Browsing the archives for the Leadership category.

WSJ Talks about Geeks as Leaders – sound familiar?

Geek 5, Leadership, Leadership Development, Outside Articles, Uncategorized

Geek careers are starting to get some notice!  Over at Wall Street Journal online, Robert Fulmer and Byron Hanson wrote an article called “Do Techies make Good Leaders?”.

It’s a great article and very consistent with the philosophy of Geeks Gone Pro.  It takes a different approach to looking at the same problem.  Geeks Gone Pro considers career and leadership development from the geek’s point of view.  We focus on the Geek 5 risks and how a geek can overcome them.  This blog is intended to help geeks develop the skills they need in order to advance in their careers and become leaders if they so desire.

The Fulmer and Hanson article considers the same issue from the organization’s perspective.  They discuss programs and perspectives that can help a company develop geeks into stronger leaders.  Some of their suggestions include:

  • Formalizing leadership development processes and programs
  • Using data to measureprogress and success in talent management.  After all, what is measured gets done.
  • Value leadership.
  • Engage the audience.
  • Encourage coaching.

I would add to their list that companies should ask geeks to take ownership for their own careers.  Using resources like Geeks Gone Pro can help geeks grow and develop into our future leaders.   Leaders with great technical skills and great leadership skills are unstoppable!

Check out the WSJ article!

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Bad Kung Fu Leadership

Geek 5, Leadership

One of the side effects of being an I/O Psychologist is that I tend to analyze everything and everyone around me.  That includes watching team dynamics, trying to diagnose my kids’ MBTI personality types and observing leadership in everyday situations.  The other day I experienced an episode of bad leadership.

My family is taking martial arts.  We just started, so we are all white belts.  The white belts signify that you are a blank slate and don’t yet know Tae Kwon Do.  The kids fit right in to the kid classes.  My spouse and I, however, stick out in the adult/ teen classes.   We are by far the oldest beginner students.  Anyone close to our age is in the Black Belt range.  And yes, we definitely feel the pain of getting back in shape and learning the moves.  

But this post is not about our age and aches and ice packets.  It is about the leadership shown in a recent class.  Martial Arts are unique in that leadership is bestowed by belt rank and not by age.   The highest ranked person in the room is respected as the leader – even if it is a 12 year old leading adults.

In this case, the teacher is a high-ranked black belt in his late teens who is studying to become a formal, paid instructor.  He’s relatively new to teaching and fairly young, so I fully understand that he is still perfecting his leadership skills.  But it is still a lesson in what not to do.

Specifically, this young instructor, we’ll call him Mr. Hunter, struggled with being perceived as a leader.  Several young teens in the class did not show him the respect he deserved by merit of his rank and his instructor status.  They were goofing off and not being respectful.  Furthermore, Mr. Hunter was trying to teach something he was not fully prepared to teach.  Consequently, one of the more senior instructors kept correcting him.

I could visibly see his anxiety and frustration growing.  Finally he snapped.  He moved from teaching to directing.  He showed his anger.  He had the entire class move from learning Tae Kwon Do to doing intentionally painful calistenics – over and over.   His focus became compliance and not commitment or team work.

By the end of the class, everyone was frustrated and angry.  I did not learn anything new.  And he lost credibility as a leader and as an instructor.  In the future I will try to avoid classes where he is teaching – at least until he learns some more leadership skills.

Mr. Hunter’s leadership mistakes included:

  1. Losing his cool and showing his frustration.  He lost credibility and showed his youth.
  2. Forcing compliance to get what he wanted.
  3. Punishing the whole class to take care of a few problem students.  This made me feel like I was in fourth grade again when Ms. Felder punished the whole class because one person farted (gross and unfair!).  Just as you should not do team building to fix one person, you should not punish everyone to correct a few.

The more senior instructor could also have been more tactful about how she corrected his teaching.  It might have helped prevent some embarrassment and overreaction.

Ah well, Mr. Hunter is young and will continue to learn and develop as a leader.  My muscles and joints are old, but even they will heal with time.

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Lessons in Leadership from China

Geek 5, Leadership

Over at Forbes.com, Shaun Rein blogs regularly on leadership topics – especially related to his work in China.  His commentary is often interesting and insightful.  China has a rapidly growing and changing business climate, and that change requires strong and effective leadership.  China provides an almost experimental space to study leadership in an accelerated fashion.  Rein’s recent article is called:  “What I Learned from a Chinese Billionaire”. 

