Browsing the archives for the Leadership category.

Advice from the Top: Escape your Office?

Advice from the Top, Leadership

You’ll start seeing a new topic here at Geeks Gone Pro called “Advice from the Top”.  This will be advice and thoughts from leaders who have already achieved success and moved to the top of their organizations.  Some of these leaders are ones I know personally, and others will be well-known business folks.  Their advice ties to the Geek 5 as related to leadership.

Today’s “Advice from the Top” comes from a senior leader at my current company.  He is a dynamic leader who tells stories to teach leadership.  Gracious with his time, he often speaks during our leadership training sessions. 

One phrase he uses is “Treat your office like a prison and escape it as often as you can!”

By this, he means that you cannot lead people from behind a desk.  You do tasks behind a desk, you practice leadership with other people.  The work you do in an office on a computer is not as important as the work you do when you are out interacting with direct reports, peers, bosses, customers, etc.  Here are some takeaways from this idea:

1.  Stay connected to your team – There used to be a popular management technique called “Management by Walking Around”.  This is the same concept.  Try to take a daily stroll around your workplace.  Check in with your direct reports.  It might be as simple as saying hello and briefly chatting – this builds ongoing rapport and trust.  Or you might ask about the status of projects or meetings.  If you are present and available, you’re more likely to hear of troubles before they escalate.  Be present as a leader. 

2.  Find out what is happening in the company – Visiting other groups and areas can keep you connected into the organization.  You will have casual opportunities to discuss the work you are doing, and you can hear what others are doing.  People love to talk about themselves.  If you drop in and ask a few questions, it is a great way to start a conversation.  A good listener is always appreciated – and you might pick up interesting infrormation.   If nothing else, you are building relationships and your network.

3.  Be visible – You are more likely to get noticed out of your office than sitting at your desk.  Visibility is critical to building your credibility and to make you seem like a broader leader.  You have to be visible to be considered for bigger opportunities.  Remember the posts about organizational savvy?

Getting out of your office can mean walking around to talk to folks, having lunch in the company cafeteria, seeking others out to congratulate them on successes, visiting branch offices or stores or other outlets, etc.  The point is that you learn more by getting out, asking questions and listening than you do by reading and writing reports. 

Remember, you always need to get your work done – and that usually involves sitting in your office.  If you don’t perform well, your leadership skills won’t matter.  Just make sure that you build in time to practice your leadership skills by getting out of your office when you can.  Good leaders lead in person, not through email.

How can you escape your office?

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Friday articles: Hedge Fund Manager & When to fire

Business Acumen, Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people

For this Friday, I’m going to link you to two interesting articles at the New York Times.  BTW – the NYT is a great resource for improving your business acumen which is one of the Geek 5 risks.

The first article is a Corner Office interview called “An Office? She’ll Pass on That”by Adam Bryant about hedge fund manager Meridee A. Moore.  She has some interesting things to say about her management style (she micro-manages) and some of the coaching she has received about her style.  She also talks about using 360 feedback and an executive coach to make sure she stays on track as a leader.

The second article, in the small business blog: You’re the Boss, is titled  “The Secret to Having Happy Employees”by Jay Goltz.  I like his straight-forward take on happiness in the workplace.  He describes two things to do to keep workers happy.  One thing is the obvious answer – treat them well.  The second thing is less obvious – fire people when you need to.  Read the article to learn more.

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As a manager, lack of coaching can take you down

Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people

In this last post, we covered how a lack of “coaching in the moment” can cause employees to be surprised by a bad performance review. One of the Geek 5 risks is about managing people. When you are in a leadership role, managing people is one of your most important and most visible responsibilities.

Another common problem I see with managers during performance reviews involves giving an employee a solid performance review score in order to avoid a difficult conversation. My company uses a 1-5 rating scale. You almost never see ones or fives, and most ratings cluster around 3.5. When we look at a distribution of the ratings, we see a big spike at 3.5 but we also see another spike at 3.0.

This second spike has a simple explanation. Any employee who gets an overall performance review score below 3.0 is not eligible for a bonus or merit increase. As a result, many managers with poor performers give the lowest possible score that they can give without having to have a “no bonus” conversation.

So, you might be thinking, what’s so wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that a needed conversation never happens. The employee gets the impression that everything is good or at least good enough. One of our senior leaders refers to a 3.0 as the coward’s review score. The manager is not acting as a manager and a leader. This avoids a short-term conversation, but usually leads to trouble down the road.

