Abrasive Leadership: Was the Coach Coachable?

This article was first published by HR Executive Online on April 10, 2013. 

Mike Rice, the former men’s basketball coach for Rutgers University, has been plastered and chastised in the media for exhibiting abusive behavior toward his players that included homophobic slurs. After a fine and three-game suspension four months ago, he was fired when a video of his actions surfaced. No one can argue that his stunning behavior was acceptable. Yet the question remains: would addressing his behavior early on have made the difference? Was the coach coachable? Bullying Coach

Workplace bullying is rampant. According to a Workplace Bullying Institute survey, “more than a third of adult Americans report being bullied at work, and 15 percent witness it and are made miserable.”

Sadly, most of us don’t know how to counter the bully’s bad behavior. Oftentimes, the bully is a star performer, making it even harder for both management and human resource executives to confront the looming problem.  Employers frequently don’t act, even though keeping an abusive leader onboard is often more risky and costly than pursuing solutions.

But something needs to be done when abusive behaviors frighten others and create a toxic work environment. Wounds inflicted on others can linger and produce intense emotional distress.

The first thing human resource executives can do is to understand what makes a bully tick, and know when calling in an executive coach is a viable course of action.

In the case of Rice, he had two distinct problems, one of which is coachable and the other is not. The homophobic slurs are a telltale sign that certain aspects of his thinking are past the point of executive coaching. When I read about this, I immediately thought he needs to see a therapist. Coaching cannot help — coaching is not therapy.

But if the deep-seated prejudices are absent from the behavioral equation, there is a process executive coaches can apply to improve abrasive leader behavior.

We are all born with the Threat –> Anxiety –> Defense mechanism, which is the core of the problem. Bullies — whom executive coaches label “abrasive leaders” — are hyper-alert to any and all challenges to their position, success, self-perception and authority — we could say they see each threat as equivalent to being attacked by a lion in the jungle. Second, because they have misdiagnosed the threat, their anxiety levels are out of sync with the threat itself. “There’s a lion about to attack me — I should be anxious, my heart is racing for a good reason, and I had better do something quickly, or else I’ll be dead.”

From past experience, abrasive leaders learned to survive by deploying these same behaviors and will defend against any threats to the way they are accustomed to achieving success. Surely, the evidence shows their behaviors have worked — winning records, high share prices, one promotion after another, respect — so why should they change? Abrasive leaders are oblivious to the impact of their behavior on others. Usually they are not bad people. They act inappropriately in pursuit of a goal or a reaction to a threat. For them, survival and winning are everything, and they will get there through dominance.

Abrasive leaders can change once they realize what is leading to their inappropriate behaviors.

How I address these inappropriate behaviors is quite straightforward — I speak with the manager’s manager, co-workers, staff, clients and sometimes even the spouse or another family member — and ask a simple question about the subject’s behavior. As a coach, I ask: “Would you please share with me your perception of the strengths and weaknesses of Joe’s management style and the way he interacts with others?” Once I’ve completed this task, I construct themes to depict the essence of the misbehaviors. I read the edited comments to my clients (you want to edit carefully to avoid any possibility of attribution, but not so much as to lose the essential point) and gauge their reactions. For most abrasive leaders, this will be the first time they have heard what others think of them. And while the client might disavow what they hear, they cannot deny that perceptions are reality, and this is how others view them.

Once they see the damage they cause, many abrasive leaders will want to change because it was never their intention to harm anyone in their quest to achieve their goals. At this point, they are willing to engage in role-playing exercises to reshape their behavior.

An investment in coaching can help companies restore civility, avoid costly turnover and possibly even prevent litigation. Perhaps Rice is not the right candidate for coaching, but some abrasive leaders are. If an employee is instrumental to the business, executive coaching can help HR executives retain valuable talent while avoiding costly lawsuits and the loss of valuable personnel who suffer under abrasive leaders.

 

 

Leading the Way in Building Talent

iStock_000006792437XSmallManagement has always professed that people are a company’s most valuable asset.  However, demonstrations of that belief are hard to find.  A leader who wants to grow human capital needs to apply approaches identified in a University of North Carolina Executive Development ideas@work article.

