Leadership

by Carissa Carissa No Comments

Followship

follow-the-leader

There is much written and taught on the topic of leadership.  While the most often-cited examples of influential leaders are those who run large organizations or hold positions of authority, we are inspired when we hear stories of those who have emerged as powerful leaders from unexpected places having no obvious resources or credentials to propel them.

The true indicator of all leadership is “followship”.  If you are a leader, others are following you.  If no one is following or being influenced by you, you are not a leader regardless of your position, title, or place in society.

Malala Biography

One of the greatest recent stories of influence and followship emerging unconventionally is the young life of Malala Yousafzai.  Listening to her autobiography with my 12 year-old daughter in recent weeks, I have been amazed at the amount of influence this 18 year-old Pakistani activist has wielded for the cause of female education.  In 2014 she became the youngest-ever recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, and even before an assassination attempt on her life in 2012, she had garnered a huge following for her efforts at making known the suppression of young girls’ educational opportunities in many parts of the world.

Malala had followship long before she was recognized as a leader.  You can probably point to some key people in your life who have led and influenced you profoundly without positional authority or an overtly-stated mission to do so.  Followship is earned, not endowed.  If this is true, then how do we earn it?

I want to follow you (1) if I understand and identify with where you want me to go, and (2) only when I conclude you are credible and worthy of my trust.  Stated another way, influential leaders must (1) articulate vision or direction, and (2) demonstrate aptitude or expertise, along with actions, in support of that vision or direction.  If I perceive your behavior to be inconsistent with where you are asking me to follow you, the deal is off – I’m not following.

To summarize, then, followship is a required indicator of leadership, and leadership is all about the person, not the position.  The leader may garner influence through touchy-feely factors such as demeanor, charisma, and enthusiasm.  But a large part of becoming an influential leader involves much less sensational factors, such as simply following through on what you say you are going to do.  Credibility and trust are most often built by consistent performance over long periods of time.  This doesn’t make for riveting leadership writings, but it is how many leaders have achieved great things through groups of passionate, devoted followers.

An important point for all of us:  we may not possess personality traits typically ascribed to great leaders, but all of us can influence and lead by being clear about where we are going and ensuring that our priorities and our actions are consistent with our destination.  If we do, others will likely follow.

 

Larry May

President

by Carissa Carissa No Comments

Technical Curiosity

Magnifying Glass Man
My Dad passed away a little over a year ago at the age of 85.  All who knew him would say he was a “young acting” guy for at least 84 of those years – until his illness got the best of him.  His youthfulness was expressed not in athleticism or a high energy personality.  In fact, he would be best described as a slow-moving, soft-spoken type.  Dad remained young in mind and spirit because he was a continual learner.  Place him in an unfamiliar setting or introduce him to an unknown piece of technology or machinery, and you could watch his eyes surveying the situation with a great deal of interest, not only for how things work, but why they work and where they fit in.  The focus was on the application of learning, not just knowledge acquisition.

Dad was educated only through high school, and no one would have accused him of being a stellar student. However, Dad was a continual, reliable source of know-how and wisdom for this MBA-educated son.  My brothers and I often poked fun at Dad for his resistance to assembly instructions and user guides.  Only at a point of desperation would Dad read the dreaded manual.  He relied on common sense and confidence in his own ability to master the technical aspects of most any gadget, project, or circumstance to which he was introduced.

Einstein QuoteToday, Keller Schroeder looks for this same common sense and confidence as we recruit for talented employee-owners who can learn and adapt to the fast-changing tools and techniques within the IT industry.  We call it technical curiosity.  Few organizations have time or budget to spoon-feed all the training necessary to stay up to speed on best practices and current technologies.  Today’s IT professional must take the initiative to seek out advice and experience, conduct necessary research, and rely on common sense to figure out how things work and where to apply them to solve problems.

When I joined the workforce as an applications programmer in 1982, my COBOL language and IMS database knowledge carried me through most of my technical years because the tools of the trade were evolving at a much slower pace than they are in 2015.  But even in my non-technical role today, I must resort to thinking like a “rookie” in order to stay sharp and stay on the learning curve (consider reading Liz Wiseman’s Rookie Smarts for more on this topic).

