Thursday, April 27, 2006
Insights on Leadership
During the course of the last few weeks here in Libya, I have forced to give thought to the future progress of the company, myself, my position, and the positions of those that I lead. I've been doing a lot of research lately on the aspects of "team' management and "team' progress. Personally, I've always been of the opinion that individuals are self-motivated to succeed. Technically, I've always known that's not true. What is more true to the point is that "I want to believe that all people are self-motivated to succeed." And after realizing that, I was forced to re-examine the meaning of the word "succeed" as it applies to my thoughts. I've always used the word in conversation, but the true meaning that is in my head is in all actuality, much different from the vision of the term that is shared by the population at large. Truly, people do want to succeed, but they want to succeed in a different way. What "most" people yearn for is "Stability"... not success. That's the difference that I have when communicating my desires to others. If I look at my friends, work associates, team members, and others, the true statement is that I have somehow surrounded myself throughout life with people who want to be "stable." They want to know that they have a good job, a good life, a good family, a good state of mind. Now, I'm not sayng that people don't want to succeed, only that the best word in MY personal mentality would be to say "become stable." I do not mean to belittle anyone's efforts or thoughts of their own lives, their own achievements, or their own goals, only to stipulate that I am making a distinction in my own mind, so I can separate the two terms intelligibly. Now, this realization breeds three thoughts that bear examination here. 1.) Why do I surround myself with people dissimilar from myself? 2.) What do I mean when I say to myself that I want to succeed? 3.) How does this affect the career and the life I have chosen, considering the leadership roles I keep finding thrust upon me. I'll answer number two first, because it bears the most relation to the prior thoughts. When I say that I want to "succeed" in my life, the word that I should use out loud in conversation should be replaced with "exceed". That is probably the only way that others will understand what I truly mean. It is not in my personality to be "one of the crowd." It never has been. When I was in high school, I was the section "leader" of the band. When I was in Odyssey of the Mind in high school, I was the vice-president of the organization. When I worked growing up at various jobs, I worked to be the manager, the supervisor, something that would put me out from under the expectations of those above me who had in truth, no expectations. My professional career stands true to the same facts, bearing this philosophy further to proof of tangibility. At Internet of Greenville I sought out the position of Manager because I was not happy with the small expectation that those above me had for my department and for myself. When you face the facts, your personal accolades to not outshine the goals and achievements of your "department." Either you all succeed, or you all fail together. In that scenario, my ability for success is hampered by the possible inability of another to get me where I feel I need to go. It's not a lack of trust that they will take credit for my work, or me for theirs. It's just the simple truth that I seek responsibility and freedom to be rewarded or punished based on my own merit. I think this, in essence, is why I keep winding up in management, and over the last few years; middle to executive management. From a managerial standpoint, whether on my own or leading a team of others, I can directly influence my ability to succeed. (Exceed) If I beat a deadline, I know that I personally had a hand in the process and not that I sat around and watched others work on their parts while I simply rode the wave to success. Success, in my mind, without sacrifice, is not success. It's luck. If you don't take chances, push the envelope, strive at the cost of your personal freedoms, you can not truly succeed; you can only be a lottery winner. I'm not the type of person who wants to ever be given a position as an executive officer because the prior man quit or died of old age. As agressive as it sounds, I want to be the one who got the position by beating the other guy. I want the self-satisfaction of knowing that I "exceeded" the scope of my position or my task, that I can perform better than the man over me and therefore I replaced him. Is that an agressive mentality? Probably so. But it is my belief that is it also a key personality trait for individuals who want to succeed in an ever-evolving industry where success is forgotten the next day and failure is remembered forever. Now, having said that, I have found only three opportunities in life where I had the privelege to work for a man or company who I was proud to work "under" and did not seek, at least in my mind, to replace or to dominate. But I think that was only truly a temporary situation. These were Michael Turner, Bill