Browsing the archives for the leadership tag.

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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Failing Forward

Advice from the Top

I wrote an earlier post about bad Kung Fu leadership.  This is another Kung Fu post – or more precisely – Tae Kwan Do.  The master at our school used a terrific phrase the other day.  He was working with some kids who were struggling to learn a new move.  They were getting frustrated and embarrassed when they got the move wrong.

The master said, “It is okay to fail as you learn as long as you fail forward”.

His point was about learning from your mistakes, moving forward and getting it right the next time.  Don’t get discouraged – keep on trying.  Mistakes are part of the process of continuous improvement as we work toward mastery of a skill.

We all have struggles with tasks and skills and experiences.  Don’t regret that mistakes happen.  Just make sure that you are always failing forward.

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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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That introversion thing again…

Broader role, Geek 5, Org savvy, Uncategorized

We’ve talked a lot about introversion and how it can impact the career of many geeks.  It is a key part of the Geek 5 risks as part of the resistance to a broader role.  There was also a post about Jennifer Kahnweiler’s book, The Introverted Leader

Dan McCarthy over at Great Leadership just did a nice post on introversion.  It is called “How to be a more approachable, sociable leader“.  He provides many useful tips on how to overcome some introverted tendencies.  I like that he focuses on small, achievable changes – such as setting a goal for how many people to approach on a daily basis.

Several of his suggestions match suggestions from this blog – such as smiling and listening more.  He also talks about the need to do more personal disclosure (appropriate disclosure) in order to build rapport.  Dan also suggests several books related to building relationships and charisma.  I’m not familiar with the books, but they’re probably worth a scan on Amazon.

Check out his post for another perspective and more advice about introversion.

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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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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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