Based on their research, here are the straightforward approaches the three authors suggest are essential to identifying, growing and promoting the best talent available.  “Talent builders identify the organizational capabilities and talent that they need to have in their organization to perform at a high level in today’s environment.  In addition, they also look ahead and identify the organizational capabilities and talent that they will need to win in the marketplace in 36 – 48 months.”

Drive and Expect World Class Performance at All Levels:  talent building organizations demand performance that is at a ‘higher standard’ and drive that mindset into their organization.  The status quo is never sufficient, not acceptable.  Beyond top performance, ‘nothing else much matters.’

Become Students of How to Build Better Leaders Faster:  leading organizations stay current on talent management best practices and ‘invite experts to audit their talent building practices and are open’ to new innovations that fit their business and talent development needs.  Teachable moments are not dismissed; rather, they are discussed for purposes of learning and what would be done differently next time.

Ensure that Talent is on the Agenda:  “Great talent builders communicate…that leadership and talent matter.”  They produce leaders better than themselves and inquire of their staff questions like:

  • Whom in your organization is as good or better than you?
  • Who could replace you in 1 – 2 years?
  • Whom do you know outside our organization who could replace you in 1 – 2 years?
  • Whom do you know within the company who could replace you in 1 – 2 years?

These are tough and intimidating questions for managers unless you provide them with an open and trusted forum that is inclusive of them.  You need to be sure that they too see opportunities for growth and identification.

Continually Assess and Develop their Team to Ensure World-Class Talent:  Great talent building organizations keep a list of leaders who are great performers and have ‘the greatest potential for the future.’  They constantly discuss the strengths and development needs of their direct reports, focusing not just on the top 20% but also others who are coachable to reach the top tier, and those who are blocking high performers from any opportunity to grow.  Active review and evaluation are ongoing and systematic.

Continually Recruit and Export Internal Talent:   Talent builders ‘ask peers to identify their top 3 most talent people and ask for an introduction.’  Then they schedule time to meet with each to get to know them and offer their services to mentor and guide.  ‘In addition, they continually export their high potential talent to other units because they have an obligation to develop talent and know that good talent wants to go to leaders interested in their long-term development.”

Continually Recruit External Talent:    By speaking to outsiders and external recruiters, they have a method for ‘calibrating’ their talent against world class alternatives.  In fact, some are ‘willing to cold call these individuals to get to know them and establish relationships’ which could possibly result in future recruiting efforts.  Most importantly, talent builders seek non-natural sources of talent.  They peer around many corners for new and fresh perspectives.

Accelerate the Development of Talent: Leaders in talent building organizations get to personally and professionally know their direct reports and two levels down.  They demand their managers identify assignments and moves for all their high potentials to ensure ‘development plans accelerate the likelihood of these individuals advancing to their next jobs.’  Techniques used in this process include multi-rater feedback, action learning, transparent performance reviews and stretch assignments..

Doing all the above well and consistently takes a significant amount of effort.  But if you want to build the best talent possible, the energy and time required will yield payoffs for your leaders and your organization.

 

Winning the Super Bowl: Leadership and Management Working Together

iStock_000001066525XSmallWith Super Bowl LXVII fast approaching, it made me wonder about what makes a group of individuals perform as a superb team.

Tom Landry, famed coach of the Dallas Cowboys, said “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you’ve always known you can be.”  And the equally famous Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers said “Coaching in its truest sense is giving the responsibility to the learner to help them come up with their own answers.”

Clearly, both of these eminent men thought coaching mattered to the success of the individual and thus to the entire team.  Out of the separate efforts of each player came a team that worked together to achieve prominence.

Further, in the Financial Times of January 29th an article entitled “Can Coaching Make The Difference” attributes Andy Murray’s success in winning the US Open tennis championship to the coaching he received from former champion Ivan Lendl, ‘who has helped [Murray] to pace his performance and stay calm.’

Coaching provides caring of the highest degree, helping leaders ‘develop self-awareness and recognize blind spots in their [i.e., client’s] approach.’  Clients like Murray develop confidence to ‘…handle better the challenges that come with leading complex organizations in a rapidly changing operating environment.  Coaching helps leaders [italics added] think collectively.’

Which brings me to the age-old question of Leadership vs. Management, at the heart of why good teams, I believe, excel.

