Posts Tagged Leadership

What Does Diversity Mean to You?

In Dr. Janice Presser’s blog that I posted yesterday, she said “I think we’re looking at the wrong kind of diversity.”

She is right.

Diversity is more than meeting quotas. Diversity is more than gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. And diversity does not mean that you have to agree with the other person’s point of view, speak their language, or accept their lifestyle. It does mean that we have to be open to seeing the possibilities in every person we encounter. It does mean that we need to make room in the workplace for people who have differet values than ourselves. It does mean we have to realize that not everyone we work with had the same parenting, education, background or experiences that we have had. It does mean that we should embrace the fact that women are, indeed, very often different from men – just as my colleagues from India are very different from my colleagues who were born and raised in the United States. And it does mean that we have to embrace the fact that the differences between each of us are vital to a successful organization.

That means we have to work harder within these differences instead of attempting to press everyone into one common cookie-cutter mold.

I and many others (including The Washington Post) wrote about Max Schireson, the chief executive of database company MongoDB, who stepped down to a less demanding position in the company in order to have more time for his family. In The Washington Post’s column On Leadership, Jena McGregor writes: “Perhaps the best part of the blog post is Schireson’s public recognition of the double standards and differing expectations that male and female executives face. He acknowledges that while the press often asks female CEOs (GM’s Mary Barra, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi) how they do it all, no one’s ever asked him a similar question.”

The fact remains that we have different expectations for men and for women in the workplace. This extends to the hours we work to the leadership positions we hold, to how we speak, and how we manage a team. Personally, I have received feedback (through third parties) regarding my communications style – both what I say and how I say it. The reality is that while part of my communication style is deeply embedded in who I am, I learned my my work communication style at the foot of male managers. And so, after several years of receiving the same feedback, I finally said to my manager, “Please give me specific examples. The next time you hear me say something wrong, pull me aside immediately after and help me – tell me what I did wrong – because I think I say the same things you would have said.” That made a lightbulb go on for my manager and for me.

I realized that sometimes I judge the delivery of messages too. And really, as leaders we need to be looking beneath the delivery of the message to the nugget of value in what is being said. Communication is a two way street: Speaker and Receiver. Both parties put their own “spin” on the message being delivered. Both parties bring different backgrounds, parenting, experiences and knoweldge to a conversation. In a diverse workforce, we strive to hear it all.

And so, I encourage us, as individuals and as leaders, to listen more than speak, to attempt to understand the differences and why they exist, to ask questions for clarity and to make no assumptions about how the message was delivered or even about what was said. Hold back your immediate, innate reactions. Look deeper for insight and allow yourself time to process the diversity of thought.

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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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Shapes and Sizes

I was not a born leader. Well – not in the typical sense. I was not raised by parents who led me to aspire to being the President or even a manager. I wasn’t even strongly encouraged to go to college (although I wasn’t discouraged either). I was raised by parents who provided enough guidance to make good choices, and then let me try and fail and try again. When I entered the workplace, I entered as a secretary. (These days, we call these bright and invaluable experts “administrative assistants.”) When I received my college degree, I did it at night, while working full-time and while raising my daughters. I did not have aspirations to be a manager. I aspired, rather, to do interesting and intellectually stimulating work. I thrived on relationships I built in the business community and in learning about their thoughts, ideas and experiences.

Over the years, however, I found that my natural curiosity seemed to inspire others to dig deep, to find the right answers, to stop and question their own thinking or the way in which things were always done. And, ultimately, I was asked to lead.

I am enormously proud of all I accomplished. But – trust me – I didn’t set out with a personal roadmap. And perhaps because of that I am more aware of the possibilities that exist when individuals and organizations refuse to allow perceptions, sterotypes or expectations guide choices.

Forbes recently conducted an interview with Angela Yochem, CIO at BDP International. The title of the article is “Former Musician Turned Board Level CIO, BDP International’s Angela Yochem’s Unconventional Path To The Top Of IT”. The headline is attention grabbing. Why? Because we remain fascinated and surprised, when a declared right-brained person excels in a left-brained world.