Rein relates some leadership messages from a billionaire who worked himself out of poverty with no political connections.  It is interesting that the billionaire chooses to remain anonymous – out of fear of being persecuted.  China and capitalism and wealth accumulation have a tenuous tolerance right now.  Social and cultural norms have not kept pace with the business changes.

The first lesson from the Chinese billionaire is to believe in yourself – you are the only one who can stop you.  The second lesson was that sometimes you must respect everyone and sometimes eat humble pie to accomplish your goals.  His third lesson was about sharing wealth – both with business partners and family and strangers.

It is a great article – from a leadership perspective and from a social and cultural perspective.  This story shows us how good leadership can lead to success even in a closed country like China.  In the US, even in the poor economy, we have a lot of opportunity and few restrictions in our actions.   Imagine what we could accomplish if we set our minds to it!

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Don’t do team building to fix one person

Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people, Uncategorized

As a leader, one of your jobs is to build a strong team.  You need to hire the right people, train them, motivate them and keep them productive and happy.  As stated in the Geek 5, managing people is one of the toughest task that a leader faces.

So what do you do when someone is not performing well?

One poor suggestion is to do team building.  As an Industrial/ Organizational Psychologist working in the Organizational Development area, part of my job is to run team building sessions.  There are a lot of good reasons to do team building such as helping a new team get to know each other, working out process and communication challenges, building trust or getting focused on a big goal. 

When someone comes to me with a request to do team building in their area, I start by asking questions.  What are they hoping to accomplish? What behaviors should change after the session?  What would a successful session look like?

All too often, I get an answer such as “…let me tell you about Joe.”

The story about Joe is that he is not doing a good job.  His performance is poor or he annoys everyone or his behavior is out of control.   The manager and the rest of the team all know Joe is a problem.    The manager does not want to have a tough conversation with Joe, so she suggests team building.

She thinks that after team building Joe will see the error of his ways and shape up.  She wants to use team building to set expectations for the right behavior.

It is a cop out by the manager.  And it won’t work.

Most teams are savvy enough to know when the exercise is really about trying to straighten out Joe.  Plus, team building can’t be successful with a seriously dysfunctional team member.  It will just fragment the team more and cause morale problems with the other employees.

Joe’s manager need to do some good old-fashioned, tough-love feedback and deal with the problem directly.  Once Joe is fixed, the team will probably need a team building session to regain trust.

Don’t cop out.  Find the right solution to the problem.

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Advice from the Top: Jack Welch

Advice from the Top, Leadership

Jack Welch helped create the leadership movement.  He led GE to enormous success during his reign.  Welch always took decisive action and kept moving forward.  Time has shown that some of the techniques that worked for him can be hard to replicate.  In any case, he is a leader worth listening to.

There is an article at MSNBC called “Excerpt: How to be a good leader” which is part of an interview with Jack Welch.  He discusses the transition of moving from a peer to a leader and managing big teams and small ones.  He was trying to answer the questions of: What does a leader really do?

He makes several points that are common to most leadership advice.  For example, leaders have to develop talent and build strong teams.  They are also responsible for setting direction.

Some of his other points are good advice, but not as common to hear.  He talks about the importance of curiosity.  The leader should ask a lot of questions and always be looking for a better solutions.  This helps prevent complacency.

Leader should also model risk-taking and making mistakes.  That creates an environment of trust in which employees are more likely to try new things without fear of punishment.

Welch also discusses the importance of celebrating – and doing it frequently.

Check out the article for more details.

How well do your leaders do these things?  How well do you do them?

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Are You High Potential?

Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy

In a previous post, we discussed the overall succession planning process and covered some basic definitions like “pipeline” and “bench chart”. Succession planning has dual importance to you as a leader. One important element is that you will participate in the process to rate and discuss and develop your direct reports. The other element is that you will be rated and discussed – it impacts your future success. For the Geek 5, succession planning relates to leadership and organizational savvy.

Typically during succession planning, each employee is given a rating by his or her direct manager. Specific language of the ratings varies across companies. Usually the ratings include an evaluation of the employee’s potential to move to bigger roles and they include a time frame.

For example:

A high potential employee is often defined as someone who has the potential to move up 1-2 levels in the organization in the next 2-3 years. Potential is based on having the skills and cognitive ability and interpersonal skills and organizational savvy to succeed in bigger roles.