John Kotter of The Harvard Business School recently blogged about this subject in “Management is (Still) Not Leadership,” and I think reviewing his points will help us understand why men such as Landry and Lombardi were such superb coaches and leaders over the long-term.

Leadership and management are radically different and not interchangeable terms.  The two perform vitally different functions, though both have critical roles to play.

Leaders are not necessarily at the top of an organization or individuals with charismatic and endearing personal characteristics.  Likewise, managers do not always play a worker or specialist role.  Using these attributes to categorize someone as a leader or manager is a dangerous mistake.

Management is best described as adhering to or executing a ‘set of well-known processes….which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well.’  It is about producing promised products and service consistently across time.  Because it is about execution, management is a difficult task.  “We constantly underestimate how complex this task is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs,” writes Kotter.  Management is crucial he says, but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different.  “It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities.”  Kotter believes that leadership is about vision, ‘about people buying in, about behavior.’  And because we operate in a world moving at a heady pace, leadership is needed more and from more people, ‘no matter where they are in the hierarchy.’  Assuming that a ‘few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.’  We need superb management; we need superb leaders.  One cannot exist without the other.  ‘We need to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient.”

And so we return to football, both an elegant and brutal sport.

A football team is composed, as is any organization or team, of both managers and leaders – you have offensive and defensive team leaders, you have the head coach, and you have the quarterback.  Each of them must read the fast-moving changes and adaptations of the opposing team, meting out instructions and directions in real-time to their team mates, who we can say ‘manage the play.’

The team that wins this coming Sunday will be the one that has superb leaders making fine adjustments, empowering the men on the field , and managers who execute brilliantly in the face of constantly changing conditions.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

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"Seven Traits of Truly Inspiring Leaders"

What is it about the behavior of people who truly inspire their managers, who are the leaders we aspire to become?  In perusing my files today, I came upon an anonymous article that identified seven traits shared among what the writer entitled ‘Truly Inspiring Leaders”.

Based on interviews with thousands of executives, the author noticed a subset of bosses who ‘inspire their employees and colleagues to achieve more than they ever thought possible’.  In the famous book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi he talks about people are most likely to achieve their goals when at the edge of anxiety and achievement.  Stretch, feel confident, take a risk, and succeed — and repeat.  Maybe this is what great leaders do by their behaviors.

Here are the seven traits:

  1. Purpose:  inspiring leaders believe success serves a higher purpose.  Yet, when you ask them why they’re motivated, they will say it’s all  about making other people successful.  Unlike their opposite, who are motivated by what makes them personally satisfied, inspirational leaders care more about others than themselves.
  2. Giving Back:  Long-term plans of inspiring leaders can include pro bono work or even charitable activities.  They want to give back, whether in money, time, thought or heavy lifting.  Uninspiring leaders feel no such obligation.  For them, it’s more important ‘cashing-in and/or buying physical objects’.
  3. Gratitude:  While uninspiring leaders are self-satisfied, secretly believing their success ‘is a natural result of being smarter and better than everyone else’, inspiring leaders don’t hold such grandiose and self-aggrandizing beliefs.   Leaders who inspire are indeed deeply and truly grateful.  Quite naturally they know their success ‘is hugely dependent upon accidents of birth and circumstance’.
  4. Beliefs and Values:  Inspirational leaders ‘treasure their beliefs’.  Uninspiring leaders tend to wear their values on their sleeves, following whatever catches their fancy.  In order to inspire others, true leaders allow their convictions pervade what they do and say — you can’t help but notice what they are feeling and the internal guidelines they’re following.
  5. Empathy:  Clearly, inspiring leaders care about people.  Like the world’s finest philanthropists, they recognize and cherish their obligation to help those less fortunate.  Given the prevalence with which Ayn Rand’s named was used in the latest Presidential election, we unfortunately learned that some leaders ‘couldn’t care less’ about other people.  Ms. Rand’s novels — especially Atlas Shrugged — gave the impression that the poor are merely ‘moochers’ begging for a handout.  Like Marie Antoinette, who reportedly said to the populace ‘let them eat cake’, uninspiring leaders emanate a certain disdain for those who aren’t as fortunate as many of us.
  6. Team Focus:  To inspire, you must share and spread the credit.  Nobody is successful alone.  Inspiring leaders rarely talk or brag about themselves.  Rather, they take the praise received and redirect it to the team members.  For those less than inspiration leaders, they tend to spread blame while taking credit themselves for the good things that happen.
  7. Energy:   How rare is it to leave a meeting thinking ‘I’d really like to work here’.  The person leading that meeting created an uplifting spirit and direction.  Her counterpart would be depressing in comparison, leaving you departing the meeting hoping you’ll never have to work for them or join them on a team.

