Monday, December 9, 2019

Hiring Technology Leaders

If you have read my other blog posts, you know that I'm a huge proponent of servant leadership. The days of top down authoritative leadership are quickly becoming bygone. We live in the information age, where knowledge of anything is a few clicks away. I remember back in 1987 when I started my IT career there was two ways of learning new technology. You either read a book about 3" thick and memorized as much of it as you could (keeping it on a shelf for reference), or you installed the hardware or software and figured things out through trial and error. This was in the days before everything was GUI driven. You got a blinking prompt, and you had to know what to type. The beauty thing is, nearly every operating system performed similarly, so you simply had to look up the equivalent command from an OS you were familiar with. Logic skills were paramount. Tenacity, patience, and a strong desire to succeed were mandatory traits. There were many times I worked on something for hours...even days...only to have it not work and have to start over again. I did not see these setbacks as failure (because that wasn't an option), I saw them as learning. The more I failed, the more I learned, and the better I got at my job.

As my career developed and I moved from one job to another, my technical skill set grew exponentially. In 2004 I found myself working for a large multinational corporation where I rose to IT Manager for the continental United States. The title was really a misnomer. I was leading 15 direct reports and managing a multi-million budget. This was no entry level manager job. It was really more of a director or assistant VP role. Finding myself in this new position where I had to manage people and money versus just managing machines, was more than a little intimidating. I made some mistakes. Luckily I had a boss who believed in servant leadership. He had a conversation with me that changed my career. He asked me if I wanted to be a network engineer or a manager. Of course I replied "manager". That's when he told me that I needed to start putting the needs of my team first. He taught me that mentoring people, helping them succeed, putting a plan together for their professional growth, and making sure they were listed to (and heard!) was more important that configuring servers and routers. Over the years since, I have focused on learning business and leadership. My technical skills are there. My logic skills are there. But laying on top of all of those skills is my heart, my passion, and my love for seeing people succeed and delivering excellence.

One of the things I enjoy doing is looking at job postings for senior IT leadership positions. As I read them, I see line after line of technical requirements. But very little mention of leadership skill. There may be a bullet point that reads, "Manage team", or "Manage staff". I always shake my head in disbelief. Leadership isn't about technology. One of the best bosses I ever had was not technical at all, but was an awesome servant leader who was humble and helped me and my team succeed. I'd have walked over hot coals and broken glass for her and still would till this day. I do think having a strong technical background is important in many IT leadership roles because you need to have an idea of what you're tasking your team to do. You need to have been in the trenches at some point and know what it's like to sleep on a data center floor or a lobby couch. You need to know what it's like to work nights, holidays, weekends, and how much it impacts someone's family when you take them away on special occasions. You need to be logical and have strong problem solving skills. But the need for strong technical knowledge on particular hardware and software is no longer a big need for senior IT leaders. With a simple search, you can find the answer to just about any questions. You may be able to find a instruction video which walks you through whatever you need to know. The information is available at your fingertips. What most organizations need in a leader isn't a walking wiki of technical knowledge, but someone with a heart. Someone who can focus a team on "why we do the work". Someone who has emotional intelligence and knows how to provide the right coaching at the right time. They need someone who is a relationship builder and a great listener. Someone who cares about the customer and what the mission of the company is.

Now don't get me wrong, you still need to focus on the profit motive. You still need to make the most efficient use of resources. You have to have metrics and key performance indicators. But you need to be able to translate those things into a "what's in it for me" (WIIFM) for your team. Get them engaged. Show them the hard work they put in is actually moving the needle. Give them a sense of pride in the work they do versus them feeling like they are trading their life for money.

I once applied for a leadership role where I met or exceeded every job requirement. A few days later, I received an email asking me to fill out a questionnaire to help them understand more about me as a leader. My excitement level hit the roof! I've spent time at many organizations in leadership roles, but this was the first time any employer had ever asked me to detail my leadership style and philosophy.

If you're hiring for a leadership position, or if you're a technical recruiter who is searching for leadership candidates to pitch to your clients, be sure to focus on the traits that make great leaders. You can teach technology, but you can't teach personality. As young people enter the workforce, who have never known life without constant access to information, they are less impressed with what you know and more impressed with how you make them feel. Building a strong technical team starts with a leader who wants to engage, empower, and mentor their team members and humble themselves to be a servant to their team.

The greatest accomplishment of a leader is not telling people what to do, it's getting them to do things without having to ask them. Having them perform at a high level because they are proud of their work and their contribution to the good of the organization. The greatest leaders sacrifice their pride and privilege for the good of their team. They lead with humility and empathy. They serve the organization, and approach each day as an opportunity to help their team, and the organization become more successful.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Rest if you must, but don't you quit

When I was in 5th grade we had a talent show. My talent at that age was more or less the same as it is today...being a ham. I signed up and listed my talent as "stand up comedian". Over the next few weeks we had rehearsal for everyone performing in the talent show. Some danced, some sang, some played guitar, etc. One girl recited a poem. We all performed our acts in front of each other multiple times and that poem stuck with me and I have applied its wisdom throughout my career. That poem was called Don't Quit by John Greenleaf Whittier. She only recited the first verse, but what a verse it was.