Stovall, and Doc (my current employer.) Of those three, Bill was and will always be the man who taught me the most about my ability to "sell"... myself, my product, my idea, my thoughts, anything. He taught me this by being over-confident and extremely insightful himself. If you wanted to push some new idea on Bill, it was like a battle plan. I remember spending days and days refining my ideas so that I could deliver it to Bill in the executive battlefield. He has an amazing ability to shred an idea in front of your eyes and to pick out the flaws long before you can even begin to start a counter-attack. I learned the hard way numerous times with him. This is what taught me to have multiple approaches for the same "sale" I was trying to get past him. I would have to plan my preliminary method of presenting the material, while simultaneously having to be able to shift my point of attack, reinforce the conversation with a multitude of supporting evidence (troops) and then press the point home with emotion and reason. The battle was only won if Bill was inspired. You can "impress" him all day long, but unless you can inspire him, you're finished. He is too self aware of his own "in-the-moment" decision making capabilities to be pushed emotionally to a decision. Bill, Michael, and thus far Doc Moe, have given me the ability to lead others under their supervision while remaining mentors to me themselves. THAT is the reason I was happy working under them, as opposed to working my way around and over them. If I find an individual that I can learn from, who is willing to mentor me while still allowing my pride to co-exist with a learning-state, then I can grow, they can succeed, and we're all happy. It is when my personal experiences and management experiences get discounted in the face of their "superior" wisdom that I get angry and start the work-around to meet my own ends anyway. Look at my current position. I work for a man who, financially, inspires me. It's not his money that I appreciate; rather it is his unflagging determination to succeed at a project and to make it a profitable one at the same time. Then, when we finally have the project and it's time to start, he absolutely kills me by going and seeking another while leaving me to start the beginning of the one we just got. Poof! Like that! He's gone! Bam! So, at this point in my life, I can take the motivational and business skills that have been taught to me by others like Bill and Michael, and turn these to this current career path, while at the same time, putting myself through "school" with my current mentor. So, what brought up the point of all this? Well, the whole problem I have is that my current projects lack the proper management to succeed (exceed) the way I would like. Now that I have seen what we can do as a company, I want to do it. All of it. I won't settle for doing some things while letting other opportunities slide by. Additionally, I have enough experience in the business and management side of life to know that we won't be able to do this without some management changes. This knowledge, in turn, forces a decision to be made. I either hire a parallel manager, diminishing my own ability to influence the turn of events within the company, OR I do it myself. The potential options for personal failure in option one are numerous and disasterous. If you want to succeed above all expectations, then you can not possibly counsel the idea of splitting your forward progress down the middle. Based on my personal insights for my own performance goals, that would hamper my ability to affect change, which would result in a direct decrease in my happiness, therefore diminishing my perfoemance, therefore diminishing my success as a leader, therefore leading to my eventual separation of the company. See? When you take it to end of the extreme, you are really only left with one choice if you want control of your OWN future. Do. It. Yourself. When considering the ramifications of having to "do it myself," I am forced to take an outside perspective on the current operations of my company and that perspective tells me that as long as we stay as we are now, we will continue to have a turnover of valuable team members. This will, in turn, decrease our performance on the job, therefore diminishing the opinion of our company by prospective clients, therefore increasing the stress level at work while at the same time decreasing the employee "satisfaction" and the "guarantee" they feel about their security and future with the company. Again, 1 leads to 2, leads to 3, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, etc. So, ALL of this thinking brought me to the further examination of question number 1. (Why do I surround myself with people so vastly dissimilar from myself?) The truth is; because I am a leader-type personality. That's not what I would "prefer" to be remembered as at the end of my days, but it's true nonetheless. Whether I am a good one or not, doesn't change the fact that it's the core of my personality. It shows in my friendships, my work relationships, and other aspects of my life. Start with the friends I have. If you were to