The fact is that diversity of thought is essential to business success. Diversity of thought will not arise from hearing the same voices repeatedly.

Leaders — those who can guide others thru transformational change — come in all shapes and sizes.

“The collection of capabilities that a CIO must bring into that role is so much broader than it used to be” Angela Yochem says and continues “If you’re a technology leader, you’re the one proposing transformational technology opportunities.”

Transformational technology. Transformational implies an innovative and creative culture. I’ll have a second helping of that, please! And please serve it with a surprise side dish of mixed milieu.

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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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Leader of the “Band” *

He was man of average build with calloused and greased-stained hands and a weathered face.  I feared his anger with a respect that needed no explanation.  When he smiled, his eyes smiled first.  He was a self-taught carpenter and electrician and car mechanic and small appliance repairman and construction foreman and a steel laborer – simultaneously.  He was bilingual, conversing easily in German  and English.  He didn’t go to college.  He didn’t graduate high school.  But he taught me everything I know about life and how to live it.   On Father’s Day, here are five tips from Dad.
LifeLessons

#1 – Good enough is not good enough.  Dad was a perfectionist of sorts who frequently complained about lackluster workmanship done by others.  He built our house.  And when it was done there was not one single thing that was left to finish – no unfinished floors, or half painted windows or pieces of trim were left to be done later.

#2 – You catch more bees with honey.  Dad frequently reminded us that it served no purpose to be rude in return to someone we thought didn’t like us or who was rude to us.  During one summer college break my brother, Steve, held a job at a nursing home where he swabbed floors and cleaned toilets.  This was the 1970s; and my brother’s hair, just brushing his shirt collar, was considered long and “hippy-like” at the time.  One of the other custodians was frequently snide with Steve.  Steve would complain at home that this man was making his life miserable.  Dad would say, “nevermind – you just keep being nice to him.”  Steve listened.  By the end of the summer, Steve’s custodian colleage was a firm supporter and friend. 

#3 – It’s okay to stand up for what you believe in – even if it causes disruption.  My older brother Jim  marched in a peace demonstration during college.  A newspaper photographer caught Jim in his lens and Jim’s photograph, protesting the Vietnam war, was front and center in our local newspaper.  This was the 1970s, remember.  The neighbors were all abuzz quickly jumping to criticism about my brother.  I think it’s fair to say that Mom and Dad were somewhat embarrassed.  There may have been some words about my brother’s behavior protesting our government – although I do not recall the exact context.  What I do know is that when Dad died in 1993 we found that newspaper photograph safely hidden in my father’s important papers drawer.  All along, he was secretly smiling at my brother’s will to be heard.

#4 – Nothing, No One is Disposable.  At my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, my brother Jim gave a toast that summed up their marriage like this:  Mom and Dad threw NOTHING away.  Dad would repair anything, would save pieces of broken electrical cords for re-use and had a garage stuffed with left over wood, nails, screws and car parts – enough to build or rebuild nearly anything.  We never ran out and bought something new.  He fixed it.  This, as my brother noted, was a good metaphor for marriage.  Through unexpected births and steel layoffs and strikes, through raising five children and putting them through college, Dad never gave up.  And today I cringe at the items I dispose – thinking that Dad would try to fix them.

#5 – What makes us different makes life and work special.  My dad worked in the melting pot of the Bethlehem Steel beam yard.  His coworkers were from every country, every region of Pennsylvania, every ethnic background.  He spoke of them in stories and jokes that were filled with respect and fondness for each of them.  He saw the differences – including his own – as interesting, sometimes amusing and, in general, something that made the workday worthwhile.  As a child, I don’t recall ever hearing a racial slur at home.  Later, when my brothers would bring home their college friends — whom other parents of the time might regard as pot-smoking, too-free-spirited hippies — Dad and Mom would sit in the kitchen and talk with them.  And although they both heard things they never thought they would hear in their house (about sex and birth control and how these young people intended to live), they never flinched, they never made anyone feel unwelcome.  In fact, they taught me – the impressionable younger sister — to be accepting of all.

 

Ignatius Joseph Hoffman.  He was born in the U.S. in 1919, grew up thru the Depression, made his own way teaching himself to design and build and create and labor, and became my Dad.  Thanks Dad, for the best lessons in life.