As we begin the new year, constructing a check list to see how you fare on these attributes would be a worthwhile exercise — you might be surprised by what you find.  And as with many managerial behaviors, where you don’t score a direct hit (on the positive side!), you can also build a development plan to focus on a trait that needs more time or guidance to manifest itself.  Should you find you’re not exercising ‘inspirational’ behaviors, better to know now than learning later that you could have accomplished so much more.

 

 

 

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Learning About Management from Abe Lincoln

Steven Spielberg‘s movie Lincoln and Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s book from 2005 entitled  Team of Rivals are both respectful appreciations of a quiet man who did extraordinary things.  What are some of the lessons we can extract from a closer look at our 16th president?

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, there are five behaviors of President Lincoln that we would be smart to practice when managing ourselves and others.

Short-term pain for long-term gain

What many don’t know — I certainly didn’t — is that the Emancipation Proclamation was issued under Lincoln’s war powers and thus did not establish a ‘legal basis for abolishing slavery across the nation.’   He knew that once the Confederates were readmitted into the Union after the war, ratifying it as an amendment (the 13th) to the constitution would have had no chance of succeeding.  Wisely, Lincoln ‘pushed to get it through Congress before the fighting ended.’  While this meant the Civil War dragged on longer than it would have otherwise by delaying a peace delegation with the Confederates, it ensured the Proclamation would pass.  What a masterful job of understanding your objectives and being able to clearly see how doing one thing allows you to accomplish another.

Trust your lieutenants

Even if they don’t trust you or agree with you, as Ms. Goodwin points out, by letting your staff do its work, you can achieve great things you could not do on your own.  I’ve written before about Royal Little, founder of Textron, one of the world’s first conglomerates, who  famously once said that he achieved his successes by hiring people to do what he couldn’t, which was considerable, as it is for most of us.  Ms. Goodwin’s best-selling book tells a fast moving story of how political rivals, working at the behest of President Lincoln, who set the agenda and ‘clarified the moral underpinnings of the Proclamation,’ was able to extract the best from each Cabinet member to allow him to achieve his goals.  Simply, he put the best people in the right jobs and let them figure it out, providing guidance only when necessary.

Don’t get isolated as a leader

One of President Lincoln’s personal strategies was to ensure he did not get too far from the fray personally.  Along with other great managers, he knew how important it was to see for yourself, to touch the people who do the work, and to test what you’ve heard.  In Lincoln, Mr. Spielberg shows the ‘president not afraid to court votes himself from time to time — even meeting with Democrats he knew he had little chance of convincing.’  How difficult but how necessary it is to talk to everyone, even those who disagree with you.  No other way can you exert influence on those who think differently than you.

It’s okay to use anger, but sparingly

Our image of President Lincoln is of a folksy, soft-spoken, backwoods, ax-wielding man of extreme intelligence gleaned from reading the world’s great books by candlelight.  Watching Lincoln you’ll see glimpses of his inner fire, ‘most notably when he loses his temper and delivers a passionate rant about the nobility of the Union cause.’  Why did he express his anger at that moment?  To keep his divided Cabinet from giving up on the amendment.  I can only imagine the emotional intelligence of this man.

Take your job home with you

President Lincoln was very close to his youngest son, Tad, who had a genuine interest in the Civil War and its legacy and purpose.  Innocently, Tad influences his father through their father/son discussions because his conscience ‘reinforced [his] father’s morality.’   Isn’t it a wonderful thing to learn from others when their intent is really just to question?  Often the most innocent question or comment can lead to extraordinary insight and reflection.

We can all learn about being good managers — and good people — by understanding how our late President worked with others, trusted, persevered, loved his family and country, and never lost sight of what he wanted to do.

