Posts Tagged Information Technology

Not a Born Leader? So What!

I would like to introduce you to a colleague and friend of mine. Dr. Janice Presser is the architect of Teamability® – a technology which directly measures the way a person ‘connects’ to the needs of the team: not just to other people, but to the team itself as a living entity. I met Janice at an American SAP Users Group event where I had the good fortune to share dinner with her.  What she had to say about how the most successful teams are built and how leaders thrive in our post-industrial, social media connected, global workforce was intriguing and really hit home for me. I hope you enjoy her thoughts as much as I do. The following blog was published previously on Dr. Janice Pressor’s WordPress Blog. I am privileged to share it with you here.


Not a Born Leader? So What!

By Dr. Janice Presser on February 20, 2014

I was not born a leader.

When I was born (and this was a very long time ago), there were serious defects in my leadership blueprint. First, I had two X chromosomes at a time when one Y was needed in order to be a leader. Actually, nobody knew what a chromosome was back then, so 42 Extra Long was the preferred measure, and I didn’t reach my full 5’2” until I was 25.

Although I had no choice in the matter, I also ended up with two loving parents, neither of whom was an entrepreneur or executive. It would seem hopeless.

Now, in 2013, diversity is desirable. My dear friends in executive search tell me that they are under the gun to produce diversity slates for the high level positions they are engaged to fill. A diversity slate, one told me with his typically charming sense of irony, is one that includes at least one woman and one non-white.

When pressed to explain, he went on to say that this configuration positioned the first runner up to be the feel-good candidate while there actually would be no danger of hiring a person other than someone who looked like the rest of the executive team.

I think we’re looking at the wrong kind of diversity.

What if, instead, we looked at people from the viewpoint of the organization? What if, instead, the organization (as a living thing itself) were to provide the want-list, instead of the typical laundry list of job specs written by HR? What if we actually treated organization’s needs with respect and consideration?

This would truly represent a revolutionary change in the way we look at leadership and organizational dynamics.

It turns out that organizations – small, medium, large, and Fortune list huge – all have similar fundamental needs. The people who fill those needs best are the ones who feel, deep inside, a connection to the specific organizational need they are serving. This is what gives a person the sense that they are making meaningful contributions, more so than anything else they could be doing.

People may do various kinds of work similar in focus and thoughtfulness, but they experience different kinds of work in different ways; each aligned with the specific need of the organization that they are filling. This has especially important relevance to leadership.

There are those who are drawn to create big visions, as an entirely new product, or service, or level of awareness. They start an organization as a way to draw other people in to make it happen. In the language of Teamability, they are Founders.

There are those who bond to the vision of the Founder and lead the strategic process of putting it on the road to realization. In the language of Teamability, they are Vision Movers.

There are those who take the drive and activity of the Vision Mover and shape and form it into a more elegant, efficient framework. This transforms the team as well as the project. In the language of Teamability, they are Vision Formers.

There are those who adapt big-picture strategies into action. They are the heroes of their teams as they lead them into the fray. In the language of Teamability, they are Action Movers.

And there are those who make sure that every detail is in place, been accomplished well, and that the project is not closed until everything is done. They are extraordinary project managers, no matter what the project. In the language of Teamability, they are Action Formers.

All are leaders. All are essential. If you want to lead, and you feel comfortable in leading, one of these Roles probably resonates with you.

But there are five more needs that organizations have, and without them the organization is incomplete and structurally flawed. If you fill one or the other Roles, you may not be automatically seen as a leader. However, that does not mean you can’t lead. It may very well be that your organization needs you for a special kind of leading that only you can do.

We’re all in this together, and all people were born to serve. Whether your leadership is recognized or not is less important than your desire to contribute. It is really a matter of finding the right niche.

Here are some tactics you can try along your way to becoming a leader:

  • Start, or take a leadership position in, an organization that does something good for people. (I was involved in several parenting nonprofits and learned the good, the bad, the ugly, and the ‘well worth the trouble.’)
  • People often make snap judgments based on how you look, and they’re often wrong. But, the more you tune into how they see you, the more you can influence their ideas about you. Ask a friend for feedback. (I will be eternally grateful to my BFF Margot for getting me to stop dressing like a mom, even at business meetings.)
  • I have to give credit for this one to serial entrepreneur and investor, Vincent Schiavone. He told me his secret in two words: Get Famous! (I have been working on it ever since. Blogging is a good start!)
  • Ask yourself why you want to lead. If your answer is to make more money, there are probably easier ways. If your answer is to change the world (or some part of it) start figuring out how you’re going to do that and, more important, who you’ll need to team with in order to get there.
  • Finally: don’t give up. Remember that times change and you will change with them. What is impossible at 30 can be possible at 40, probable at 50, and inevitable at 60. (Just remember as you get older to stay young in your mind, your heart, and your body.)

Leadership is, after all, quite simple… and has nothing to do with being ‘born with it’. All you have to do is be the person other people want to follow!

 

For more of Dr. Janice Presser’s thoughts read @Dr Janice, Thoughts and Tweets on Leadership, Teamwork and Teamability and visit The Gabriel Institute online. 