 

*Dan Fogelberg wrote the song “Leader of the Band” for his father.  In 2003 he said of the song, “If I would have been able to write only one song in my life, it would have been this one.” 

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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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Lean In . . . to a movie

The golden girl of the decade – Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer –  has just achieved another coup.  Sony Pictures has obtained the rights to turn Sheryl’s best seller self-help book, Lean In, into a movie.  My life, my blog could be a movie too.  (Notice the similarity in our first names:  Sheryl, Sherry.)  Except I think my story might be titled something more like “Leaned On” and billed more as a Lifetime movie.   

I’m not complaining.  I have had a much richer life and more experiences than I ever dreamed were possible growing up as a first generation Czechoslovakian on my mother’s side and second generation German courtesy of Dad.  It’s just that – well ….I wish I had Sheryl’s book and advice 30 years ago. 

Timing is everything.  

Born too soon – and now thirty years into my career –  is it too late to hope that I can achieve even a small modicum of Sheryl’s success?   At 21, I did not know I could be something or someone.  At 21, I was in the workforce as a secretary (before the term “Administrative Assistant took root) and working in an organization where name tags on offices signficantly spoke the LAST name of each worker led by first and middle initials.  In the early 1980s this perpetuated the archaic practice of addressing all the engineers and accountants (who were, in fact, all men) as “Mr. So-and-So.” 

Maybe Sheryl could not find a Ladies Room when visiting a New York office.  But I worked with women who called their bosses “Mr.” and whose careers had been interrupted by mandatory child care leave.  That’s right, in the latter half of the 20th century, it was still common in some American firms to force a woman to resign once she was pregnant.  

These women were my role models. 

Understand – I had parents who gave me a wonderful life and tremendous opportunities – and choices that they never had.  But in all that, there was little either my mom or dad could do to create a vision of Leadership or Management for me – let alone one that would have a female in the lead role. 

Nevertheless, I did have a sort of natural instinct that told me most gender differences were poppycock.  When my mother would hover over my brother’s dinner asking if he wanted mustard with his hot dog – and instructing ME to go get the mustard for him – I would very kindly (risking a slap across the mouth from Mom) state: “He can get it himself.”

Now….try to translate that behavior into the workplace.  When Mr. Smith stopped me to announce that Mr. Jones wanted a cup of coffee in the 1980s, I handed him a quarter for Mr. Jones to go to the coffee machine himself and get said coffee.  My – ahem – “sense of humor” was not well received.

Fast forward to 2014, and I have worked my way up into a legitimate IT Manager position.  (Pats on the back here, if you don’t mind.)    The world has come a long way.  And still has a LONG way to go.

You can agree or disagree with Sheryl Sandberg’s notion of “leaning in.”  You can take apart her words and dice them and mince them into something she likely did not mean.  The important thing is that she said it.

Sheryl said what few people anywhere have been able to say, and that is simply this:  men and women are different. 

This does not mean that a woman cannot hold the same job a man had.  As I often mentally remind myself, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. . . backwards. . . and in high heels.  Thing is, Ginger did not think she had to act like the men or be someone she wasn’t.  And neither do I.

In my life, in my career, I strive to be authentic.  And what I ask of others is that the be authentic with me.  Yes, it hurts sometimes.  And, yes, I have gone into the Ladies’ Room to cry at times.  But my honest co-workers have made me a better team member, a better manager, and a better person. 

So, let’s have the discussion.  And bring on the movie, Sheryl!  The more that is said, the more that the floor is open to discussion of the issues that are holding women back from leadership positions, the more we have to gain as a society, as an economy, as a community. 

I am not the only working female that did not have role models.  I am not the only woman that still struggles against perceptions and constraints of who and what I should be.   But I’m not so sure that all the other women out there – and all the men who could be partnering shoulder to shoulder with women – will read the book.  MAYBE they’ll watch the movie.  MAYBE the movie will keep the conversation, the Tweets, the Vines, the SnapChats going and going like ripples on the water, forever changing the shape of the working world we know. 

It could happen.

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