walk into the room and ask someone "Who is the leader here?", fingers would usually point to me. Not always, but usually so. Now, there is a definite difference between "leader" and "boss," and I make no claims to the latter, however the former has always been true. In our group of friend, we have over the years developed "sub-groups" of friends. Others predictably get together with one another and I can always tell which one has made the plans for what they are doing because of the way they communicate and the body language and posturing of a group of people. It is amazing how many subtle signs your subconscious recognizes about people when you're not paying attention to it. Consequentially, it becomes like a miniature management team of friends. Instead of placing phone calls to twenty different people to make plans, I simply call about three of them, knowing that those three will take care of their respective "cliques" of the group. Invariably, they will either all show up for an event, or none. It's rarely they appear without their figurehead. They operate as a collective, but when all the collectives are together, they defer to me. Why? I have absolutely no idea except to say this: There is only room for one leader in any organization. Eventually, it always comes down to one guy (or girl) who makes decisions that affect everyone else. Whether it is where we are all going to dinner or the United States foreign policy on Cuba's cocaine market. Both examples eventually come down to one person. This is not to say that there are not other leaders in my circle of friends, and associates. Quite the contrary; however to be effective together, one leader will usually asusme a support role in a multi-leader environment for the good of the group morale. Look at me and Doc Holliday for example. We are the best of friends. I love him like he's my own blood. However, anyone who knows us can tell you that we get tired of each other's plans after about three continuous days together. That is about the maximum amount of time that one or the other of us can supress our natural desire to lead things and allow the other to take control for awhile. After that amount of time, we need about a week off from each other. We both know it and neither of us considers it a bad thing. It's just further proof that two leaders do not peacefully co-exist in the same social ecosystem. Now, how does that all relate to my career? That, my friends, is question number three from above. Having performed some serious self analysis on my own goals, I first need to examine my weaknesses before attempting to determine where I can use my strengths to accomplish a goal. Ask any military leader from history (yes, I know they're all dead.. that's why they're considered history, but it's a rhetorical statement) and they will tell you that if you go full ahead into the fray without considering your weak points, you'll quickly determine that it's the part with the sword stuck in it. So, further progress on my plan for this stream of thought must pause while I consider the truths of my failings and my weaknesses. Truthfully, I hate to have to list them all in public... which brings me to my first one: Pride. Now, for a man to admit that he KNOWS he's over-proud of himself says one of two things. Either I am a "deep" self-aware individual, OR I am somewhere off the top of the charts of egotism as to be uncalculable. (I prefer the former, but I'm quite sure it's most likely the latter.) Yes, I'm ego-centric. I've never made any bones about it. I admit it freely to anyone who knows me. I'm ego-centric, cocky, over confident, over proud, and occasionally downright arrogant. Some of my team members would argue that point, but it's honestly true. Christopher Comeau has told me countless times when the subject has been discussed amongst the two of us, that he thinks I'm one of the most selfless employers he has ever worked for. He can recite countless times when I have given up personal freedoms, pay raises, and other things so others could succeed or be rewarded. Does that make me selfless? No. It just means that I'm smart enough to know when I should be the one to make a sacrifice for the good of my future goals. It's not a selfless act when I take a pay cut to give Tim a pay raise. Does it appear that way to others? Possibly. It's not a "generous" act to bust my butt to hire Desmond for a networking career he's not trained for and to give him an opportunity to further his career and travel the world. It's a risk-assessment and future reward for me. Nothing a successful person does is often selfless. I take a pay cut so Tim can make something a "little" closer to what he deserves. Why? Cause I'm a "good guy?" No. I did it because, and I speak only from the professional standpoint here, not the personal one, Tim is the most valuable resource I have to ensure my future growth and my career. If Tim is unhappy with his pay, his performance will decrease, therefore I will get aggravated, therefore his happiness will decrease further, therefore we will fail, therefore I have no job. So it just made sense to me to invest a little bit into my future and try