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“Why I am leaving the best job I ever had”

The best job I have ever had — that is, the one in which I have felt most rewarded — was in being a mom. But I want my life to be insightful and impactful and intellectually stimulating outside of my home. The difficulty has always been finding balance between the two “M” words – Mom and Manager.

The expectation that a corporate work week is routinely more than 40 hours is challenging for any parent. Yet, I willingly give those hours because I feel passion and a sense of commitment to my colleagues and to the successful completion of work that enables a better workforce via technology.

I am not leaving the best job I ever had. But for MongoDB CEO Max Schireson, stepping down to do LESS and allow someone else to step up to do more was crucial. There is no shame in this – and I am personally applauding his choice — and his integrity and passion for life and family.

The question for each of us is how we will make personal balance work for each of us. And the realization we must all achieve is that the question is not just for women.

It is my hope that Max Schireson’s choice will not only inspire more dad’s to chose worklife balance, but more, that it will make it increasingly acceptable for women to be able to shift temporarily into a lower gear in order to achieve Mom-Manager happiness. Can we all “lean in” to that idea?

Max Schireson's blog

Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.

While the press haven’t asked me, it is a question that I often ask myself. Here is my situation:

* I have 3 wonderful kids at home, aged 14, 12 and 9, and I love spending time with them: skiing, cooking, playing backgammon, swimming, watching movies or Warriors or Giants games, talking, whatever.
* I am on pace to fly 300,000 miles this year, all the normal CEO travel plus commuting between Palo Alto and New York…

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Business Friends (not an oxymoron)

Today I have to refer to one of my favorite thought leaders: Seth Godin. Seth’s blog today is “Finding Your Peer Group.” I have to tell you that finding my peer group was pivotal to my success and to my level of satisfaction with and – yes – even passion about – my job.

Fourteen years ago I joined our company’s Information Technology (IT) project to deploy new Human Resources software from SAP. To say I couldn’t even spell “SAP” might be an exaggeration, but trust me, I knew nothing.

How I made it thru the project and onward to manage the support team has everything to do with the my peers: people I worked with on the project — the consultants who taught me what they knew, my office colleagues who patiently answered every one of my tedious questions about business processes and the countless other SAP users I met thru an organization called America’s SAP Users Group (ASUG).

What I learned thru my peer groups was that many people had the same questions I had. Others had questions that I could actually answer! My peer group encouraged me to talk about what I know, to write about what I know and to accept a nomination to the ASUG Board of Directors. My peer group agrees with me. And my peer group feels equally challenged to disagree with me. And – you know what? – I appreciate the honest, open feedback, good or bad.

Real business friends will tell you you’re wrong one minute and shake your hand or hug you the next minute.

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Seriously Perfect

In my early 20’s, I was incredibly serious about how others viewed me and whether or not I was being taken seriously. At a friend’s picnic, someone sprayed me with a hose and I was upset because my hair was ruined and my cute outfit had to be taken off to dry. Seriously.

I have been taking that perfectionist attitude to work too. EXCELLENCE demands getting it all absolutely 100% right – right? I mean, you agree, don’t you?

Here’s the thing that working in technology taught me: the 80/20 rule. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something to get to the bigger picture. If your budget is tight and timeline is short and only 80% of the business requirements will be met, can the 20% be handled in another manner?

For those of us who are perfectionists, this is difficult to accept. You have to step back and see the entire view. How much more money will it cost to do it “the right way?” And – as rapidly as things change in today’s world – how long will your “right” design be relevant? What are you really trying to fix? Really dig deep and work together to understand the core issue. Sometimes the answer to the problem is much simpler than you initially thought. Sometimes, there really isn’t an issue at all – but a perceived issue or a misguided process.

Most days I still dress pretty impeccably for work, believing in the mantra dress for the job you want, not the job you have. As I raised my two daughters, however, I cannot always afford to be as impeccably dressed as I would like. But, I’ve learned that it really doesn’t matter what my hair or clothing look like if I am not bringing quality and productive results to the table.

In a large organization, we’re all in it to make money — and not just for ourselves, but for the company. When the company we work for wins, we all win.

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Outsourced in Stilettos

The image of stilettos often conjures up the image of a femme fatale – a woman whose charms can ensnare others.  I was not that woman.  I ensnared no one.  I was more like Gracie Hart, tough FBI agent, walking cooly down the street – only to trip over her own heels.  Repeatedly.

To say I wasn’t prepared for the sudden change that left me managing everything almost overnight would be an understatement.  Before we started our application maintenance program (aka “outsourcing”) I was a supervisor of nine system architects – mostly focused on our solutions in the Americas – and managing a team that all sat in the same country, the same time zone, the same office building and floor where I sat.  Progress on issues or new solutions seemed – well – seamless.  We could yell over our cubicle walls to each other for a quick answer or walk down the hall a bit for a more in-depth technical answer from the guys who managed our middleware.   We learned constantly from each other.  And we had reached a level of technical and functional comptence that allowed us to execute flawlessly and fairly quickly without the burden of layers of procesess and handoffs.