Today, no one coming out of college pursuing virtually any technical vocation can assume their academic training will carry them very far.  They must be technically curious.  As I mentioned in my May newsletter article, IT professionals must care about learning more than knowing.  Being the expert in your area of competence may be critical to the success of your organization today, but having the curiosity and initiative to continually learn without being spoon-fed by instructions or teachers is equally critical to your professional viability for the long-term.

 

Larry May

President

 

by Carissa Carissa No Comments

Bandwagon Thinking

Cards UKI don’t get it, but people sometimes accuse me of being a “bandwagon” guy.   I’m a huge St. Louis baseball fan and a lifelong University of Kentucky basketball fan.  Just because the Cardinals have won more World Series Championships than any other National League team, and the Wildcats have won more games than any other Division I college team, does that make me a “bandwagon” fan?

 

It’s not too hard to imagine how a little guy growing up in Paducah, Kentucky would be indoctrinated as a follower of both of these sports “religions.” Admittedly, though, it’s not too hard to follow the Cardinals and the Wildcats.  They are winners.  Most people enjoy winning more than losing.  And yes, I am going to resist any temptation to reference the Chicago Cubs in this article.

 

While my sports loyalties subject me to some unfounded criticism (heck, I even have a license plate on the front of my SUV espousing my commitment to both teams – shouldn’t that count for something?), being a bandwagon person can be a very good thing when it comes to choosing your information technology partners, solutions, and strategies.  You need to choose proven winners – paths, organizations and people with demonstrated success over the long run.

 

At Keller Schroeder, we are well-informed and connected with the latest tools, vendors, technologies, and processes to help you leverage the best outcome for your business.  We have been intentional about avoiding the “bleeding edge.”  We encourage and embrace innovation and change, but we believe in doing our research, aligning ourselves with successful partners, products, and techniques, and focusing on substance and excellence over form and fashion.

 

We may be accused of being “bandwagon-types”, but we are okay with that reputation.  Picking the underdog might be fun in sports – even profitable at times at the race track – but it is not what you expect of us.  Whether it is the employee-owners we recruit, or the vendors we partner with, or the solutions we recommend, we look for experience and a proven track record of performance.  We hope you appreciate this about us.

 

Larry May

President

by Carissa Carissa No Comments

If I Could Hire Your Next CIO

Handshake

If I were your company’s next CEO looking to hire your company’s next CIO (Chief Information Officer), here’s the kind of person I would be looking for:

1.   Someone who cares more about our business than our data center. With the speed of change in technology, and the emerging opportunities to use it for strategic advantage, an aptitude for understanding and applying technology is no doubt an important trait. The leader of your IT organization must be able to articulate, educate and effectively deploy technology in the best interest of your business.  The best technologies, however, are of limited value if solutions are not embedded deeply within your organization’s purpose and plans, or if stakeholders do not buy in on the benefits.  All good organizations begin with “why?”, and the business or mission drives the “why” of technology, not vice versa.  Alignment between business strategy and IT strategy is incredibly important when resources are limited and timing is of the essence.

2.   Someone who cares more about people than projects. A repeatable, credible project management process, resulting in disciplined, in-scope delivery of well-tested solutions is the hallmark of an effective IT team.  The important thing to remember, though, is that good people deliver, and weak ones do not.  People want to work in teams where they are genuinely valued, where co-workers support and care about each other, and where they can see the positive impact of their work.  If you start with people and culture, then build good project management and execution disciplines, the results will follow.  The best processes and practices within a toxic work environment will produce temporary success at best, and even those achievements will be eroded over time by higher-than-necessary employee turnover.

3.   Someone who cares more about learning than knowing. We IT folks like to be the experts.  And if you are depending on us, you want us to be experts in functional areas not well-understood by other key leaders in the organization.  Routinely, however, we find the IT environment changing at a pace which does not allow us to know everything about everything.  IT leaders need to be lifelong learners with enough humility to (a) know when they need to ask for skills or advice from outside the organization, (b) be willing to admit weaknesses and failures in order to change and get better, and (c) network actively with internal stakeholders and external peers to ensure their organization is operating at peak performance.

I love the pace of change in the “tools of the trade” of IT, but I firmly believe the winners – from programmers and engineers through project managers and CIOs – understand and give proper attention to the relational and missional facets of the IT tools, projects, and solutions they are depending on to drive success.

