’s been left out. instead try to draw out, or improve, what’s already there. In other words, hone strengths, increase core competencies but don’t waste time trying to correct or eliminate fundamental weaknesses that are too deeply ingrained.

Celebrate Resignations.  This may be a hard pill to swallow. I’ve worked with, and for, several leaders who constantly say things to their employees like “I want you to be the best you can be” or “I want you to be successful at the next level.” These are great idioms to use to encourage your people to continually grow, but they’re useless maxims if you don’t mean them. If what you really mean is “I want you to be successful at the next level, as long as you wait until an opportunity at the next level is available within the organization” you’re neither helpful nor honest, rather probably self serving and spiteful. True professional development is the mindset of, “I want you to succeed at the next level, even if you have to leave to do so.”

Some of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with or for constantly tell me how excited they are to talk with employees years later and see where they are, and be a resource for them. Professional development doesn’t end when an employee leaves the organization, great leaders make themselves available to continually develop and mentor professionals. Every employee wants to work for a leader who can help them get to the next level.

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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Technology Leadership Series: Selfless

This is the last week of my mini-series where I write based on Brad Shorr’s “12 Most Loathsome Boss Behaviors” so I will tie a few related topics together and write about being selfless. Shorr mentions bad bosses are selfish by “credit grabbing” (#3) but there are several other points he makes that can be tied into this. Instead of talking in-depth about Shorr’s thoughts on being selfish, it would be better to talk about what a selfless leader looks like. Here are several key ways for leaders to be selfless.

Be selfless with praise. Great bosses go out of their way to praise and recognize their employees, all of their employees not just their key contributors. In “First Break All the Rules” the authors note the single most important statement to company profit, retention and engaged teams is “I have been recognized in the past 7 days.” Great leaders don’t just recognize their teams occasionally, they do so habitually. Great leaders never claim success for themselves, instead they share it with all the contributors. As Harry Truman said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

Be selfless with your responsibilities. We’ve already discussed delegation as a powerful productivity tool. I firmly believe there is utility in delegation, however, I believe it is most powerful when leaders choose to delegate meaningful and visible work tot heir teams. There is an adage that I’ve heard several different times that says, “Great leaders create wins for their people.” This is absolutely true, delegating highly visible tasks allows your team to get some big wins.

Be selfless with your time.The best leaders not only consistently praise their people and go out of the way to create wins for them, they also make sure they create time for their people. A leader should never be to busy for his or her team.  Whether this means creating an open door policy for employees to speak with you on an ad-hoc basis, or scheduling a few minutes once a week with all your employees with no set agenda it is important to show your team you value them by making yourself accessible.

Being a selfless leader requires a proactive posture of offing your people the best chances to be successful. Being selfless incorporates the qualities employees look for in a dynamic leader. Sometimes being selfless means insulating your teams from criticism when they fail. No matter the practical application, the attitude of selflessness is endearing and compelling. No one wants to work for a selfish leader, so don’t be a selfish 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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Technology Leadership Series: Decisiveness

Continuing along with Brad Shorr’s list of the 12 Most Loathsome Boss Behaviors , the fourth on the list is indecisiveness. In many organizations, and departments, indecision can be costly; however,  for a CIO, CTO or technology manager, indecision can absolutely cripple their team and their mission. With the fast paced, dynamic, environment of AV and IT, indecision is far greater a detractor than in other environments. The good news is there are several simple ways to transition yourself into a decisive, competent leader.

Be Informed. Making a quick, knee-jerk, reactionary decision of great importance is definitely not a smart operating model. Be sure to ask the right questions, such as open ended questions- Why? What? How?- to ensure you are receiving the necessary information to put yourself in a position to make an educated decision. This process of engaging your team also creates buy in, which can be extremely important in implementing any decision.

Be Timely. “A quarterback doesn’t have the luxury of taking weeks to mull over whom to throw a pass to,” Shorr notes. Decisiveness is timely. Decisive leaders understand deadlines and priorities; organize and plan ahead to ensure decisions are delivered in a timely manner. Even the right decision is wrong if it isn’t delivered on time.

Be Accountable. In so many areas of leadership its crucial for people to be accountable. In the decision making process it’s especially important. Involving others to ensure you’re informed is critical to generating buy in; but ultimately it is the leader who must stand behind their own decisions, and see them through to the end with steadfast determination.

Decisiveness is a key strength of influential and successful leaders. Crises and issues never navigate themselves. As a leader, gather as much input from your teams as possible so that you’re making an informed decision, quality, decision. Gather this information in a timely manner, act quickly to make smart decisions sooner, rather than later. A decision can only be as good as its timing. Most importantly be accountable for your decisions as a leader. Be ready to stand behind your decisions, right or wrong. Bad decisions happen, use them as a blue print for making future decisions, not a reason to avoid making future decisions.

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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Technology Leadership Series: Focus

As I continue going through the 12 Most loathsome Boss Behaviors by Brad Shorr, I find it fascinating how accurate his thoughts are, as to which characteristics of leaders drive employees crazy. The second behavior Shorr mentions is being Perpetually Distracted. Working for a boss, or leader, who is perpetually distracted can be challenging to say the least. The converse of this, and the trait to keep in mind is focus. Not only is it important for leaders to focus to avoid being perpetually distracted; it’s also important to ensure leaders focus on things that matter.

