Communication in IT

In 2011, author Bob Lewis published the book, “Leading IT: Still the toughest job in the world, Second edition.” The book tackles some of the most challenging areas to address in an IT organization. Often the problems have little to do with the technology nor the process. The issues usually have to do with the people, inside and outside of the IT organization.

Here are the takeaway lessons I picked up from reading the book.

Communication is the core skill of leaders. Communication consists of three major activities: listening, presenting, and persuasion.

Listening is how leaders avoid ignorance and making the incorrect assumptions.

Leaders present information effectively to enable followership. Followership requires specific knowledge and context so that the followers can make decisions intelligently.

Persuasion is the essence of leadership. A leader will sell the problem, the solution, and the plan, in that order. Persuasion also requires establishing trust.

Money is an IT leader’s most powerful communications channel at her disposal. If the pay and the message do not line up, people will ignore the leader’s words.

The most important communication skill of all is empathy. If a leader can figure out how the world looks from her employee’s eyes, she can put herself in a much better position to persuade.

Culture in IT

In 2011, author Bob Lewis published the book, “Leading IT: Still the toughest job in the world, Second edition.” The book tackles some of the most challenging areas to address in an IT organization. Often the problems have little to do with the technology nor the process. The issues usually have to do with the people, inside and outside of the IT organization.

Here are the takeaway lessons I picked up from reading the book.

As a leader, the only real lever you have to change culture is to change your own behavior and set an example.

Culture should be intentional and by design. A leader needs to work with her leadership team to decide beforehand how to behave differently and how to recognize and deal with each other when someone does not.

A leader also needs to work with employees who are having a hard time to change and give them the extra help they need. Eventually, the organization must recognize and deal with employees who cannot accept the change.

Mergers and acquisitions can often fail due to culture clashes. A leader must be mindful and intentional when attempting to design a culture for the merged IT organizations.

An IT leader sometimes will want to establish an IT culture independently from the business culture. Be careful about making this choice. The undesirable outcome can surface when the IT culture is too different from the overall business culture. The difference in culture can cause ongoing problems with IT’s integration with the rest of the enterprise.

Building and Maintaining Teams

In 2011, author Bob Lewis published the book, “Leading IT: Still the toughest job in the world, Second edition.” The book tackles some of the most challenging areas to address in an IT organization. Often the problems have little to do with the technology nor the process. The issues usually have to do with the people, inside and outside of the IT organization.

Here are the takeaway lessons I picked up from reading the book.

A team is more than a collection of individuals. Its members must cooperate to achieve success.

A team must have a common goal that each team member aligns with. It is not sufficient for a leader to merely state the purpose and expect the desired results.

Maintaining a team requires some minimum level of trust. The trust is cultivated from informal activities and conversational exchanges between the team members.

Appointed leaders should be cautious when trying to become part of the team. They should create an atmosphere in which the team can build identity and leadership structure. They also need some distance to maintain authority and the governance role.

Effective teams are smarter than the collection of individuals because the knowledge and ideas of all members are pooled together.

Ineffective teams are stupider than the collection of individuals because the competing individuals can interfere with each other’s ability to promote or to adopt the best ideas.

Motivation in Organization

In 2011, author Bob Lewis published the book, “Leading IT: Still the toughest job in the world, Second edition.” The book tackles some of the most challenging areas to address in an IT organization. Often the problems have little to do with the technology nor the process. The issues usually have to do with the people, inside and outside of the IT organization.

Here are the takeaway lessons I picked up from reading the book.

As a leader, we can quickly de-motivate others by being arrogant, disrespectful, and unfair.

Psychologically, humans’ primary motivators are fear, greed, guilt, need for approval, and exclusivity.

As a leader of an organization, the most effective motivator is to instill the mentality of achievement that is in alignment with the organization’s purposes.

The elements of autonomy, mastery, and purpose can fuel the employees’ motivation for achievement.

Staffing in IT

In 2011, author Bob Lewis published the book, “Leading IT: Still the toughest job in the world, Second edition.” The book tackles some of the most challenging areas to address in an IT organization. Often the problems have little to do with the technology nor the process. The issues usually have to do with the people, inside and outside of the IT organization.

Here are the takeaway lessons I picked up from reading the book.

Staffing is the most important job for a leader, in addition to getting results.

Employees are not just collections of skills and abilities. They bring to their work motivation, loyalty, knowledge of the company, and most important of all the ability to drive success. If all you want is a collection of skills and abilities, hire a contractor or consultant.

A leader should recruit and develop the capable employees she has, even more than the employees she wants. Losing capable employees is costly and time-consuming.

Great employees are more profitable than average ones and immeasurably more profitable than the poor ones.

Delay filling an open position is not a profitable move. As a leader, if you do not think the organization profits from the opening, do not open the position in the first place.

Holding employees accountable is a mistake and pointless. A leader fails when her employees fail. The more sensible alternative is hiring and retaining employees who take responsibility.

Terminate poor performers without regret, without anger, but with dignity. When someone is not succeeding in his or her role, a leader needs to put someone else in place who can thrive. When someone tried in earnest and failed in a wrong role, the leader needs to share part of the responsibility.

