Monday, January 30, 2012

Knock It Off!

A manager asked me the best way to “knock the rough edges off” his management team? 

I said, “How about we grow them until the rough edges are covered?”

Are you a knocker or a grower?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Must A Leader be Brave?

We have an image of leaders – whether it is John Wayne leading a charge in combat, or JFK declaring to the world the USA will put a man on the moon by the end of that decade, or Steve Jobs radically changing established market segments like music, telecom, and computers with new technology.

Traditionally, when the leader spoke, we listened; when the leader gave a command, we followed. Leadership relied on this command & control model, harkening back to the Roman Legion. Leaders issue orders and the tribe executes them. Collaboration, dissent, or suggestions were not rewarded.

Management theory has evolved, workers have become more educated, global markets have developed, and the pace of change has accelerated dramatically – the traditional has been replaced with rapidly changing and expanding norms, globalization, and new devices to advance technology. This is the New Normal and it dramatically affects how leaders lead.

Leadership is moving to a collaborative model – the leader articulates vision and goals then seeks input on how to get there. Success requires developing an environment of trust and for stakeholders to offer honest input. Collaboration and willingness to adopt offered changes – an open source approach – is a fundamental difference between traditional command & control and New Normal collaborative leadership models, but effective two-way communication is the critical factor.

To illustrate the shift to a new model, here's a brief case study on an organization changing from traditional to New Normal leadership:

Background: A specialty product/service firm using a traditional leadership and sales approach – the sales person armed with brochures, catalogs, and a price list visits each prospect for a show & tell session to make the sale (or not).

Situation: The down economy causes sales volume to tank! With reduced sales, the company is suffering financially.

Options: The leader (company owner) could:

  • Try to sell the company (no prospects identified) [quit option]
  • Try to ride out the recession until market (and sales) return [dream option]
  • Make changes to meet the new challenges by: [evolve option]  1. Add web-sale portal (social business channel); 2. Qualifying customers and guiding lower probability customers to the social business channel; 3. Reserve personal visits only for high probability customers; 4. Enroll employees, tell the truth about the situation, plans, vision, and commitment of the leader to create a sustainable new model company.

No magic – it took plenty of hard work and caused lots of angst. Everyone was kept current with the progress – good or bad. With the checkbook down to less than a couple of months of operating funds, sales volume increased from both the traditional channel and the social business channel. Sales volume grew at a steady pace and in the fourth year after starting this transition the company is profitable and stable.

The leader bet the ranch on creating a viable organization and came within a few months of losing everything. However, with the commitment of all stakeholders, hard work, honesty in assessing the situation for what it is, a good and flexible plan, and some luck – a leading-edge company emerged.

Is the leader brave? Or bold?

You decide.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ridin’ That Train

The ability to see ahead (or even around the curve) is a requirement for leadership. Every time I get in a leader slot I am amazed by how my vision shortens.

As a consultant, subordinate leader, or individual contributor I could usually make a substantial contribution, often seeing farther than the boss.

When I’m the boss, I cherish the contributors who have prepared for when it is their time to shine.

What is going on? There are only so many hours in the day, and focusing wide at the top makes it harder to get the energy to focus deep.

People want your time when they feel lonely or uncertain. I think static office workplaces have an incredible loss of focus to accommodate social needs. It’s much nicer to sit around in the warm and drink coffee.

Lightweights overcome the discomfort of leadership by doing their last job better, maybe approaching perfectly. If you are too busy doing your last job to do your current job, your successor will do your current job.

I’ve also noticed that the great leaders, when forced to face down their responsibilities, will carve out a job that is quite different than what their predecessors did, often severely inconveniencing those who had manipulated the predecessor best. The very best I ever met regularly upset his organization and spent the time in between getting a fix on what needed to be changed next.

He was repeatedly cannibalizing the best organization he could build.

That was hard on the marginal producers looking to slide by. They left.

It also created a cadre of 30 year loyalists, and one of the key growth stories of American Business.

One key was using the vision of others in the organization to see better and focus more sustained than he could by himself.

How do you leverage your organization?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pain v. Pleasure

Over the past several years, I have come to the realization that I think about different bodies of work in vastly different ways.  While working for i3solutions, which mainly ran fixed-price, waterfall-style projects, everything was about the specification (and rightly so).  The most important questions we asked ourselves were:

1. Does it meet the requirements as stated?
2. Did we hit all of the delivery dates?
3. Did we fulfill all of the terms of the contract?

All of which are completely valid, necessary questions.  However, focusing on these types of questions often puts blinders on software developers.  The focus becomes the pain-points, because these are the questions that must be asked for the company to avoid customer strife and legal pain.  Answering these questions positively does not always avoid the pain.  A disgusting project once went on for six months after user testing even though it met the requirements, because it didn’t actually fulfill the base need.