Perpetually distracted leaders often have an inability to completely hone down on projects, giving them the level of attention to detail required to be successful in an ever changing technology landscape. Successful leaders are able to bring a laser focus to the parts of projects that matter the most. This level of focus ensures that timelines are met, that obstacles are overcome and that stakeholders are properly communicated with in a timely manner.

In order to be a successful CIO, CTO or technology leader it’s important to fully grasp that focusing on the things that matter most is crucial. Successful leaders knows when their focus is required on projects, but most importantly, when their focus is required within their own team. Focusing on when, and how, to adjust teams and resources to be most effective and efficient can increase the level of the organization’s success.

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: Delegation

Lately I’ve been reading far more than I have been writing; this is definitely a good thing. Reading more often allows what I write to be better, to gather ideas and inspiration from other bloggers and writers is important. I came accross an article entitled 12 Most loathsome Boss Behaviors by Brad Shorr. I addition to being incredibly well written, this article also notes the worst possible behavior a boss can have. This article focuses on ways leaders, and for our purposes leaders in technology, can ruin a work environment or team. I’d like to slightly change his article and write, maybe for a few weeks, on the positive counterpoints to the behaviors he he mentions as “loathsome.”

The first loathsome behavior Shorr mentions is micromanagement. There is no doubt about how annoying working for a micromanager is. Constantly having a manager looking over your shoulder, or telling you how to complete a task is absolutely miserable and incredibly inefficient. CIOs shouldn’t be operating “in the trenches” with programmers and technicians, that isn’t the function of a C-Suite executive. Micromanaging is unnecessary and useless. Here are several ways to avoid micromanaging, as a leader in the technology field.

Trust your team. I’ve previously written about the importance of surrounding yourself, as a CIO, CTO or Technology Leader with the best possible people . The importance isn’t just to have a team accomplish fantastic work, although that is certainly part of it. The purpose is to be able to trust them, to have confidence in being able to hand off work to them, or delegation. Having full confidence in the people you’ve placed around you, to do their job and to lead their projects, is the quickest way to avoid micromanaging.

Delegation of big tasks, not just small tasks. Truly trusting the team you’ve assembled means trusting them to accomplish big, and important tasks, not just small trivial tasks. there is no reason for a leader not to actively delegate to her/his team.  This allows the leader to be free to concentrate on more pressing and important matters; allow the team members to be more engaged; and to make room for others to lead. Side note: true leaders make room for others to lead. Creating opportunities for others to succeed on highly visible projects is important to all true leaders.

Keep a 30,000 ft viewWhen I started in the “real world” this phrase use to annoy me, more so than any other “corporate speak”. However, I’ve come to understand the importance of this jargon. It’s easy in programming or project planning phases to get caught in the minutia, or the smallest of ideas. A successful CIO, CTO or Technology Leader must be focused on larger ideas. Avoiding being bogged down in the details is the key to leading a technology department.

Yes there is a time and a place for being “hands on” as a manager. Also, there’s a huge importance of being detail oriented and having a “fanatical attention to quality and detail” (to borrow a phrase from a former employer). However, as a general rule, avoid meddling in the details of the day to day tasks your teams work on. The unwillingness to delegate, and delegate meaningful work, often signifies a deep seeded insecurity, or need for control.

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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Technology Leadership Series: Honesty

It it should be common-sense, and go without saying, that for all managers and leaders to be successful they must be honest; however it needs to be said over and over. You see it all to often in business, politics and even in religion where great organizations and great leaders are completely derailed and ultimately the leader and/or the organization fail. I could list numerous occurrences, like this, where honesty-or the lack of it- is to blame for an organization’s or leader’s demise. Instead, It is more beneficial for all to focus on optimistic thoughts, like how honesty can change an organization and empower leaders to be more successful.

Honest leaders reduce uncertainty. Leaders who constantly set expectations, make these expectations known and hold people accountable to these expectations have teams that know exactly what to do. Providing honest and accurate information on the status of the organization, or a project, alleviates the potential for confusion on high performing teams. Leaders need to be transparent and honest about the future, even if the prognostication doesn’t look too bright.

Honest leaders reduce turnover. The cost of having a position, or a team, that is a “revolving door” is astronomical. High turnover rates not only cost the organization a ton of money, they also reduce the perception of both the leader and the department’s competency. Being honest and upfront about work environment and expectations can create a stable environment and ultimately lead to a reduction in turnover. Having a department culture of dishonesty is also a quick way to increase turnover. No one wants to work in that environment.

Honest leaders improve ideas. I’m not sure if you have ever worked in an organization where a leader keeps around one, or several “yes men” but I have and it isn’t a pleasant experience, especially if the organization or the ideas need to change. It’s incredibly important, especially for CIOs, CTOs and technology managers to be honest, even if it isn’t in agreement, when it comes to the technical execution of the organization’s mission. Be honest, don’t be a “yes man.” Also, don’t be a jerk.

Honest business practices and honest leadership inspire staff and customers, alike, with respect to company values and culture. The “Golden Rule” is incredibly important for all leaders, if you want your employees to be honest with you you, you must be completely honest with them.

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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