A Single Leader

In the past few years, I’ve been aware of two different organizations that have been greatly impaired by failures of a single person. In the first case, a trusted leader failed to properly do their job and accomplish their responsibilities and the organization nearly sank as a result. I don’t know what that person was thinking. In the second case, one arrogant leader who thought he knew everything and didn’t need any advice from anyone else made poor decisions, spoke authoritatively of things he knew little about and left key resources to neglect.

Great processes and lots of good people, can be overwhelmed by a single bad leader in the wrong place.

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1E) People

I think the final top-tier thing to consider in the opening days of a new CIO assignment is to connect with your team. This means your direct reports and your other key team members. Ultimately, your success is based on the people in your team so connecting with them is also a top priority. Some thoughts to consider:

  1. Spend some serious time, 1-1 with your direct reports. If they are remote, then get on a plane. You need to sit with them and listen to them. Ask them about the organizations strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Likely, they will give you the key clues you need to spend extra time on in the first 90 days as they are there and have lived in the environment before you arrived. Listen, take notes, repeat back what you hear.
  2. Listen to their career aspirations. What are they doing and what do they want to be doing in 3 years. I used to think one should consider a longer time horizon, but today it is much shorter. People want to get to their next place faster and sooner than ever. I’ve made mistakes here.
  3. Marry the input you receive from your own team with the comments and input you receive from your peers. Where there is alignment, great. Where there are differences, you need to probe further.
  4. Look at their goals. If your company has any kind of goal alignment process, discuss their goals and alignment and discuss their progress towards their goals.
  5. Determine what part of your portfolio of work each of your direct reports are working to carry out. In an earlier step you are talking to your peers about their goals and you’ve started looking at your portfolio of work. Now you need to make sure that your people are watching over the right parts of the portfolio that are necessary to accomplish your peers goals. In short, are you and your new team covering all the bases?
  6. Discuss HR concerns with your team. Ask about their team and any problems. What are they worried about?
  7. Discuss your spending model with your direct reports and see if they think we are over investing or under investing in particular areas.  Likely you’ll find that things are not in balance, or at least different ones of your team will think things are not in balance. Again, listen to them because they likely can give you important hints.
  8. And because I think that security has become so important, discuss with your staff about their role in securing the enterprise. This should be a regular discussion with your team.
  9. Finally, ask your team about key resources in the organization, and perhaps other organizations. You need to quickly become aware of who are the key people and where they stand and how they are doing. These are people you need to meet.

I have to say I’ve done a mixed job at this myself. At times I’ve not invested enough in some of the great people I’ve had around me. I’ve let some really great people get away. Helping your own people meet their goals needs to be a front-burner responsibility for any leader.

Here are some resources which might help. A good post on listening and 5 characteristics of next-level leaders. Just some more food for thought.

Thanks for stopping by. What else should you discuss with your team in the opening days of a new assignment?

Fire Fighting

Years ago a colleague told me that if you clean up the problems in your organization and generally set things on the right path, then you run the risk of disappearing and not being recognized or ‘worried about’ much until something breaks or there is a crisis.   There is a really great post on this subject with the title of Why is Fighting Fires More Valuable Than Avoiding Fires which I want to recommend.  The article talks a bit about the current Toyota problems, but it applies all over the place.

In IT and in all parts of the Enterprise, we need to develop ‘eyes’ to look for the people who are holding it together quarter after quarter.  People and teams who:

  1. keep us out of trouble,
  2. who are consistently delivering results in a quiet fashion,
  3. who are researching new ideas and making ongoing, continuous improvements and
  4. those who are just making good things happen month after month.

It is way too easy to run from one fire to another and over look these good people who don’t let the fires happen in the first place.

Something to think about.