The employee keeps on doing what he or she has always done – after all, the review was okay. As poor performance continues (since it has never been addressed) the manager and company are usually growing more and more frustrated. At some point, an issue will tip the performance from poor to unacceptable.  The manager has had enough. He generally storms down to Human Resources saying that he wants to fire the poor performing employee right away.

As HR probes into the situation, it becomes obvious that there has never been a conversation about the problems and that there is no written documentation. In our company, that puts a hard stop to the conversation. Unless there is a serious policy violation, the manager is asked to go back, give feedback, do coaching in the moment and give the employee a chance to get back on track.

If the manager continues to avoid the conversation, the company starts seeing the manager as a performance problem. The manager’s boss starts giving feedback about poor management skills, and the manager is suddenly at risk. When you are a leader, you must act like a leader. Avoiding tough conversations shows a lack of leadership courage. Part of leadership and management is having tough conversations when you need to. Otherwise, it becomes your failure. And believe me, those failures get noticed. Next thing you know, you’ll get called in to your manager’s office to get some coaching about your poor performance as a leader.

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CIO Delusions of Leadership

Leadership, Random
Pradco published a whitepaper entitled “What it takes to be a CIO” in September 2009, and I just ran across it. It is striking in several ways. First, I have to mention that Pradco is an assessment company that works a lot in the IT space – this is their bread and butter work. Second, this information is based on an ad hoc survey of 36 CIOs at a March 2009 IT Leaders Conference. So the data is not statistically significant, but the tone of the self-report data is interesting.
 
The CIOs acknowledged that managerial skills are important and 69% of them said that was a key factor for themselves in getting hired. 77% of the CIOs further believe that their leadership skills are as well developed as their technical skills. They are quite confident in themselves and 90% of them are satisfied with their own performance. This is striking, because CIOs have notoriously short tenures (average about 6 years) and one in four gets let go for poor performance. I guess for these survey respondants, those statistics apply to the other guys.
Some of the CIO self-confidence is necessary to perform in a C-level job. There is some interesting research that shows that many C-level executives demonstrate clinically significant levels of narcissism. But that is a topic for another day.
Overall this whitepaper is short on meaningful conclusions, but I took away two things. One is the fact that CIOs recognize the importance of leadership skills. This is promising – they should start expecting leadership from themselves and direct reports. Technical skills alone are not enough. Second is that the group of CIOs lacks self-awareness about their own skills as leaders. If they were all as good as they claim, then IT groups across the country would be functioning flawlessly. Personal insight and awareness is an important factor in career development. I encourage you to look at your own strengths and opportunities more critically. You have to admit to your opportunities, before you can improve on them.

 

 

 

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Doctors getting MBAs

Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people

Jane Porter at the Wall Street Journalwrote an interesting article about doctors getting MBAs.  Most doctors fall into our definition of a geek.  They certainly have the deep technical expertise.  Most of them have also focused on their specialty instead of general management skills – hence the later need for an MBA.  Not all of them would self-identify as a geek, but if it looks like a geek and smells like a geek…

The article, Doctors Seek Aid from Business Schools, touches on many of the issues covered by the Geek 5.  The article covers the need for basic management skills,  leadership skills and financial/ business acumen.  She cited a statistic that the University of Pennsylvania health system now spends $1 million on leadership training. 

This is a great example of geeks gone pro.  The doctors rise in their careers due to the technical stuff.  But at a certain point, the professional skills become just as important and help determine career advancement and success.  If they can do it, so can you!

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New Year Resolutions

Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people

It is that wonderful time when the year is just starting and everything seems possible.  Since 2009 was a rough year, 2010 is bound to be better.  Along with weight-loss goals and planning to be more organized, it is a good time to sit down and think about your career goals and work-related resolutions. 

What do you want to accomplish in 2010?  Do you want to go from good to great in your current job?  Do you want a promotion or a raise?  Do you want a new job with a new company?  Are you unemployed and searching for a job?

Spend some time thinking about this.  Set some realistic goals.  Write them down and share them with a spouse or significant other or friend.  Look at them every couple of weeks and write down what you’re doing to accomplish them.

 That will help you set your own career goals and direction.  But remember, to be successful at a leadership level, you also need to consider concerns beyond your personal success.  That can include contributing more to your company, supporting your co-workers or providing improved leadership to your direct reports.

Gayle Lantz wrote a guest post at Smart Blog on Workforce called “Replace Those Resolutions with Questions“.  She sets out a nice series of questions to consider for the new year.  They focus on strategy and leadership and making a difference.  Check it out!

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