While working for several start-ups and on several pet projects, I thought in an almost completely different mindset.  There was always a specification and deadlines, but the focus was shifted.  We continually asked ourselves:

1. Does the product meet the actual need?
2. Is it easy and enjoyable to use?
3. Are we the best solution on the market?

Again, these are completely valid questions.  While harder to quantify than the first three, these questions are necessary because they serve as a litmus test for the project’s experience.  The focus here is on pleasure-points, for both the business and customer.  However, none of these facilitate project completion, and can lead to evil rework.  I am currently on the fourth major iteration of a pet project, all because each previous version failed one of the above questions.

So what have I learned? Most people I have worked with are violently of one philosophy or the other.  Truly dynamic creators believe in the art of balance, and that is what I want to improve in myself.  Where I can see both points clearly, the end result is better.

Have you observed these mindsets in your projects or yourself?  Have you ever worked on a project that was completely one-sided? How did it turn out?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thrice Welcome!

This is the third post on our Leadership blog.

My name is Jack Gates – and I believe technology is how we do things, not the things we do them with, and leadership continues to evolve through technology. Some key elements to consider.

  1. Leadership has changed to a hub and spoke structure – no pyramid, no flat linear hierarchy – leader is hub and doers are the spokes – together is a strong and stable framework for solid results (rim).
  2. Leadership thrives with an open source approach and a collaborative team drawing the best resources when needed – internal, external, or international.
  3. Just as we learn by doing, leadership is developed by doing – it benefits from shared experiences of others as well.
  4. The 'New Normal' is a result of changes in business structure, available resources, and markets – leaders examine traditional approach, revising as necessary to adapt.
  5. Leadership is sharing the vision and communicating – sometimes by speaking, sometimes by listening – the what and empower the doers for the how.

For more, come back to Leadership often – big things are in the plans!

We are creating a community of leadership learners and welcome you to be part of this community. We welcome your thoughts and comments – and sharing your experience to deepen and enrich the discussion.

Share and others will benefit – share and you will learn...isn't that really what leadership is about?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

And Welcome Again!

This is the second post of our new blog Leadership.

My name is Dick Davies, and I have learned that leadership is usually the key between winning and losing. Here are some aspects.

  1. You manage things, you lead people. Managing people is like pushing a rope.
  2. Asses and elbows” is an accurate description about what the people behind see of an effective leadership cadre.
  3. The older I get, the more I understand that values come before strategy, which comes before tactics.
  4. Leadership should be a practice. The more you practice the better you get. If your practice does not lead to better leadership, take a hard look at what you are practicing.
  5. Joy is when you have a new possibility.
Check back at our Leadership blog from time to time. We’re planning some big things.

We are creating a community of leadership learners, If you are one of us, your thoughts and comments are most welcome. Sound off!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Welcome To My Leadership Practice!

This is the first post of our new blog.

My name is Zachary Yates, and there are a few simple truths I believe in.  One is that everyone should have a personal mission statement.  It’s a north star for when the GPS for my life fails, or when the road-signs of my project are confusing.  Here is the long version:

1. I believe there is no greater goal than the betterment of the human race.  When choosing between companies, projects, or making other life-altering decisions, the question: “Will this make all of us better somehow?” is always my highest weighted valuation method.

2. I believe that action always trumps inaction.  To me, this is simple math.  I define success rate as the number of wins divided by the number of tries.  (Success Rate = Wins / Tries) Zero tries makes you infinitely unsuccessful.

3. I believe I am not the person I was yesterday, nor am I the person I will become tomorrow. I learn and change in small ways every day, tacking towards where I want my life to go.  I can’t change all at once, and I don’t expect this of others. Movement in a positive direction is always a success.

The last two are professional in nature:

4. I believe that technology is for people.  Drawing from number one, all technology, software, or processes should be designed to make people’s lives better.  All decisions on standards, features, and implementation should be weighed on how efficient and beneficial the result will be to people.  This frame of mind can be lost easily when the going gets rough.

5. I believe that high quality leadership creates success.  That is to say, many factors contribute to success, but leadership is the most potent and valuable.  I believe in the inverse as well: when encountering a failing endeavor, look first to the leadership.

Do you have a mission statement, an outline, or some sort of compass? I think it’s important because it makes every decision easier, trivial and titanic.  If you don’t, I encourage you to write a simple one and try it out on some simple decisions.  For me, it quickly made the harder decisions easier.  As a video-game dragon once told me, (paraphrasing) “Discipline against the lesser aids against the greater.”

Your Thoughts?