John Greenleaf Whittier

Don't Quit

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is strange with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a failure comes about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit—
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

As I age and gain wisdom and experience, the meaning of this poem changes. Initially I took it to mean no matter how bad something is, stick it out. Don't quit. Quitting is failure. But that's not what the poem means to me now. Sometimes quitting IS "hanging in there". Accepting a less than optimal situation because you fear what making a leap might entail. Playing it safe and not having the courage to step out of a bad situation in order to find a better one. That's "quitting" to me. That's giving up. Having a pessimistic attitude of "it will be the same wherever I go"...that's quitting. Not having confidence and a keen sense of your self worth...that's quitting. Trading your life for a paycheck at a job that provides you no joy and satisfaction...that's quitting. This poem no longer means quitting "things" to means quitting on myself. I will never, ever, quit on myself.

All of us have had a difficult time in our lives at some point. I know I have so many tales of woe I could easily write a book on them. Making the decision to change your life is a tough one. People often fear life outside of their comfort zones. But folks, that's where life begins! Let's look at the dark side for a minute. Let's say you make the leap to change your life, your career, your marriage...whatever...and you fail. At the time, it's devastating. This is the point where most people feel hopeless. Just keep in mind that 3, 4, 5...10 years down the road...this will be just a story in your life. That's what our past is, a series of stories. Each story, if used correctly, can teach us and motivate us to become better. To do greater things!

My inspiration for this blog post is a former team of mine. Truly the best team I've ever been a part of, and I've been on some great teams. As of this writing, each of those guys are now enduring a difficult time. They are writing a story in their life. I think about them every day. I want to help them any way I can, but I'm not in a position to do much for them. A a leader, a big part of your job is making sure your team is motivated, empowered, and engaged. I want to share this poem with them. Let them know to not quit on themselves. To never lose that drive for excellence I saw in each of them. I want them to know that they have immense value and are among the most rounded, skilled professionals I've ever had the honor of working with.

Gentlemen, rest if you must, but don't you quit!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Compression: Controlling Team Dynamics

Besides my love of business, leadership, motivation, and mentoring....I am also an avid music lover. So much so that 9 years ago I decided to learn to play bass guitar. Over the years I have learned that it's not just the notes you play, but how you play the notes, when you play the notes, and how those notes sound. This wasn't something foreign to me as this is the same lesson I learned as a communication major when I was in college. It's not just the words you say, but how you say them, when you say them, who says them, and how they sound. In the music industry, we call this "tone". Musicians spend untold time and money on developing their signature sound or mimicking the sound of their favorite artists. One of the effects often used in music is called compression. Compression is a complicated subject that unless you are a music geek or recording engineer you won't care much about. Basically, compression sets a threshold and any notes you play louder than the threshold are reduced in volume making them closer in volume to the quieter notes. 

Above is an example of a compressed audio stream. The notes above the threshold are reduced, but they are still heard...just not as loudly. So what does this have to do with leadership? Quite a lot actually. If you lead a team, chances are you have a group dynamic. You have individuals who are quiet and individuals who are never shy about sharing their opinions and ideas. While the more extroverted individuals on your team are doing all the talking....everyone else is listening and thinking. As a team leader, you have to act as the compressor. You still want your loudest team members to be heard, but you want to dial them down a bit and make them more equal to the quieter members.  There are a number of ways to do this. In musical compression there is a term called the "Knee". Compressors are either "hard knee" or "soft knee". A hard knee means when the threshold is reached the note is dramatically reduced in volume. Soft knee reduces the note volume progressively the closer it gets to the threshold.
 As a team leader, you obviously don't want to use a hard knee approach. Setting time limits or simply telling someone to "shut up" is not a good tactic. Neither is not allowing your more vocal team members to speak. Remember, we still want to hear those notes...just not as loudly.  As a leader, one of your main jobs is to make sure everyone on your team is heard and knows that their input is valued. Does that mean all input is valuable? No. There is a difference in valuing something, and something being valuable. An old t-shirt that belonged to a family member who has passed on may be valued by its owner, but if he tried to sell the shirt it wouldn't bring much money, so it is not valuable. All input from your team members must be valued, but it may not always be valuable. When my teams began collaborating on something I try to remind them that in the early stages it is about quantity of ideas...not quality. Why is this? Because you never know when some hair brained idea will jar something loose in someone else's head. When your team doesn't have to focus on the quality of their suggestions, they are more likely to speak up. Especially in an environment that values all input. This is how you achieve some soft knee compression. Instead of quieting down the loud notes, we've made the quieter notes a little louder by fostering an environment where they are willing to speak. On the flip side, if they are talking, that means your "loud note" people are listening and thinking. This gives them time to construct more valuable ideas which they normally wouldn't have time to do as they were too busy talking. This "soft knee" approach feels more organic and will generally give you a better outcome than squelching the loud people and calling out the quite people. Most folks don't enjoy being put on the spot. 

Compression can be turned up to such a high level that it does indeed ruin the dynamics of the music. Giving it a constrained, flat, lifeless tone. This is sometimes called "limiting" and it's aptly named.  The same can happen with teams. If you lead a team, you must actively focus on LISTENING to your team. Not only in a group, but individually. Let them know that you value their input and that their participation on your team is VALUABLE. Celebrate their diversity and find ways to leverage it.

The above quote is the outcome of  "limiting" your team. When people's input is ignored or worse yet, not even heard, there will be no more loud notes.  This is death for a supervisor. Notice I didn't say "leader"...I said supervisor. Maybe boss or manager is a good word too. A leader would never let their team stop talking. Being an effective leader isn't about making decisions and achieving personal success. It's about empowering others to make decisions, removing obstacles, and being a part of the team's success. As a leader, are you providing the right amount of compression to allow you team to function optimally, or are you limiting them by making unilateral decisions and telling them "how it's gonna be"?