 

 

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People's Behavior Influences IT Project Success

Many months ago I quoted IBM and McKinsey when I wrote about the influence personal behavior has on IT project success and direction.  Recalling those two quotes:

  1. According to an IBM study, only 40% of projects meet schedule, budget and quality goals.  Further, they found that the biggest barriers to success are people factors.
  2. McKinsey found that ‘while an increasing number of non-IT executives give IT a score of 61% for basic services like email and laptop support, only 26% rank IT high in the most vital area of proactively engaging with business leaders on new ideas or systems enhancements.’

Recently two more articles have been written by McKinsey which identify other — and less obvious — influences of human behavior on IT projects.

In their McKinsey Quarterly, they report on the Board’s role in the technology agenda and on delivering large-scale IT projects.

Drawing on the key points which identify the influence of individuals — which I believe is the primary source of IT project failures — it’s clear that the notion of the role participants play (as opposed to the technology itself) is perhaps gaining some notoriety.

From “Elevating Technology on the Boardroom Agenda:”

  • We know from other research I’ve reported on that there is not a close integration of IT and business planning.  Thus, “Boards are also beginning to take a strategic view of how technology trends are shaping their companies’ futures…Deeper board involvement is also serving as a mechanism to cut through company politics and achieve endorsement of larger, integrated technology investments.”
  • Boards are having a ‘more frequent and more constructive role in IT strategy.’  Conversations are changing with ‘executives suggesting that a significant gap exists between the conversations their boards ideally should be having and the ones the boards actually were having.’  In a sample of nearly 1600 respondents, nearly half of boards discussed IT topics only once or twice a year.
  • 12% of boards do not address technology or IT issues at all!  This compares with only 28% who discuss how technology will affect the industry, though they agree an ideal rate of frequency is twice as often at 53%.
  • Clearly, given the importance of technology, ‘many companies are considering a more structured approach to board engagement.’  In fact, some national governance bodies agree.  For example, South Africa’s ‘code of company governance mandates regular interactions between boards and executive management on technology topics.’
  • Because boards are becoming more involved in technology matters, ‘it means that corporate directors, just like their CIOs, have to raise their game, are seeking to better understand technology issues and their business implications.’  In their survey, McKinsey found that by having at least 1 person on the board knowledgeable about technology, 47% said it led to incorporation of ‘technology considerations into strategic discussions.’

And from “Delivery Large-Scale IT Projects on Time, on Budget and on Value,” the key points I’d like to extract are:

  • “On average, large IT projects run 45% over budget and 7% over time, while delivering 56% less value than predicted.”  This is simply dismal.  Imagine if we had these results from marketing or finance projects!
  • McKinsey identified four groups (quoted below) of issues that cause most project failures — and I believe nearly all of these are people related:
    1. Missing Focus — due to unclear objectives and lack of business focus
    2. Content Issues — shifting  requirements and technical complexity
    3. Skill Issues — unaligned team and lack of skills
    4. Execution Issues — unrealistic schedule and reactive planning
  • Good stakeholder involvement — which means having excellent interpersonal skills and establishing successful coalitions — ‘involves foresight when it comes to selecting vendors and negotiating contracts with them.’
  • Building effective teams is essential.  “Project teams need a common vision, shared team processes and a high-performance culture.  To build a solid team, members should have a common incentive structure…in contrast to individual work-stream goals.”  Doing this demands exquisite HR execution and a recognition that technology and the way people work are inextricably linked.

People indeed matter when evaluating, planning, implementing and examining technology projects.  With the obviously critical role IT projects and technology itself play in a corporation’s success, excellent outcomes can only be achieved by IT and business joining forces and working as an integrated team.

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The Brain and Emotional Intelligence — New Things I Learned

I had the good fortune of hearing Daniel Goleman and Dan Siegel speak at a recent Institute of Coaching Professional Association conference in Boston.  Mr. Goleman popularized emotional intelligence for managers and Dan Siegel, MD, is a professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s School of Medicine.  Both of them talked about the brain, and I wanted to tell you about some new things I learned.