to make him happy at the same time. It served TWO purposes, not one. (And I think that understand the "other" purpose behind why people do things is another huge contributor to your own success in life, but that's for another day.) Why did I bring Chris Comeau and Desmond to Africa, 6000 miles away from home? Well, I did it to provide them with a stable career that paid better than the one we all had before. Was that selfless? No. That's not the ONLY reason I did it. The mathematics of it are as follows: I am going to work for a new comany who already has a staff of its own. I want to quickly get into a position of leadership and establish a plan for the future of my career. To do this means I need people I trust with me, not people who are loyal to others. To do this, I make a risk assessment: "Is it worth it to take the risk to bring a LAN engineer who's not truly qualified yet, and risk failure, just to position the chess pieces for later in the game of life?" Answer: yes. Acts like this institute loyalty. Loyalty breeds better leadership chains. This, in turn, builds a series of experiences together that can generate a trust between the two people. This bond is what I wanted to put into place. At some point in my career, I'm going to have to make a bold move, a strike, a rapid forward movement into territory that will possess a lot of risk. When, IF, I ever do that, I want people with me who I can TRUST. And no one you have ever had to "prove" yourself to will truly trust you. By proving myself and getting them better jobs, I position myself in a place where I can strengthen the support bonds of the team. When the day comes, and I have to make a drastic career choice, I will need those bonds there to support me in case of failure. Now, knowing that, can you really see where I truly am over-proud, egotistical, etc? Yeah.. I thought so. (Geeze, that was only my FIRST weakness... So, let's make my second weakness that I'm also "uber-expository," which I will leave with no further explanation. Other weaknesses: Hmm. Ah. Yes. I have an inherent desire to micro-manage all aspects of a given project to ensure they are all done "my" way. This is bad. Of course I am aware of it and try to consciously avoid making that mistake too often, but it happens more than I can count I'm sure. There are other ways to achieve an end without using my specific means and I should try to keep an open mind and remember to ask others about their opinions before charging off on "my" plan. Ok, the point was to help me decide how all this affects my life and my career choices. Well, currently I am the project manager of ALL the projects that our company has underway. Well, that's great and all, but a project manager is the ultimate embodiment of a people-manager, and that's a skill I have to yet acquire in many aspects. Any manager that is truly worth his salt is a leader, and I have researched this a little to determine what that really means. Truthfully, the only difference between a manager and a true "leader" is power. Ok. That's simple enough. Managers (leaders) should lead by working "on" a company or project, not "in" it. To do that requires power. Power is nothing more than the ability of one individual to influence the behaviour of another. When you think about it, it's really only that. Power is having the "ability" to make someone do other than they would have chosen to do on their own. Notice that I did not say "making them do different".. but only "having the ability to make them do different." A person who just "makes" people do things is not a leader; they are a dictator, and additionally they don't last long in the management world. Oh sure, they get jobs, but they quickly destroy the project, the team, and sometimes the company itself if they aren't removed fast enough. Now, I am supposed to be a "leader" if I want to effectively convince, through successful repeated operations, my CEO to allow me to lead his company in his stead and to act in his name with less and less oversight over time. That, of course, is my ultimate goal and always has been; To take a company to heights its never been before through the effective use of people and resources. Now, here I run into another issue. Guess what? All leadership is not the same. Certain personality types are led successfully using certain types of leadership. In order to lead this company, which is definitely what it needs, means that I have to learn to adapt myself and my leadership skills to multiple types of people, both socialogically and culturally. I'll give you an example. I am an emotional person. I depend on the verve and vitatlity of others to feed my own motivation to succeed. This is why I was pretty good (ok.. decent Bill!) in sales. Sales people are led through motivation. Bill taught me this through thousands of examples over the three years we worked together. There is an old adage that states that "reason makes people think and emotion makes them act." That is a simple axiom that applies to sales people as well as it does to the rest of the human population at large... with one exception: IT people and Geeks. I am an emotional leader, and