Friday, June 14, 2019

Opportunity For Delayed Success

Chained to fear

There are very few things in this world that I'm scared of. I have horrible "needlephobia". Having endured spinal meningitis when I was 5yo and being held down while doctors performed spinal taps left me with an indelible phobia for those evil little pieces of hypodermic horror. As a rational adult, I understand that needles won't hurt me, yet I still suffer anxiety when I have to get a shot or have blood drawn. Our minds are exceedingly powerful, and we have a tremendous internal struggle for conscious thought to overcome unconscious thought. The struggle between rational and irrational.

The other thing I am horribly afraid of is failure. I'm not talking about losing a game or something inconsequential. I'm talking about big failings. Failing as a parent, failing as a leader, failing as a person. My entire life I have put a great deal of pressure on myself to be successful and to avoid failure. In 2001 I learned a very valuable lesson on failure. I became a certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor and began teaching people how to ride a motorcycle. I'll give you the straight skinny...there are some folks who should NEVER ride a motorcycle. But it's this teaching experience that taught me about fear and failure. I'd see a perfectly able bodied person get on the motorcycle for the first time and be absolutely paralyzed by fear. Their motor skills were impaired, their decision making skills were impaired, and they became their own worst enemy. Fear wrecked their ability to perform even the simplest of tasks on the motorcycle. Then there was failure. I watched several students crash, some sustaining injuries, who would get up bleeding and jump right back on the bike. Some would quit, but some would insist they could do it and they'd keep trying and failing until I'd have to make a judgement call and remove them from the course before they seriously hurt themselves or others. I was taught during my training to become an instructor to never tell anyone they "failed". When a student failed the course, I'd ask them, "How do you think you did?". They would usually respond with "I guess I failed". I'd tell them, "No, you have been given then opportunity for delayed success". Most of the time they knew what I meant as I explained to them that they could retake the class again and I discussed their areas for improvement. Some felt patronized and got angry. One student even paced back and forth in the parking lot after class. I was fearful he was going to retaliate against me for honestly assessing his lack of skill development.

As humans, we're imperfect. We make mistakes. If you've read my other blog posts, you'll know I talk a great deal about servant leadership and how a great leader should always be the person who helps their team and individual team members succeed. They should be the biggest cheerleader. The master motivator. Failure in and of itself isn't bad, but the fear of it can be crippling. In my career, I have stayed in roles I hated and worked for bosses who were less than optimal out of fear that I wouldn't be able to pay my bills if I left. But I've also taken the leap of faith and found something better on the other side. Far too often we find ourselves trading our life for a paycheck. We spend the bulk of our waking hours working. Some are content to just "do their time" and trade their most valuable asset...time...for money. Once that minute is gone, you can't get it back. There are no more "opportunities for success" for that moment. It's gone. No redos. No mulligans. I've always been the type person who sees my job as validation for who I am. When you meet someone, they ask, "What do you do?" and I proudly tell them about the work that I do. I have a great deal of passion, drive, and desire for excellence. I believe that's the quality that separates someone who just goes to work to "turn the crank and punch the time clock" and someone who enjoys success and achieving goals.

I recently read Marshall Goldsmith's book, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There". Through that reading I discovered I'm what he calls a "success addict".  While this might be a good thing in some contexts, it feeds that fear of failure. I always want to be my best and deliver success. But there are many things I'd like to accomplish but don't attempt out of the fear of failure. The old syndrome of, "If I can't win, I won't play". This is totally detrimental to success. Our failures are our best teachers. They humble us. They educate us. They make us wise. I watched an interview with Valentino Rossi, one of the greatest motorcycle racers to ever live, in which he discussed that crashing is how you become a better rider. You don't know where the limit is until you cross it. Then you learn. John Calipari, coach of the University of Kentucky basketball team once said, "We win or we learn, but we never lose".

If you find yourself in a position where you feel you've failed. Keep an open mind and try to find the good in the situation. Our lives are filled with ups and downs, and we should be thankful for the down times as they teach us and help us enjoy the good times that much more. If you feel you have failed, or that you are experiencing a setback, don't just accept it. Be determined, tenacious, passionate, and may have been given "an opportunity for delayed success".

Friday, June 7, 2019

Caring About People - The Most Important Skill

I've studied leadership and leaders for years. My dad was insistent that I read books such as "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill, "Success Is a Choice" by Rick Pitino, and "Iacocca" by Lee Iacocca. I'd spend hours in his car on trips listening to audio tapes of Brian Tracy, Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, and the great Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. When I graduated college, my Dad said he wanted to provide one last piece of education to me, something that changed his life and helped him build a successful business. He always spoke with high regard for the writings of Dale Carnegie and the completion of the well known Dale Carnegie Course. Dad proudly displayed his certificate of completion from the course in his office and often pointed out how valuable the experience was to him. I graduated college in May 1995, and enrolled in the 12 week Dale Carnegie Course in August 1995. Each week Dad would ask me about the class and he would share experiences he still vividly remembered about his class. The course features some content focused on getting people out of their comfort zone, and I excelled in this area winning a class award for my passionate speech which saw all 6'5" of me stand on a classroom table and hit ceiling tiles. I received a rousing round of applause. Before the course was completed, my Dad passed away suddenly of a heart attack. He never got to see me complete the course, and it was the last thing my Dad ever bought for me. We all called my Dad "Coach", because he coached high school basketball early in his career after playing at the collegiate level at Murray State University. If you've ever played sports, you know a great coach is hard on you, he works you, he expects a lot from you...but he loves you and wants to make you the best version of you so you can be a winner. So being called "Coach" was an honor.