Making IT Decisions

In 2011, author Bob Lewis published the book, “Leading IT: Still the toughest job in the world, Second edition.” The book tackles some of the most challenging areas to address in an IT organization. Often the problems have little to do with the technology nor the process. The issues usually have to do with the people, inside and outside of the IT organization.

Here are the takeaway lessons I picked up from reading the book.

As a leader you have five types of decision available to you:

Authoritarian – Speed: High, Buy-in-Required: Low, Cost: Low, Quality: Low, Best used: In crisis situations.

Consensus – Speed: Low, Buy-in-Required: High, Cost: High, Quality: Moderate, Best used: Big stuff with many dependencies or implications.

Consultative: Speed: Moderate, Buy-in-Required: Moderate to High, Cost: Moderate, Quality: High, Best used: Most decisions.

Delegated: Speed: Situational, Buy-in-Required: Situational, Cost: Situational, Quality: Situational, Best used: To foster “Follower-ship”.

Democratic: Speed: Low, Buy-in-Required: Moderate, Cost: Moderate, Quality: Low, Best used: Governance by nature.

No decision-making approach is universal and suitable for all situations. Effective leaders use all approaches, not just their preferences.

Regrettably, ineffective leaders have just one way to make decisions – the approach they are most comfortable with.

Delegation in IT

In 2011, author Bob Lewis published the book, “Leading IT: Still the toughest job in the world, Second edition.” The book tackles some of the most challenging areas to address in an IT organization. Often the problems have little to do with the technology nor the process. The issues usually have to do with the people, inside and outside of the IT organization.

Here are the takeaway lessons I picked up from reading the book.

Good leaders delegate, so their directs will know what they are supposed to do in striving for the leader’s vision.

Leaders can either delegate tasks or goals. Both will require a clarity on the objectives, the timeline, and the agreed upon measurements for progress.

The ultimate goal of delegation is to establish “followership.” Lewis described followership as “Accepting the direction set by a leader – following – but in such a way that you make it your own, providing leadership within your own domain that advances the whole organization in its intended direction.”

Do not delegate in a prescribed way that the directions cannot fail. When the directs cannot fail, they cannot succeed on their own either. Allow the directs to apply their initiatives and succeed in owning their achievements.

Setting IT Direction

In 2011, author Bob Lewis published the book, “Leading IT: Still the toughest job in the world, Second edition.” The book tackles some of the most challenging areas to address in an IT organization. Often the problems have little to do with the technology nor the process. The issues usually have to do with the people, inside and outside of the IT organization.

Here are the takeaway lessons I picked up from reading the book.

The first step in leading is to set a direction. By setting the direction, the leader creates focus. The focus is the difference between getting results and wasting resources.

Vision and mission are essential for leading because they help provide focus. They, however, are different.

Vision articulates a new end-state, after the change. The leader needs to involve her team in defining the vision but should lead the process. The leader owns the vision.

Mission articulates what the organization exists to accomplish. The leader let her managers own the missions. The leader works hard to ensure the vision and the mission are compatible with each other.

Good leaders balance between focus and flexibility/adaptability.

Effective leaders also recognize that vision and mission is only 1% of the organizational effort. You will need everyone putting forth the rest of 99% to get results.

The What of IT Leadership

In 2011, author Bob Lewis published the book, “Leading IT: Still the toughest job in the world, Second edition.” The book tackles some of the most challenging areas to address in an IT organization. Often the problems have little to do with the technology nor the process. The issues usually have to do with the people, inside and outside of the IT organization.

Here are the takeaway lessons I picked up from reading the book.

In IT, practicing leadership calls for the following.

Expertise often is not the pre-requisite for leading. The pre-requisite is the willingness to take the responsibility and the hard work to communicate the vision, make the decisions, and trigger the change in people.

Leaders recognize that they do not just lead people; they are individuals. Effective leaders lead highly capable organizations, which are made up of highly competent individuals with their strengths and contributions.

Leadership is not a process, where management is a process. Leadership is a practice, and effective leaders will not blindly apply procedures to all situations and expect the same, high-value results every time.

Leadership is to break down organization silos and to get everyone pull in the same direction, towards the vision.

To lead IT, one needs to know the business of the enterprise and the business of technology. Just being proficient in one area and not the other is not sufficient.

Positive results take time to come together. Leaders need to budget and control her own time, rather than letting someone else manages their schedules.

Excellence and Remarkable

Tom Peters and Bob Lewis call it “Excellence.” Seth Godin calls it “Remarkable.”

Both terms refer to work or art that are beyond simple quality and typical commodity.

Quality used to be the main differentiator amongst the competitors. People seek out quality products/services and talk about them.

These days, with plenty of choices available in any given product/service category, the quality is now considered given. Lack or no quality is the easy route to put yourself out of the game.

When everyone can offer quality, commodity sets in and the price gets driven down. The race to the bottom begins.

The other option is to deliver excellence and remarkability. Give something for people to talk or remark about.

By being excellent and remarkable, it enables the race to the top.