  • Emotional intelligence is of even greater value among leadership positions vs. jobs of all kinds.  Compared with cognitive intelligence, which accounts for about a third of distinguishing competences among jobs of all kinds, EI acounts for 66%.  But when you segment the data on ‘leadership,’ the figures are now 15% and 85%.  Differences of this magnitude are not just significantly statistically; they remind us that base line intelligence is insufficient for career success, let alone significant accomplishment.
  • Brain activity and performance are related.  Mr. Goleman presented a graph showing that optimum performance is obtained when brain activity is midway between low and high.  At a low level, you’re bored; at a high level, you’re stressed.  He suggested that managers wanting to create an environment of optimal performance set clear goals, provide performance feedback and hand out stretch assignments.  (You might also want to see the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is quite readable.)
  • The ‘Competency Framework’ is composed of four interconnect cells:  Self-Awareness; Social Awareness; Relationship Management; and Self-Management.  What binds them together is the need to give your full presence and attention and to do good work that demonstrates excellence and competence.  And when it comes to interacting with others, new research demonstrates that in conversation we, as humans, stimulate the brains of the other person we’re speaking to.  “We stimulate each other — it helps us stay on the same page and causes social coordination.  Emotions move from the most powerful person outward,” said Mr. Goleman.  It feels good, he says, to be in a state of ‘non-verbal synchronicity.’
  • Because leadership styles affect the work climate, ‘it is best when a manager uses four or more styles from among these six’:
    1. Visionary:  provides long-term direction and vision
    2. Coaching:  develops employees for the long-term
    3. Affiliative:  creates harmony in work relationships
    4. Democratic:  builds commitment through collaboration
    5. Pacesetting: pushes to accomplish tasks
    6. Commanding: demands compliance

    Which of these six do you use?  I’ve rarely used #6.

  • Mr. Goleman ended his discussion on the competences of ‘social intelligence.’   While you might have seen these before, I’m including them here because they are worth remembering:
    • Do you understand what motivates other people, even those from different backgrounds?
    • Do you sense others’ feelings?
    • Do you appreciate the organization’s culture and values?
    • Do you understand unspoken norms?
    • Do you coach and mentor others?
    • Do you provide feedback helpful for development?
    • Do you solicit input from everyone?
    • Do you support all team members and encourage cooperation?
  • Dr. Siegel covered three areas entirely new to me that I’d like to tell you about.
    1. “The Healthy Mind Platter” consists of Sleep Time, Physical Time, Focus Time, Time In (reflect inwardly), Down Time, Play Time and Connecting Time.  To extract the most from these states, Dr. Siegel recommends ‘connecting with gratitude and generosity to people and the planet.  It is your responsibility to be playful.’
    2. A “Triangle of Well-Being” has at its three points:  Mind (includes ‘awareness’ and ‘subjective experience’), Relationships (‘context of our mental living’), and the ‘Embodied Brain’ (that regulates the flow of energy and information).  Inextricably linked, you cannot separate one from the other if you want to feel and be well.
    3. Being fully present and open means we can and will:
      • Thrive within uncertainty
      • Be open to possibilities
      • Cultivate human connections
      • Integrate and harmonize all these elements

What I learned reinforced my belief that the brain is not just a wonderful gift to behold; it also contains so much more potential than we can even imagine.  And that if we use it to connect with others, we’ll all be better off.

 

 

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Leadership Traits

Every Sunday the New York Times interviews executives who have a special message about or insight into leadership and their personal techniques for success.

In this blog, I’d like to cover the essential points about leadership as described by James P. Hackett, president and CEO of Steelcase, the office furniture company based in Grand Rapids, Mich. The article was entitled “Leadership Never Looks Prepackaged.”

Mr. Hackett was open about how he’s learned from others and applied those teachings to his everyday management.  Likewise, we’ll learn from him.

While speaking to Bill Marriott, he was impressed by the look and feel of a CEO, which he was questioning about himself at the time.  The image he came back with was ‘…that you have to be who you are.’  Since then, whenever he meets a CEO who leaves something behind it is because ‘…they have a sense of peace, this self-awareness, that say ‘I understand who I am.”  Thus, being true to yourself is an aspect of strong leadership.

Because Mr. Hackett came into a tumultuous situation, he needed to figure out what the family who ran the company wanted him to be.  Understanding that trying to make ‘sense of what everybody wants in a difficult situation’ can exhaust you, he came to realize that he needed to be ‘comfortable with setting the point of view.’  If you can — and when you do — ‘people [will] want to work for you.’  Despite the environment he entered, he set the path — and made it known to the employees — that they would take, following him.  He stood out, recalling the lesson of Bill Marriott about being himself.