Dad's 1962 Class Number 250 certificate next to my 1995 Class Number 634. The gold emblem on the top left corner of my certificate indicates perfect attendance. Dad passed on a Wednesday, class was on Thursdays. I attended out of respect for my Dad. Never missing a class even though we were in the midst of planning an unexpected funeral.
So why am I writing this blog post about a personal achievement and a tragedy in my life? It's because one of Dad's favorite books is "How To Win Friends and Influence People" written by Dale Carnegie. He taught me from the time I was a little boy, that people are what matters. That no matter what job title you have, your #1 business is the relationship business. I saw him practice this all my life. Hiring guys unqualified for the job because they had a good attitude. More often than not, the gamble was a successful one. Dad was a master motivator and always preaching about "PMA"...Positive Mental Attitude. If he suspected you were down, he'd ask "how's your PMA?". 

Every job description for a leadership role I've ever seen lists something similar to "Must have XX years experience in leadership". I'd like to see that changed to "Must have the heart of a servant. Must be a coach. Must be a mentor. Must be able to develop your employees to take your job. Must give a damn.". Smart organizations know that skill is a commodity, especially in the technology realm. If you need a specific skill set, that's easy to obtain temporarily or have staff trained. Technology is more about business, compliance, risk, etc. Skills can be taught, but personality cannot. 
If your organization is hiring people, focus on the proverbial "soft" skills more than the tech skills. Obviously there needs to be a level of competency in anyone you hire. They have to have the skill to do the job. But the most highly skilled individuals aren't always the best employees. You should always seek employees with a high Emotional Quotient (EQ). The subject of EQ would fill up too much space to cover here, but here's a quick one pager on what EQ is.

If you are an employee seeking a new opportunity, look for companies that value your EQ. Statistics show that companies who hire people with high EQ are more successful. The numbers also reveal that employees with a high EQ are more successful as well. 

These figures support what my Dad told me years ago. No matter what your job is, you're in the relationship business. This becomes even more critical as companies begin implementing alternative workspace solutions (aka. work from home) as well as distributed locations. When you see someone face to face, you can read their body language, but when you're on a phone call or web based meeting, you have to learn to read vocal inflections, pauses, and also know that lack of any response is in and of itself a powerful response. 

Living in Nashville and being a amateur musician, I know a lot of music industry professionals. All of them have told me in some way or another this statement, "In Nashville, it's assumed you can play, that's not an issue...but do I want to be on a tour bus with you for 10 months?". One of my friends in the business calls it being a "good dude". Even at my level of playing, I could be a functional bass player in most bands. I'm not the most prolific player, and never will be, but I fancy myself to be a pretty "good dude" and have gotten some gigs simply because I get along with people well, I come prepared, and I do my best to help the other guys in the band. For example, I won't leave until everyone's gear has been loaded and everyone paid. As part of the band, you're a member of that team. 

There is always a flip side to every opinion. And there are plenty of examples where being a not so nice guy has created lots of success. Steve Jobs was notoriously difficult to work with. History is packed with examples of military leaders who shouted and ordered their way to victory. Leading through fear and intimidation has proven effective. A former co-worker of mine grew up in China and told an account of when the Chinese military came in with machine guns and demanded data be turned over to the government. Obviously, that got the job done. But ultimately, my co-worker moved to the United States.

If you can change your corporate culture to one of caring and concern for your fellow all levels...your organization will be more successful. Corporate culture is not having a game room, or free lunch Fridays...those are "perks". Culture is having a true concern for the humans who work there. Knowing who they are. Knowing their families, hobbies, etc. Being invested in them outside of the work they do. A friend of mine carries two cell phones as do a number of my co-workers. When I asked him why he said, "I don't want to mix my work and personal lives". HUH? My work IS my personal life. I spend a great deal of time at work with my colleagues every day. More time than I spend with my family. That's why it's so important to work at a company where you are cared about, listened to, and invested in.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Commitment vs Skill: How to choose the best employee

As someone who has been responsible for hiring staff for much of my career, I've learned quite a bit about what makes a great hire. When I hired my first employee way back when, I didn't do what most people normally do. I was working for a medium sized company and was one of three employees in the IT department. I was doing a lot of hands on work and needed to bring in someone to do end user support as I focused more on network, server, strategy, and financial matters. Most of the people I interviewed had the required skills. However, what I was seeing in most of the candidates is that they had been doing the same job for years. It made me think, "Why have they been in the same job for so long? Don't they want to advance in their career?"

As I continued to interview candidates, I interviewed a young man with very little experience. But he had something no one else had. I remember him telling me, "I can do anything. I may have to learn it, but I can do anything". What I heard was, "hire me for my commitment, not my skills" and that's exactly what I did. He was so grateful to have a chance as I'm sure he'd been turned down time and time again due to his lack of skill and experience. He stayed true to his word. He learned everything! In fact, he learned so well he was promoted into management a couple of years later. He did such a great job there that he impressed others and was hired away. He's been in a number of jobs and now works as an executive in an internet security firm. Inside of 15 years, he went from entry level support to an IT executive. Not because he was the most knowledgeable, but because he was committed and had a level of confidence that he can do anything. These are the people you want!

