Sunday, February 22, 2009
Recently we completed a significant overhaul of our main data center. This in a state-of-the-art building that is less than four years old. Why would such a significant overhaul be needed so soon? Did we not get it right when we designed the facility, or did something beyond our control change afterwards?
Monday, February 16, 2009
Leaders who help their organization navigate difficult times know how to turn the difficulty to their advantage. Often times they will create a crisis for the purpose of providing a sense of urgency. Why? Because they understand this: Crisis provides the opportunity to attempt things you would not otherwise be able to attempt. It allows you to speed the transformation process by making large shifts instead of small incremental ones. While solving the crisis you can leverage the effort to include non-crisis elements that may be levers themselves on the crisis or simply “targets of opportunity” that make sense. Without going overboard to the point you dilute the crisis remediation effort, it is possible to accomplish much more than solving just the immediate problem at hand.
A strong sense of urgency, in fact, usually demands bold action. Bold action, in turn, will reduce complacency and increase conflict. Both are natural reactions to a “non-normal” state and both represent further opportunity.
Getting rid of complacency is always a good thing, especially in times of crisis. It is obvious to everyone that “business as usual” won’t get the job done. People are forced out of their normal patterns and become receptive to new ideas. The energy level goes up, thoughts that would never have been spoken become viable options, and everyone’s attention is focused on a common goal.
In this climate tensions will run high and you can expect the level of conflict to increase. If you have good people on your team, people who care and who are invested in success then you should expect them to be at odds at times. Here’s the good side of conflict – it provides the opportunity for frank, honest, and respectful dialog. Conflict is an opportunity. It gives you the chance to treat people with respect and demand the same of them, to be truthful but not hurtful, and to deepen relationship bonds that cause people to commit to others because they trust them. Conflict can be a very good thing when viewed this way. Rush to resolve it too quickly and you lose the chance to use it to advance transformation and organizational trust.
Where I work we have a lot of very smart people. They are all highly educated, open academic debate is part of our culture. Shying away from it is the last thing you want to do. Here’s the interesting part and a key to understanding why conflict can be a good thing. People may disagree with the conclusions you come to and they will test you severely. They will probe, sometimes in not so gentle manner, to test your assumptions, your thought process, the evidence, and the integrity of your research and proposal. In other words, open academic debate, often times very passionate. In the end, however, they will back you completely even if they do not agree with all of your conclusions – as long as they trust your integrity, the integrity of your information, and the integrity of your process. Is that a conflict-free environment? Certainly not. Is it one that engenders open discussion, frank and respectful exchanges, and trust and support? Absolutely.
Good leaders are not afraid to create or take advantage of crisis situations because they have confidence that they can help individuals and the team channel their thoughts, energy, and efforts in a common drive to achieve important goals.
Do you have a crisis at hand? Thank your lucky stars! Then decide how you are going to use it to your advantage and get to it. Because you know, a good crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
In Good to Great Jim Collins talks about characteristics of leaders who have been successful at moving companies from being simply good at what they do, to being great at it. It strikes me that a couple of the attributes discussed in his research are especially important today. We all know that executive management is noted for sharp focus, attention to detail, and thinking and acting strategically; and we know that many good leaders exhibit a sense of humility that draws others to them. But how, specifically, are strength of will and humility linked, and what is the value of that linkage in today’s environment?
On the one hand, it takes strong will to turn an organization in a new direction, make difficult decisions and see them through, or hold yourself and others accountable. It is this strength of will that allows leaders to press on in the face of long odds, and it is often this strength of will alone which makes eventual success first possible, then plausible.
On the other hand, humility can also be one of a leader’s greatest assets. It is humility that fosters a sense of team and embraces calm and determination. It is humility that enables a leader to view his or her success based on the success of others and allows them to be encouraged, first by the sharing of credit, and later to take the lead on tough issues. Why? Because they feel they can trust their leader.
Strong will and humility – they present an interesting dichotomy. At first glance they appear to be opposites. How can a strong and dynamic leader be humble? The reality is that they are complimentary. Strong leaders, even strong personalities can be humble at the same time, realizing their role is to provide direction, that they are not infallible, that they can learn from others, and that others do much of the work. Leaders who understand this and learn how to maintain a sense of urgency and accountability while sharing the good things that happen when success comes do much to develop a culture of trust and expectation, and nurture emerging leaders within their organization.
These are tough days for a lot of folks. Leaders today have a special responsibility to help envision and motivate, to maintain their focus on excellence, and to be positive and supportive while taking very determined and sometimes tough actions.
Some will tell you that a leader’s highest responsibility is to remove obstacles and work to assure the success of others. This concept of “servant leader” is by no means new, and anyone who has ever experienced it knows that it requires great self assurance. It is that self assurance that allows the two seemingly opposite traits of strength and humility to meld, combining to exhibit leadership that people trust and want to follow.
Monday, February 2, 2009
I don’t know about you, but where I work it seems the technology dragon never takes a break. We spend a lot of effort conceptualizing, socializing, designing, building, deploying and operating various technology and information systems. Our mode is generally to self-develop the applications, allowing us to customize them to a very high level. One advantage is that we have a very rich relationship with our IT cousins. A disadvantage is that we are sometimes held hostage to their resource issues. That said, we’ve done it a lot and generally been very successful at improving services to staff and customer satisfaction.
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