Post outsourcing, I was the manager of the global team – the one in charge of 27 countries,  three remaining in-house team members and twelve outsourced staff members.  Post outsourcing, we all had to move from being collaborative learners to effective teachers.  Post outsourcing, we had to tune our ears to different accents, work to understand a different culture, and – with sensitivity and grace – make a team of outsourced workers feel at home with us — whether they would be working onshore in our U.S. offices or offshore in India.

Nothing could have prepared me for this adventure.  Most days were fraught with fear of the unknown.  We feared losing our own jobs next.  We were uncertain how to execute without the individuals that we knew would know what to do.  We were tired from stress and working longer hours to cover Europe and Asia.

In time, each of us – the four who remained — would all rise to the call of leadership.  I know I “played by ear” many days – unsure what to do or how to handle things. I made mistakes.  Lots of mistakes.  At the end of the workday, I’d abandon my stilettos for bedroom slippers and pajamas – and continue working at home.  If I just worked a little harder, a little longer, things would get better.  And in many ways they did.  It took a village. . . and the courage to be knocked off my stilettos more than once.

 

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Outsourcing, Uphill

First you cry. Well, I did.  I cried because we had a phenomenal team and the move to outsource our team’s work meant that what we had built together would be torn apart. I cried because colleagues who solved the worst of technical challenges with me, who worked day and night and weekends with me, who always had a laugh to share – even in the middle of the night when we were dead tired – who taught me everything they knew, who celebrated Christmases and weddings and births with me would be gone.

I cried for all the right reasons. . . and some lesser reasons.

I cried because the familiar comfort of a job I knew well was suddenly gone.   And that made me realize.  This wasn’t personal.  This was business.

In 2005, Thomas Friedman had explained that the world was, indeed flat.  The walls had come down and the economy would be different.  We would work differently.  I remember reading his book – with a gulp of  incredulous fear  – and then stuffing it away on my bookshelf as if, safely ensconced there, it couldn’t be true.  And here it was looking me smack in the face.  I had lived in a fabricated reality in which the type of work I did would never be outsourced – let alone to another country.  I had ignored the truths that Thomas Friedman spoke.

I had to move forward.

What we needed most of all was someone to talk about how to move forward. I had no ready answers. But I had the will to listen, to hear what others were saying — whether it was about the “new normal” or the old ways or how impossible it was going to be to transfer everything everyone knew in just five short months. We could have all fallen apart at that point – divided by anxiety, jealousy, fear.  But for the most part, the team remained intact, committed to delivering the same high quality results on this “project” as they had for every other genuine project.  With compassion and understanding, I listened.  I learned.  I tried to get answers for the team.  I improvised when I had no answers and we needed answers.  And I honestly said “I don’t know” when I had no answers.  But I committed to get answers.  What I tried not to do was to let any one person stand alone, be scared or feel hopeless.

Over the course of the next five months, I would host three retirement and five farewell luncheons, but not before the collective team left their legacy of knowledge  in hundreds of hours worth of recorded training sessions.  I was as proud of us as we dismantled as I had been in the early days when we first formed our team.  No – that’s not true.  I was more proud.

I was lucky to have worked with such talented, skilled people – people who managed this most difficult challenge of their careers with integrity, discipline and self-esteem.   They left in their wake an awakened leadership.

The United States is now well into the midst of a labor renaissance. The industrial revolution, the technological revolution – these are gone.   Textbook management styles that serve hierarchical organizations and mass production will not serve us well in the near or long term.

What I learned as I climbed the outsourcing hill was that there  was more than one way to scale the mountain.  What I learned was that being right-brained was not a technical handicap.  You see, creativity has its roots in diversity…diversity of thought and  culture and people.   And diversity is showing us the way.

The Uphill Climb - Adapting to Change

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Outsourcing: Identity Crisis….

Shock. Horror. Disbelief. Fear. Anger. These are some of the words I would use to describe emotions as it became clear that a large number of our positions would change or disappear. Our financial livelihoods were at stake. But, more, there was something profoundly personal in the emotions we confronted when a move to right-source our work turned to the word “outsource”. The word “outsource” carried with it a stigma that the day-to-day activities with which we all identified ourselves are no longer valued.

Not true.

The truth was that our knowledge was so valued that we created vast quantities of documentation for our the team at the outsourcing firm. The truth was that the change to an outsourced application maintenance program was difficult for everyone involved – including the new IT staff (from the outsourcing firm) that would take over of our work. The truth was outsourcing was a competitive business decision.

Here’s what I learned when I opened my eyes to the change that was coming. I needed to bump up my own knowledge. I needed to understand the economics of change. I needed to draw upon leadership skills that I did not to date have to summon — both to cull skills from the team that remained as well as to develop skills in a new resource pool that was thousands of miles away. And throughout it all, we could not lose productivity.

I like to think of the stages of change as an upward arrow – not an endless cycle.

Change

To say that outsourcing was not an upward climb would be a lie. But to say that there were no benefits to outsourcing, to say that the personal and professional challenges did not make me grow, would be totally inaccurate.

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