I'm a college graduate. I am working on a graduate degree. I have attended endless hours of training in by IT and business related classes. I've even taught Total Quality Management and Team Leadership classes for a number of years. But none of that is important. What is important is that there isn't a job that I don't believe I can do provided there isn't a physical limitation. At 6'5" I'm not going to be the best horse jockey, but if it's a job I can learn, I'll learn it. I truly believe that people posses more ability than they think they have. Everyone has talents and abilities that may make it easier to do one thing or another, but everyone can do more than they think they can. There is no doubt in my mind that I could be a doctor, lawyer, engineer...whatever. I just need to be committed enough to make it happen.

I really have to say, I hate resumes. They list past jobs, education, and certifications; but they really never give you a good view of the candidate. I've hired people with great resumes, only to be sorely disappointed. I've hired people through recommendation who's resume didn't list a single thing required for the job and they were some of the best employees I ever had. With all the job posting boards, social media sites such as LinkedIn, and HR systems that scan for keywords, there are a LOT of quality candidates being passed over. Even with my experience across several verticals and job functions, I've received the automatically generated denial letter. I've also been in the unique position of receiving the denial letter, then having someone I know recommend me and I got an interview the next week. The old saying of, "it's not what you know, but who you know" still rings true. But the "who you know" part comes full circle back to personality. There is an old saying, "It's nice to be important, but it's important to be nice". This is as true today as it was back then. You may be the best at your job, but if you're a jerk, no one will want to work with you. The candidates who are recommended by others are usually the ones who work hard, do whatever it takes to get the job done, and will step up to any challenge regardless of whether it's "their job" or not. These are the types of folks most people enjoy working with. We've all seen a kickoff in a football game where the returner gets past everyone but is ultimately stopped by the kicker. It's not his job to tackle. He's not protected for it. He's not sized for it. But he takes the hit for his team. That's the kind of guy you want working for you, and most importantly, that's the kind of boss you want to work for.

If you have individuals on your team who aren't committed, don't see them as a lost cause. The chart above breaks down levels of commitment. In one of my previous blog posts I discussed employee engagement. These align very closely. Employee engagement has three levels. Actively disengaged, not engaged, and engaged. The bottom two in the pyramid above are actively disengaged. These employees will harm your organization as they are actively working to spread negativity within your organization. The "Compliance" tier is similar to not engaged. The employee will do what you tell them, no more, no less, and they won't complain. But an engaged employee is typically one who will be the most committed. You can gain that commitment by seeking out ways that employee can use their talents and abilities. In the technology sector, I've found most employees enjoy problem solving over being told what to do. If you as a manager tell someone what to do, they will do what you tell them. If you allow them to solve the problem and present their suggestion to you, you may be pleasantly surprised at what they come up with. I won't rehash employee engagement, but it's critically important to your organization. As a leader, it's your job to evaluate, assess, and utilize the talent you have available to you. Never pigeon hole a great employee because of their job title or their past job experience. Do your best to make them better than they though they could ever be. That's where you'll get that "I will do it!" commitment.

Most committed people are looking for that dynamic company that rewards a "can do" attitude with bigger challenges. Their #1 desire is an employer who recognizes what they are capable of doing and leverages it. They know they can do anything, if only given a chance. Hire these people!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Why Tiger winning the Masters is a big deal

I used to play golf. I liked it when I was younger and I had time to play, but as work and family began to take more of my time I left it behind. There were other things I wanted to do with my free time. While I enjoyed playing golf, I absolutely hated watching it. I think the proverbial "watching paint dry" would be more entertaining. So why am I writing an article about Tiger Woods winning the Masters? Because it's not about golf. It's about people. For those of you who know me, you know that I love people. I love helping people be their best. I love success. But what does that have to do with golf? just so happens that Tiger Woods is a golfer, but also a human being. If you're just focused on Tiger's winning of the Masters, you're missing the real story here.

Let's look back. Tiger hit his stride back in 1997, and for more than a decade, he was the one to beat on the PGA tour. But Tiger made some poor decisions and had some other unfortunate factors hit him pretty hard. He had a rather long fall from grace. Many considered him a has been and assumed his career was over. People are funny creatures. It's almost as if some folks delight when someone who achieves great success fails. But his fall is what made his win so great. Every year someone wins the Masters, but it's not every year that someone who has endured what Tiger has wins.

At some point, all of us fall. We all make mistakes. We all do things we wish we could go back and change. Sometimes we fall and we don't even know why we fell. We shake our fists skyward and exclaim "why me!". For some of us, this is a season of our life. One that we must endure. One that can make us better, stronger, smarter, and equipped to handle the next season a little better. That's exactly what Tiger did. He never stopped working. He stumbled, he fell, but he got back up again and won arguably the most prestigious golf tournament in the world.

That's why so many people are talking about Tiger today. Because they relate to being knocked down and having to pull themselves back up again. They know the loneliness you feel when you're at the bottom and they long for the hugs, high fives, and congratulations when you're a winner. If you cheered for Tiger this weekend, see if you can find someone who needs someone to believe in them. Give a hand up to someone. Don't judge that person who made a mistake. Help give someone else their "Tiger Moment".