Describing his first management decision in more detail, he said ‘It’s this notion of authenticity — that’s what people look for and want to follow.’  You need the trust of those you are going to lead, and you ‘can’t have trust without integrity,’  which itself has to be practiced for those moments when you will be tested.  One way to measure your integrity is to ensure you act morally and ethically under the most extreme pressure, many of which are presented in every day life.

Leadership lessons were learned as well while he played football under a famous coach.  “What I got from him was this drive to compete.  If a CEO doesn’t want to win, then you don’t want them in the job.’  Average is not okay — you need to want something very badly, though ‘not win at any cost.’

A leader is also open to new ideas and being critiqued.  Mr. Hackett learned from his managers that he had to think more abstractly, to think in terms which are less concrete.  His initial reaction was a selfish one, considering only the work he himself had been putting into solving the hard problems.  After a bit, he sensed that his reaction was selfish, and ‘that the point was, what do they [his managers] need to be more successful and how do I make things more concrete for them.’  What a wonderful example of showing respect and fortitude to your staff.   He now starts a lot of discussions saying that he’s ‘gone more abstract on this because I need to get this out, and I need your help in making it more concrete.’  He has demonstrated adaptability, listening to his staff and changing his behavior.  Being a tad humble is not a bad thing.

A good leader balances ‘now’ with ‘near’ and ‘far’ and decides the right amount of time to spend on each.  Relating this to leadership is the point that as a leader you want to be known as a great one because you ‘actually reached out and imagined the state of things in the future.’

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How CFOs and CIOs Can Be an Effective Team

Used to be that everyone thought the CIO was prey for the CFO.  But times have fortunately changed, with more collegial and valuable relationships being established between the two roles.

In “So, You’re the Boss of the CIO.  Now What?” of March 1st in CFO.com, the author cites results of  a LinkedIn survey that asked finance executives whether it was a good idea that IT reports to the CFO.  The results were 2/3 ‘yes’ and 1/3 ‘no’.  Responses ranged widely — no surprise — from “The CFO does not have an understanding of the risks” to a more measured “It depends on the person in charge.”

What drew my attention was the undeniable fact that IT is increasingly under the finance organization.  Gartner’s research and that done by the Financial Executives Research Foundation found that nearly half of IT departments (in firms of all sizes) report to the CFO.

Given this fact, what can the CIO do to ensure he or she has an effective relationship with the CFO and the rest of the finance department in order to provide the expected leadership?

Here are my suggestions:

  1. The world of IT is becoming more turbulent with ’emerging technologies transforming both the IT function and the relationship between IT and the business.  Software as a  service has enabled business leaders to implement applications outside tradition IT (and finance) controls…and workforce mobility has increased the support needs for a broadening set of devices.’  This is a very difficult environment to keep up, assess costs and risks, and design a one-size workable solution.  Simply said, there is no way any CFO could maintain (attain?) sufficient knowledge to manage any of this directly.  The CIO must step in, realize it is his/her job to build confidence with the CFO by bringing this Tower of Babel under control and creating trust with the CFO.  Even the least technology-aware CFO realizes that technology is complex, with unanticipated risks arising as soon as new technology is implemented.  That’s why the CFO needs someone he or she can trust and turn to, and someone who can explain the environment in simple, straightforward terms, in a language that anyone could understand.
  2. Technology has two parts:  that which is behind the scenes (the infrastructure) and what the client sees (the applications).  Each should be portrayed distinctly to the CFO and managed against different criteria.  “CFOs need to understand that you have to keep the core running.”  Unfortunately, investments in core don’t always yield an obvious ROI — this means the CIO  should spend time explaining the different layers of IT.  While a new phone system will merely get you better listening clarity and some additional features, a new accounts receivable application that yields  cash faster will have a hard dollar benefit.  A CIO’s ability to explain the differences is quite nuanced, and he/she must be sensitive to how the CFO will want the story delivered.
  3. A big part of the delivering the story — beyond knowing how the CFO wants information and decisions explained — is ’emphasizing the difference between finance and IT.’  In IT there are jobs that drive revenue (e.g., ‘web enhancements that attract new customers’) and others that don’t (e.g., ‘systems maintenance’).  This is likely to be a novel fact to the finance staff and will make forecasting ROI very tricky.  ‘Instead, CFOs should look at potential gains’ as opportunities to improve the business overall and the experiences of staff and customers and evaluate projects on these criteria when hard ROI is not determinable.  Working with the CFO, the CIO can suggest how to prioritize projects, using categories of benefits and including ROI whenever available.  A successful CIO recognizes that a CFO thinks differently.