 

Larry May

President

by Carissa Carissa No Comments

The Leadership Pipeline – Taking an Honest Look

Dan Ehrhart,  Vice President – Applications Solutions Group

PGC_Pipeline_Data2

Whether you are an executive or a frontline manager, regularly assessing and investing in your “leadership pipeline” in an intentional way is important for the health of your organization. You often cannot move up, move on, or retire in good conscience without a successor. If there is no one to replace you in your current role, you might be passed over for a promotion.

At Keller Schroeder, we annually review our succession plans, identify holes and development areas, and make appropriate adjustments. We have historically invested more time and attention toward the top of the organization, but are getting better at looking more deeply at all levels of leadership. We strive to identify and develop prospective leaders as soon as they demonstrate an interest and propensity for influencing others and growing professionally.

Acquiring and keeping good people is vital in IT, where demand exceeds supply. From my experience, younger generations are more apt to want to develop into technical masters than to manage and lead as compared to my generation. A healthy mix is critical for us and probably for you as well. Some will want to develop into leaders, so let’s give them opportunities.

As a leader you may be carrying an inordinate load. If so, that is added incentive for you to equip those you lead who want to grow. Improve your delegation skills if needed. Take time to invest in them. The added short-term pain it might add to your load pays long-term dividends. John C. Maxwell’s Equipping 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know is a good primer on equipping leaders, and is the source of much of the following.

Qualities to look for in selecting someone to equip include: character, positive attitude, self-discipline, people skills, communication skills, and commitment. When possible, strive to select someone to equip who is committed vs. simply interested, as they will be more likely to stay around.

As the equipper, strive to:

    1. Model, mentor, and empower, without being a control freak
    2. Clear obstacles and create new opportunities for growth
    3. Give responsibility, authority, and accountability
    4. Teach servant leadership
    5. Create a climate where the person being equipped doesn’t fear making a mistake or being accountable (i.e., mistakes are expected as part of the learning process)

When practical, have the person being equipped train another person, since the best way to learn something is to teach it.

I encourage you to take a look at your leadership pipeline and consider some next steps to improve it. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, only to look up and find yourself far from your desired path after months or years of plodding ahead. For more information on leadership pipelines, head to your search engine of choice. You will find much material, for example, The Leadership Pipeline : How to Build the Leadership Powered Company by Charan, Drotter, and Noel.

In the words of Peter Drucker, “No executive has ever suffered because his people were strong and effective.”

 

by Carissa Carissa No Comments

In Sync

couple-walking-sm

While taking a walk on the trails behind USI over the holidays, I noticed an elderly couple ahead of me cutting a pretty healthy pace and seeming to enjoy every minute of their time together. There was an engaging conversation, lots of animated gestures, and little regard for anyone or anything around them. The outcome of their walk would be better fitness and a satisfying destination, but a deeper relationship was also being carved out along the way.

As I watched them I noticed something kind of funny about their gait – it was absolutely identical. He was taller and heavier than her, yet her legs must have been proportionately just enough longer to allow the couple to continually walk side-by-side, step-by-step – left, right, left, right – exactly in sync, without even knowing it. This went on for quite some time, and yes, I was just bored enough to take notice. I know, I need to get a life.

This reminded me, strangely enough, about the way we at Keller Schroeder like to approach our relationships with our clients. We may not look alike or be similar in “size and shape” to you, but our goal is to “adjust our gait” to walk alongside you in a meaningful relationship, reaching a more satisfying destination for you and your team than what you could otherwise achieve without us. We avoid getting too much out in front of you, or behind you. We want to work with you in such a way that it feels effortless – in sync with your goals and objectives.

We pride ourselves in listening intently and providing a unique, customized approach for each individual client contact we engage with. While we have much to offer in our skills, experience, and certifications, what makes us most effective is how we listen and synchronize our capabilities with your needs. To us, it is not first about the technology – it is about impacting you in a positive way – coming alongside you to help you leverage technology tools and services to more successfully achieve your objectives.

We wish you the best in 2015, and we will make it our top priority to “sync up” with you, step-by-step, with your destination in mind.

Please contact us if we can engage with you in a new way. We will make every effort to listen and bring new solutions to the table.

Larry May
President

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