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Your Best "Boss"

Who's you're favorite boss? If you can't answer that question pretty quickly, it might be because you've never had a really good boss. I really don't like the term "boss". To me, it connotates someone who tells someone else what to do. I hear that term and automatically flash back to the old cartoon The Flintstones. I can hear Mr. Slate yelling at Fred..."FLINTSTONE!!!". And along those same lines, good old Mr. Spacely from The Jetsons. Those characters are "bosses" for sure. And who can forget the  ubiquitous Bill Lumbergh from the movie Office Space and his TPS reports. 

The best bosses aren't the ones you work for, it's the ones who work for you. Being a huge proponent of servant leadership, I always work to serve my team. To not be "the boss" but to be one of the team with a different role. To represent my team to the organization and put them in the best situation to succeed. That's the tough part, because not every executive in an organization is a good leader. Most people are promoted into leadership positions because they were a hard worker and an excellent individual contributor. Great individual contributors don't automatically make great leaders. Leadership is something you really need to study, practice, and hone. There are people who are naturally good leaders, but leadership is about more than getting people to do what you want them to do. A great leader cares about his team. They know them personally. They take the time to talk with each member of their team individually. A great leader asks questions and wants feedback from their team members. I've always felt the worst situation a "boss" could ever be in is to meet with their team, then upon leaving the room, the team talks about what a horrible meeting it was and how the boss is out of touch with them and isn't engaged with the team. I attended an American Management Institute class in New York City several years back. The instructor was absolutely fantastic, and we still stay in touch till this day. I remember him saying something that really rings true, "The employee always wins". As leaders, you have to remember this. If you forsake your team, focus only on your own career while ignoring theirs, mistreat your employees, don't develop them, don't have discussions about career path and how they can achieve their goals...or worse don't know their goals. You will struggle with retaining top talent. Top talent has options. Top talent has marketable skills and will shop the market to find an opportunity where they can achieve their goals and do work that is meaningful to them. That leaves the poor leader with a team of either unengaged individuals who don't care and are "turning the crank" to get a paycheck and employees with no marketable skills who will need development which they aren't going to get.  

One of my favorite bosses had a medical procedure and was unable to come into the office. She was such a fantastic servant leader that she asked me to come to her house. We sat on her back porch, ate lunch, and talked. That meeting yielded a fundamental change in how my team performed our duties and reduced delivery of critical infrastructure to customers from 51 days to 18 days. While I'm sure she didn't feel like working, she respected me enough to make time to meet with me. That deepened my loyalty to her and earned her a higher level of respect from me. That meeting impacted several people and the organization as a whole.

Ready to do things radically different than those bad "bosses"? Here's what you can do to be a great "boss":

  1. Establish regular meetings with your team.
    • Same time each week. 
    • Unless it's absolutely necessary, DO NOT miss this meeting. 
    • ENGAGE with your team. It's the most important meeting on your calendar!
    • Sometimes conflict is unavoidable, but do your best to respect your team by always being present. 
  2. Take time to meet with direct reports individually
    • Don't make it a "status update"
    • Grabbing lunch together is a great opportunity
    • Have genuine concern for the individual
    • Ask open ended questions and let them talk
    • Get a feel for what motivates them. Keep that in mind as you make assignments and offer praise. Everyone has different motivators. It's not a one size fits all.
  3. Empower your team
    • Don't make the mistake of hiring experienced, skilled employees and telling them what to do. You'll only get your way of doing something that way. 
    • Explain the desired outcome, and let your team solve the problem. Even if it takes a little longer, let them do the work. Don't micro-manage.
  4. Give credit to the team when things go well, shoulder the blame as the leader when things don't go well. 
    • This one is tough. 
    • Never take credit for work your team or an individual does. 
    • If things go sideways, you're "the boss" and you have to take the blame. NEVER blame a team member. 
    • If you need to take corrective action, or give constructive feedback to an employee, do it in private.
    • Don't throw anyone under the bus.
  5. Remember they are human
    • Employees aren't machines. They have families, friends, hobbies, etc. 
    • Treat them with respect
    • Be concerned about them and care about them
  6. If you've had to take corrective action, follow up.
    • If you've had to correct an employee, understand it's highly stressful for them. You're impacting their livelihood and their family's livelihood. 
    • Make sure they are okay. Give them an opportunity to discuss their frustration.
    • Help them make a plan not only to fix the problem, but to move past it and be better.
  7. If you're not happy with an employee, act!
    • Don't let things fester. 
    • Address the situation as soon as possible
    • Don't assume the employee is a "lost cause". Help develop them. Set clear expectations and talk about how to achieve them.
    • Give the employee meaningful feedback! Everyone can always get better. Help them!
I've held leadership roles from entry level management to executive levels. I understand we all get busy and consumed with our own daily duties. But if you lead a team, they are your #1 priority. While it's difficult to be a servant leader in some company cultures, never underestimate the power of an engaged, empowered, happy, collaborative, team.  

And if you aren't in leadership, much of this applies to customers too. It all boils down to having the heart of a servant, loving people, and understanding that we are all in the same business...the relationship business.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Are you disengaged?

There is an old saying that goes something like this....

"It's not bragging, if you can back it up"

There is some truth to this, but the word "bragging" brings up thoughts of arrogance and no one likes to work with a cocky, arrogant, difficult person. No...that's not the type of bragging I'm talking about. If you're read my previous blog posts, you know I'm all about teamwork, collaboration, servitude, customer service, and the human aspect of leadership. We live in a very curious time. Social media allows us to put up a very convincing facade. We can brag about our fancy degrees, certifications, and accomplishments. Post up pictures of ourselves in highly interesting situations. We can make our lives seem so perfect that others envy us, which is exactly what some people want.