Additional ratings could include:

  • Promotable – an employee with the potential to move up one level over time
  • Correctly Placed – an employee who is in the right role for now
  • Placement Issue – an employee who is not being successful in a current role
  • Emerging Talent – an employee who shows early signs of being high potential, but it is too early to know for sure

Some important things to note:

  • Ratings are fluid – an employee can be Correctly Placed one year and High Potential the next year. Ratings can also slip backwards.
  • When someone gets promoted, he or she generally moves to Correctly Placed until the new job is mastered.
  • Ratings are not a promise. Promotions are always a balance between the needs of the company and the developmental needs of the employee. The employee might be ready to move, but there might not be an opportunity available.
  • Ratings are used to highlight key employees and to build a bench chart. They are also used to target key development opportunities. High Potential employees are likely to get more specialized developmental opportunities than Correctly Placed employees. However, it is important to do basic development for everyone.
  • Succession planning will sometimes identify “blockers”. This is not usually an official rating, but it merits discussion. Blockers are employees in a critical role who have stalled out. They are often blocking high potential associates from moving up. Sometimes it is necessary to re-assign blockers.

A healthy organization has a mix of all of the ratings – with few or no Placement Issues. High Potentials are often about 5% of the population. That group should be limited and well-screened, so it can be given special attention. Correctly Placed employees are important players who get things done on a daily basis. Hopefully Placement Issues are small in number and can be re-assigned or moved out of the business.

Succession is one critical talent management process that is focused on the future. In a future post, we’ll discuss how current performance and future potential interact.

So how would you rate your direct reports?  How would you rate yourself?

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The Mysteries of Succession Planning

Leadership, Managing people, Org savvy, Talent Management

I find that succession planning is often perceived in organizations as a mysterious and unknowable and threatening process. Employees know that it impacts promotions and career decisions, but they are not sure exactly how. What magic happens in succession planning?

Over the next few posts, I’m going to pull back the curtain and reveal some truths about succession planning – what it is, how it typically works, what you might be expected to do as a leader of people and how you can position yourself positively for the process. This relates to the Geek 5 in terms of actions you may need to take as a leader and a manager. It also relates to your own organizational savvy and career growth.

Succession planning is a key talent management process – especially at larger organization. Each company executes it differently, but it usually follow some basic assumptions and goals.

Succession planning is intended to:

  • identify a pipeline of talent for key positions and create a bench chart
  • discuss the identification of high potentials, with a focus on development needs and possible actions
  • discuss the career potential, performance, and development needs of targeted individuals

Succession planning is about getting people ready for bigger and more critical roles in the organization. It is about risk management. The company needs to make sure that there are employees ready to fill in if a key person leaves or if there is growth and new roles open up. The company wants to have a group of employees who are well-trained and ready to take on expanded roles. Succession planning is about finding those people, setting plans to work on skills gaps, tracking them and getting them ready for when they are needed.

A pipeline of talent refers to the need to think about talent at all levels in the company. For instance, you can’t just focus on successors for one key role. Because if you move a successor into that role, then you need to backfill the old role. You need to know which employees are ready for that.

A bench chart is a document that actually lists positions and indicates who would be considered a successor for that role. Sometimes positions have multiple people listed on the bench chart as potential successors. Some of them might be “Ready Now” for the role and some might be ready in 1 or 2 or 3 years.

If a position comes open, the leadership team can use succession planning information like the bench chart and determine if there is a good internal candidate ready for the role. If so, it is a much easier and cheaper transition than hiring someone from the outside.

In the next post, we’ll talk about succession planning ratings (such as high potential) and explain the difference between performance and potential.

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Do you have the cringe factor?

Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy, Uncategorized

I’ve been learning all sorts of new terms lately.  Okay, they aren’t exactly intellectual, academic definitions, but they come from real people with real concerns.  As mentioned in an earlier post, the term “slime factor” was used in a succession meeting to describe someone who was borderline creepy.

This week, I heard another new talent management term – the cringe factor.  I was teaching Situational Leadership to a group of mid-level managers.  Sit Lead teaches that leaders must evaluate how competent an employee is at a task and then adapt their leadership style to match that level of competence.   It is a good training program for newer managers.  We’ll discuss it at some point in this blog.

The audience was managers from across the business – IT, Finance, HR, etc.  There were also some project managers who handle the big IT projects.  They asked a lot of questions about how to manage technical people (ie geeks) who were assigned to their projects, but were not formally direct reports.  They sometimes struggled to get the geeks to meet deadlines and do quality work, but they did not have direct authority over them.