a good one. I have a good ability to paint the picture of success in the minds of those I work around and to engender them to want to see it happen as much as I do. Now, of course this only works temporarily. If you fail to achieve momentum before the "fire" runs out, you can't sustain the project. If, however, you DO achieve sufficient momentum, you only have to occasionally "stoke the embers" to get it roaring again. Now, this is where I have become aware that I run into problems. I'm leading a project that requires "normal" personalities as well as the "geek" personalities. I can successfully lead the normal personalities without trouble. What I can not adjust to, is leading the "geek" archetype. Why? It's simple. Geeks are immune to power. They are immune to emotion. If you think about it, the people who are great Cisco programmers, server administrators, code-monkeys, web editors,etc... these people are geeks. Their life and social traits have lead them down a path that requires solitude and reason above all else. These people truly"think" in the realm of reason, not emotion. Emotional leaders are powerful leaders, however they are useless with IT teams and geeks. If "power" is the ability to influence behaviour of others, and geeks are immune to power, then what do you have? A conundrum! Don't believe me? It's true. If you consider why you would hire a "geek" for a project like those in the IT world, then this bears true. Geeks do not deliver their value to a project through their behaviour. They deliver their value to the team and to the company by their "thoughts." That's what they are paid for. No amount of "power" can make a guy cheer up. No amount of personal charisma or power from me is going to make the server architecture get designed any faster. No amount of power can influence what geeks are paid to do. I can't go into a meeting with a bunch of IT personnel as if they are my old sales reps from prior jobs. If you go in there and start a meeting with a bunch of inspiration and emotion, they either get suspiscious at the emotional aspect of your leadership, or they roll their eyes and go back to doing Star Trek warp core permuations in their heads while you drone on endlessly before finally letting them get back to work. NO one is going to "convince" an IT team to perform better based on their emotional support of a goal or concept because these people think in terms of zeros and ones. It's in their internal programming. They cannot change themselves and a good manager should not try to force them. First, it would be unsecessful. Secondly, it would take a disproportionate amount of time away from your other management duties that you CAN influence. So how do you manage a geek/IT team? IT people perform fundamentally different work than the rest of a team. They exist with the purpose of inventing and implementing "creative knowledge" which is completely different from what the rest of us are used to. IT work is not affected by the "force of will" that inspire others. Sure, you can WANT to fix all the code in three days when you know it takes seven, but wanting won't get it done. No amount of motivation can make that happen. These people work within a realm of time as defined by the processes they are implementing, not by how fast they can do it, or how "well" they can do it. Either it works in the IT realm, or it does not. Consider a car. I can sell you a car with a dent in it by showing you the other features.. by overdramatizing the "flash" and the appeal of the vehicle. But no amount of sales skill or emotional frivolity on my part is going to make the server farm perform better if its pre-defined programming is wrong. Terms and thinking like this define the IT world and give it very concrete boundaries. You can't emotionally force a team to be creative to find solutions. On the contrary, I've seen it to be my experience that when you ask someone to be creative, you usually get rewarded with an immediate and unavoidable occurence of blah... nothing comes out. BE CREATIVE! (see.. nothing happened.) So, back to my original thought that started all of this: Where do I learn to be a good IT leader? In all my prior positions, I can always learn from history; military leaders, titans of american industry, religious figures, moral figures, inspirational figures, etc. Leading in this environment is different... that's all there is to it. So, what I need to develop is the dynamic.. the avenue through which a leader can communicate and lead an IT team effectively. What is the "method" used to lead these personnel and to coordinate their efforts with the more normal jobs, such as the engineers and the installers. How do I learn a whole new management strategy, on the fly, while in a foreign country, while still maintaining my grasp of the successful strategy that works with the rest of my staff? Anyway... these are the thoughts that have been beating around my head all day. If anyone has any feedback, on ANY of this, I 'd love to hear it. I'm experiencing one of those rare introspective moments, so I'd like to take advantage of it while its fresh... Till then... The over-egotistical-manager.