Since this blog is titled "Unavailing Logic", lets apply some. Would anyone put something in a resume or on social media that wasn't bragging about their accomplishments or abilities? No one is going to put up, "I'm lazy and don't like to work". While that might be true for them, they aren't going to tell the world. No one knows more about the person looking back at you in the mirror than you. Yet we seem to place so much value on what others think of us. As if we need their validation to confirm the hard work and dedication we've put into our career. Our actions should speak for themselves, yet many, including myself, feed off of the praise of others. A pat on the back, an "atta boy", or any sincere praise from leadership is a huge motivator. Now, I'm not talking about the occasional goofy certificate you get for 5 years of service, or some corporate recognition program that systematically "rewards" as many people in the company as possible to "boost morale". And I'm certainly not talking about being patronized.  No, I'm talking about true, heartfelt, sincere appreciation for you and the work you do, and the person you are. This type of recognition is very rare. Good leaders are in tune with their direct reports and learn what motivates them. They don't take a one size fits all approach to praise and recognition. They give each employee what they want and desire. Like I's very rare when you have a true leader who understands the importance of employee moral, attitude, drive, desire, and accomplishment. An employee seen as a "bare minimum" performer may simply feel unheard, unused, unappreciated, passed over, and unchallenged. Basically, they're bored. Leaders need to make sure their employees are engaged and that not only their monetary needs are met, but their emotional ones as well. Perhaps I'll do a blog post on Emotional Intelligence in leadership, it's really important, but outside the scope of this post.

The above Gallup survey show only 13% of employees are fully engaged in their work. 13 people out of 100 are engaged. That overshadows the old "80/20" rule where 20% do 80% of the work. Apparently it's only 13%.

What About Me?
So what about you? If your boss asks you, "are you engaged?". Of course, you're going to give a resounding "heck yeah!", "I'm a team player", "I get things done", etc, etc, etc. But if you aren't engaged, that's more of the facade mentioned above. And frankly, if you work for a boss that has to ask, look for a new job. He or she is not a very good boss. While a good leader always asks for honest feedback, that's not what I'm talking about here. A good leader should have a PLAN to engage every employee. They should set aside time to talk with each of their direct reports and LISTEN to them. A leaders #1 job is providing their team with what they need to be successful. Any leader who is "too busy", "doesn't have time", "just got caught up in things", heading down a wrong road with their team. What they are really saying to you is, "I care more about my career than I can about yours". Some may see no problem with this, but if you find yourself as one of those disengaged employees, you know how awful it is to work in that state. How it breeds negativity. How complaining, dread, and even avoidance of work creep in, eventually harming your company and possibly your career. And if you are an employer who has leaders who allow employees to be disengaged, it's costing you a LOT of money.

I've spoken with several people who are disengaged employees. These are some of the things they've said to me:

"I just come in and do my time"

"My boss doesn't listen to me, so I just keep my mouth shut and do what they tell me"

"I've taken sick days because I've hated my job so bad I was physically ill"

"I tell everyone new, just sit down, keep your mouth shut, and do what you're told and you'll have a job here forever. If you speak up, they'll run you out"

"They [leadership] don't care about people in this place. Just themselves"

"I just want to do my work and go home and not think about this place until the next day"

 As someone who has spent the last 15 years of my career in a leadership role, studying leadership, and seeing first hand how important the human aspect of business is...these quotes are very frustrating and saddening.

So as an employee, what can you do if you find yourself in this situation? Here's some advice:
  1. Take inventory
    • Do you have a good education? 
    • Have you been successful in other endeavors (service organizations, church leadership positions, etc.)?
    • What are your major accomplishments?
    • Were you happy in other jobs under different leadership?
    • What skills and abilities make you marketable in the open job market?
    • Get your positive mental attitude in order!! We can't control the circumstances, but we can control our attitude and our effort.
  2. Ask for feedback
    • Before you write your bad boss off, try to talk to them.
    • Ask for specific examples of things you can do better
      • If your boss gives you the old "you're going a good job" or "we need ya buddy" pattern answer, there is no reason to continue the discussion. EVERYONE can improve, and a good boss will always want to provide you with valuable feedback and an ACTION PLAN to help you achieve your career goals.
    • It may be better to chat outside the office. Go to lunch, have a cup of coffee before work, a beverage after work. As his direct report, you should be one of your bosses top priorities....even over his or her own boss. 
  3. Have a Plan
    • If you've done #2 and things didn't work out, then you are ready to move forward. 
    • You know your skills and abilities. Your wants and desires.  
    • Dream up your ideal job. What do you WANT to do? How do you want to be treated?
    • People network! I can't emphasize this enough. The human side of business is the most important aspect. Regardless of what you do, you're really a salesman, and your product is YOURSELF. Always be selling!
    • Seek out companies that have a reputation for being the type of place you see yourself. 
      • Don't just apply blindly for jobs!
      • Don't settle. Jumping from the frying pan to the fire does you no good.
      • Try to find contacts who work there. Get to know them. 
      • Let the leadership team know you are seeking them out and want to be part of their success. 
    • Make a talk track about yourself. Always be ready for an "interview".
  4. Learn to Serve
    • Yes...really!
    • If you want to work for a servant leader, someone who has empathy for his team and wants them to succeed, you too must have a servant heart.
    • Servant leaders are servants in their private life too. To find them, you have to meet them where they see you as an equal. Serve along side them. Show them your work ethic. 
    • Being involved in your community and helping others will repay you more than you can imagine. Maybe not in money, but trust me, your cup will be full.
  5. Don't let others define you
    • Get demoted? Passed over for a promotion? Didn't get that internal job you applied for and they guy they hired had half your skill and experience?
    • It's not always your fault. 
    • Know your skills, know your worth
    • Always stay positive (sometimes it's hard, and you will backslide into negativity)
  6. Step it up
    • As silly as it sounds, work harder at that job you're so disengaged in.
    • If you've written off your employer and are planning on leaving the last thing you want to do is make them grateful you left. Show them how good you are. Leave on a high note.
    • Always make sure you are "eligible for rehire" even if you never plan on working there again.
  7. Never burn bridges
    • Most leaders are promoted because they were good workers, but no one ever taught them how to be good leaders. This doesn't make them bad people. 
    • As much as you want to rant on why you're leaving, don't.
      • Even in an "exit interview",  keep your comments brief and generic. 
      • Smile, say thank you, and be polite and professional
      • Stay positive! The old "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything" applies here.
    • Don't poison the well
      • Your former co-workers are still working there. Don't bring them down with negative comments or gleeful celebration about your departure.
    • Don't be the victim
      • You're leaving for a better opportunity, not because the "company treated me bad". No one likes a victim.
As of this writing, unemployment is at a record low. The economy is expanding and employers are looking for great people. Enjoy the free market! Don't stay at a job where you aren't engage. Don't work where you feel unappreciated, unimportant, or under utilized. Don't continue to be a part of the problem plaguing much of the workplace. You're better than that!