One manager piped up and described the “cringe factor”.  The cringe factor is the unpleasant reaction that non-geeks can have when forced to talk with an uncooperative geek.  The non-geek knows he needs to go talk to the geek, but cringes at the thought.  He knows that the geek is a pain to work with and often hides behind technical jargon to make excuses.  The cringe factor often leads to excuses to avoid the problem and discussion until the problem escalates.

Does someone on your team cause the cringe factor in you or others?

If you are a manager, you need to address it.  Technical skills aren’t enough.  To be successful at work, your team also needs soft skills.  Part of avoiding the cringe factor is having good collaboration skills and being open to questions and concerns.

Keep an eye open for the cringe factor!

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Advice from the Top: Be the Rudder

Advice from the Top, Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Uncategorized

Today’s Advice from the Top post comes from a senior leader in my current company. It relates to the Geek 5 risks of leadership skills and resistance to a broader role.

 The last Advice from the Top post was about treating your office like a prison and escaping it as often as you can.  That is a leadership technique for building relationships and connecting to your team.   

Be the Rudder is also a leadership technique.  It is based on an analogy to a boat.  Picture a large boat (like a Viking Boat) staffed with a dozen men with oars. 

Boat with rudder

Boat with rudder

Q:  How does the boat move? 

A: The men use the oars to row the boat.

Q:  How does the boat steer?

A: The boat is steered by the captain from the back of the boat using the rudder.

As the captain leader of your boat team are you steering from the rear as the rudder? 

As Geeks make the transition from an individual contributor role focused on their expertise to a broader leadership role, many struggle with this issue.  They try to move the boat by doing all of the rowing from the front of the boat and pulling the team along with them. 

Geek managers can often do the work faster and better than less experienced direct reports.  Plus the technical work is in their comfort zone.  So they try to do the work instead of guiding the team.

To be a rudder, the leader should:

  • Delegate tasks
  • Coach and mentor
  • Provide strategy and direction
  • Motivate the team
  • Allow others to carry their own load
  • Keep the team aligned and all rowing together

Are you the rudder for your team or are you hauling them along through the strength of your expertise?

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Rating the Slime Factor

Favorite posts, Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy, Uncategorized

Part of leadership (Geek 5 risk) is developing talent in future leaders.  One key part of this process is succession planning.  I sat in a succession planning meeting the other day that introduced a whole new element of talent management – the slime factor. I’ve facilitated a lot of succession planning meetings. Generally we discuss the behaviors of the employee – with a focus on current performance and future potential. If performance is good and potential is strong, that employee is rated a being “high-potential”. That label can lead to special development opportunities and assignments and usually leads to a promotion.

Our conversation was moving along well. The group I was working with is composed of seasoned executives. We’ve been doing succession planning meetings for a few years and have got the rhythm down. Then we got stuck. We were discussing an employee who was a very strong performer – let’s call him Ted. Ted works out in the field – in an operational, metric-driven role. Operationally and metrically, he was strong. Even so, when his name was brought up, there was silence around the table.

Hmmmm…. As a facilitator, this is when the warning flag is raised. I asked the group to describe Ted’s working style. Was he using the right behaviors to get his strong results? It is a common scenario that some employees get strong results by destroying everyone and everything around them. In our company that behavior is not tolerated. We have a leadership competency model that requires employees to get results through collaboration and critical thinking and good judgment.  Everyone in the room shook their heads – Ted wasn’t mean or difficult or cutting corners or sabotaging others. The group just couldn’t explain it.

Finally one of the few female leaders in the room blurted out – “He’s just slimy!” That broke the spell – everyone started talking and laughing – and agreeing. He is slimy. Slimy is hard to quantify, but there was strong agreement in the room about it.

Here is what slimy meant:

  • Ted made people feel uncomfortable – even if they could not explain why.
  • One leader described Ted as someone who would “check out all the women in the room”, but he never crossed the line into sexual harassment.
  • Ted always seemed close to crossing a line – in his jokes or attitude or touching.
  • In social situations he often seemed awkward and not part of the group.

Most of these descriptions are intangible.  I always try to push groups to focus on specific behaviors.  However, in this case, slimy seemed to fit. It was enough reason for the group to label him as “Correctly Placed” and plan to keep an eye on is behavior.

Slimy trumps strong performance.  Do you have Slimy Ted’s in your company?

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