Underappreciated IT Leadership Skills

This week’s MOR ELP Tuesday reading is based on an article by Whiteny Hischier and Rajiv Ball about 3  underappreciated IT leadership skills.It discusses a transition that is similar to the transition many service based businesses have gone through in the last several years: moving from mass production to personalization; reducing costs; increasing value. In this new world Hischier and Ball suggest there are three needed competencies:

  • Problem Finding, Problem Solving: I was excited to see that the suggestion here was to use the design thinking methodology. I’ve recently used it as a way to understand whether my team was addressing the right problem and found it to be a very effective process. Last week I participated in a symposium organized by George Siemens focused on a MOOCs and creating a vision of Higher Ed in 2030. Upon reflection on our two days of discussion I think a design thinking session would be the perfect next step. We came up with several challenges we felt our universities faced. I think it would be beneficial to use design thinking to narrow in on finding the problem that is at the root of these challenges and then, as a team, developing a solution.
  • Be a True Peer and Sparring Partner to Business: Hischier and Ball suggest IT leaders must, “articulate their own ideas and perspective and do so in a way that resonates across the organizational boundaries”. It always comes down to communication! For me the key phrase here is in a way that “resonates across organizational boundaries”. ELP stresses the importance of developing relationships. No matter how good your communication skills are I don’t think you can effectively communicate with a person or organization unless you truly understand their culture. We recently went through a team building exercise and one of the things that quickly rose to the top was how different our organizational cultures were which impacted how we approached things. Once we had a mutual understanding of each other’s culture we were able to communicate more effectively.
  • Move Others to Action: This aligns with my goal of building a coalition of people aligned with my goal of providing leadership and direction in support of digital learning initiatives and increasing access to education. Hischier and Ball suggest, “nurturing and sustaining trusted, mutually supportive relationships.”  Trust is critical. I recently ran a workshop about how to build collaboration in our IT community. What rose up to the top, across sessions, was that we can’t have collaboration without trust. Something to consider is how you define trust. It is important all stakeholders have a mutually agreed upon definition of trust. I will be attending a Franklin Covey session on The Speed of Trust to learn more about this.

Making the time to read these articles and finding a quiet space to reflect and think has been a challenge. Not different from exercising, it is alway difficult to find the time but when you are done you never you never wish you hadn’t. When I mentioned my difficulty in carving out time, my MOR coach, Susan Washburn said, “We all have the same amount of hours in the day, but some of the ways we choose to spend those hours TAKE energy and some GIVE energy.  Time to reflect, for example, can be a deposit into your energy resources where as time wasted in an unnecessary meeting is energy taken”. 


Leadership is a Contact Sport

As part of the MOR Associates Cornell Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) I am supposed to reflect upon the Tuesday readings. Last week’s reading was based upon a Marshall Goldsmith video “Leadership is a Contact Sport”.  A leader should reach out, listen and learn..sounds easy, right? The eight steps to being an effective leader and team member include:

  • Ask: In ELP we are learning to always ask for feedback. Ask what kind of a job we’re doing and how can we do things better. I’ve always been an “asker” and sought feedback. I now find myself being more “planful and thoughtful” when it comes to asking for feedback. I first consider what my goal is, what is it I want to know or improve? Asking is the easy part…
  • Listen: This is the hard part. In our last ELP session we were given an example of how 40 people can hear the exact same thing and interpret it 40 different ways. I think we’ve all experienced this. In my job I’m seeing on a daily basis how easy it is for this to happen and how important it is to not just listen but repeat back what you think you heard. A follow up e-mail summarizing your conversation is even better. I’m thinking about how I can be a better listener not just at work but at home. I am working on clearing my mind and focusing on only the person speaking. This is not easy to do. Our minds are used to multi-tasking and processing input from any number of places. It is hard to turn it all off and just…
  • Think: We’ve beed told that the feedback we receive is a gift worthy of reflective time. After receiving feedback allow some “dead air” to just think about what you’ve heard. What additional information do you need? What do you not understand? It is not easy to allow time to just think…
  • Thank: There is nothing as important as a thank you when receiving a gift. We’re learning to say “thank you for the feedback”.  That will take some practice. Why does it feel so awkward to say?
  • Respond: This is the critical step. We’ve all been to a performance review or conference and left reinvigorated to make changes and do things differently. How frequently do we end up doing the same thing, forgetting those changes? What will I do to make sure I respond to the feedback I receive? I’m hoping this blog will help. A place to reflect upon my journey, share with others and watch my growth. I’ve found for me the most important thing is blocking time off on my calendar each week. Time for me to think, respond and reflect on how I will involve, change and follow-up.
  • Involve: I’ve been lucky to continuously find myself surrounded by people who support me in reaching my goals. Moving forward I would like to expand my network and develop relationships with people I might not normally interact or work with. What can I learn as I move out of my comfort zone?
  • Change: Aren’t we always told “people don’t change”.  Change is hard. It requires deep understanding of not just why the change is important but how to effectively change. Change needs to be meaningful. For me, meaningful change will help me attain my goal of providing leadership and direction in support of digital learning initiatives and increasing access to education.  As I continue to develop my goals and action steps I’m thinking about what changes I need to make. Once you change, how do you know if you really changed or if the change you made was a positive one?
  • Follow-up: Follow-up of course! This is an iterative process. After I’ve changed I need to go back to step 1 and start over again. I’m looking forward to our next ELP session and discussing with others what they are doing to implement these 8 steps.

I have posted the following words above my desk…”Remember to reach out, listen and learn”.