Don't be intimidated by all the social media ninjas out there. They aren't as good as they seem. If you've worked hard, earned your skills, and get a thrill out of success, you're just as good as any social media salad someone posts up. Those who do great things don't do so by standing in line with everyone else. Be different. Stand out. Get positive and get moving. Your life is yours and what you make it. Make it great!

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Comfort Zone

I've worked as an IT professional since 1987. I was 15 years old when I received my first paycheck for technology work. My goal was always to continue running the family business my father had started. My brother worked in the company as well. It was what was expected, but not what I wanted. Technology was my passion. I'd had a computer in my bedroom since 1982. I learned to build peripherals from schematics as a 12yo. After I graduated college, I went into the family business to do what was expected of me.

Through a very unfortunate turn of events, my father passed away in 1995 and the company fell on hardship. My brother was running things, and he had a conversation with me that I never thought I'd hear. "We can't afford to pay you bud". I'll never forget those words. The career I'd prepared for since I started to walk and talk, the family business, my Dad's company...was letting me go. How does this happen? Where would I work? What would I do?

I turned to the only thing I knew I'd succeed at. Information Technology. I was fairly advanced given I'd spent 14 years of my life working in IT as both a passionate hobby and professionally. But my resume was ripe with marketing, sales, and insurance industry experience. Who would hire me? Perhaps a failing company headed for bankruptcy. So, I applied at Service Merchandise Corporation for an entry level desktop analyst job. It was my first experience in a large IT enterprise. I was able to perform my prescribed duties, and when I had time, I'd volunteer to work with the more advanced roles in the company. Servers, networks, telephony, satellite communications, automation systems, program logic controllers, etc. I absorbed it all. I never had any fear of jumping into a project and I was rewarded for it. I progressed up the ranks quickly and worked at SMC until they liquidated just after the 9/11 attack.

Now well into my career, with over 30 years of IT experience under my belt across many verticals, I've come to understand that my passion is learning about a problem, simplifying the complex, and delivering a comprehensive solution using technology. It allows me to use my love of people and relationship building, my logical processing ability, and my technology background. I also enjoy being a lifetime learner. Always thirsty for more knowledge. I've identified my abilities and what drives me, but what about that comfort zone thing? How does that work? How does it relate to you and why you're reading this blog? If you're the type of person who hates going to work, only does so to pay the bills, hates Monday's, and you see your work as something you have to do versus something you have the honor and privilege of doing, then you won't get much benefit from the rest of this post. If you stay at your job because the company is stable, the benefits are good, and the pay is okay, then you may not get much else from this post.

If you want to be successful, you need to find a company who is willing to fully utilize your talents and abilities while helping you develop further. But where do you find these companies? There are several sites that list great places to work, but they assume that everyone is looking for the same thing. You need to do some research, people networking, and take an interest in a company. Find an employer who sees you as a valued member of the team. Everyone pulling toward the same goal. Take that leap of faith to move from the mundane to the exceptional. If you worked hard to be one of the best of the best, then set your sights on working for the best.

I turned 47 this year. I've had career goals since I was in my 20's. Over the years my goals have changed from the position I want to reach and how big a house I wanted to have, to the level of excellence I want to provide for my company and customer. Job title is no longer my driver. I want to do great work, in a customer focused environment, where excellence is then norm. Good enough is not good. I want to walk out of the office every day feeling as if I've accomplished something great that day. To do that, you have to leave your comfort zone. You have to push yourself to do things others think are crazy. There are no shortcuts in life. Life begins outside your comfort zone.

How To Manage an Underperforming Employee

Several years ago I was called to my bosses office and given an ultimatum. Fire one of my direct reports, or be accountable for their action...