For effective IT management, a ‘CFO needs to know enough about IT to balance the risk of investing against the risk of not investing, and enough to balance the forms of IT that make money with those that don’t but are essential.’

“CFOs and CIOs are in it together, no matter who reports to whom.”  And as in all relationships of this type, understanding and talking are the elements for success.

 

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Avoid Committee Hell and Still Be Successful

Jonathan Alter, a well-known author, recently wrote an article in August for Business Week entitled “A Checklist for Change.”  While Mr. Alter most often writes about politics, what could be more appropriate than his writing about management?  Politics and management are inextricably linked.  Committees are inescapable in both arenas.

The premise of the article — and tips to be recalled by even the most experienced and successful managers — is that committees are hell.  People in meetings talk in circles for hours and feel ‘they’ve managed to accomplish something when they manage to schedule the next meeting.’  At that point, we all sigh collectively and bolt for the door, praying there’s no followup.

Every so often, a special leader can break the mold and make things happen, and will reach out to other ‘committed change-makers willing to help.’  From here, the manager creates ad hoc teams aimed at ‘narrow, specific change, beginning with like-minded’ individuals at a small meeting.

How do we use the meeting and gathering process to actually get stuff done?  “Here are a few do’s and don’ts that might help separate change-makers from time-servers.”

Call Yourself a Team, Not a Committee  Words really matter.  The key difference is that while you’re a member of a team, you and your team members ‘have to take initiative, stay relentlessly focused, and, in certain situations, lead.’  If you’re a committee the end game is usually difficult to define, and if it’s not reached, the consequences are rarely dire.  But if a team fails, everyone has lost.  Teams have group commitment; committees do not.

Build the Team with Volunteers  If you want committed team participants, you can’t appoint them — then it’s just another assignment.  Rather, ask people who you think have a vested interest in the outcome and will be ‘present for the right reasons.’  And don’t worry about titles — ‘passion must trump position to get things cracking.’

Create Competition People like to compete — we like to know we’re really good at something and have done our best, especially against a peer.  Such behavior might seem infantile, but we can’t avoid it — it’s who we are.  You might create sub-teams to build a friendly rivalry to extract the most from everyone in the shortest possible time.  Friendly competition can ‘leverage change quickly.’

Don’t Tolerate Debbie Downers Should you come upon any team member who ‘introduces obstacles to moving forward,’ meet them head on by asking that they ‘couple the description of the obstacles with a plan for overcoming them.’  Either their motivation will kick-up a notch or they’ll think better the next time when identifying obstacles instead of solutions.  Or maybe they’ll just leave the team.

Don’t Reorganize How much effort have we all put into either a reorganization or talking about a potential reorganization? Or the non-effects of the most recently and highly touted one?  What Mr. Alter says on this topic is so clear and obvious that I wonder why management doesn’t follow this advice: “The stovepiping that hampers so many bureaucracies can’t be busted on paper, only in practice.  Organization charts only matter in organizations that aren’t nimble and effective in the first place.”  No reorganization I’ve ever been part of has led to greater efficiency or employee satisfaction.

Don’t Make the Xerox Mistake   We all know the failure made by Xerox’s PARC research lab to transform brilliant ideas into world class marketable technology.  However, Xerox’s problem was not merely not seeing the opportunity; rather, it was management’s error in not knowing what they had because their focus was too simple.  “They weren’t receptive enough to the change underway all around them.”  By focusing solely on the technical product, they weren’t able to see the world was moving and changing.  Thus, an organization needs to ‘design for change’ in order to adapt and thrive.

I suggest we all consider new ways of working together, not seeking structure or the organization to solve problems for us.  Each of us needs to be an adaptable member of a team, helping each other and being as resourceful as we can possibly be.

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