Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thoughts on Leadership

With the recent changes in my career track, I've been spending a fair amount of time researching, studying, and otherwise trying to learn about "leadership" and "management". What is quickly apparent is that these two are NOT the same concepts. I shan't bore you with a link to Websters or the OED, but I think we've all experienced both managers and leaders in our respective careers.

There is one general concept or theme that has started to crystallize for me over this past week. For years, I've personally subscribed to the philosophy of CYBA instead of CYA (B == boss, hopefully you know the rest). I've also been a firm believe of "praise in public, criticize in private". Since I've not yet been a boss, I've usually preferred that approach be applied by my managers with regard to me, but I've also personally taken that approach when talking about whatever team I was on.  For instance, if I was in a conversation with the business about a failed deployment or some other problem, I would always approach it as "We (the IT team) messed up". If we were talking about a successful project, I tried to give props to whomever worked on the project.

Another concept that a manager I recently worked for presented was "We are IT". What he meant by this is that as far as the business unit or customer is concerned, we as an IT department were successful or we weren't. They could honestly care less if the admin configured the server wrong, or if the network guru messed up a routing rule, or if the business analyst missed a critical requirement, or if the systems/QA analyst mis-defined a test case, or if the development team introduced a horrific logic bomb. All they care about is whether or not the project completed on time with a successful deployment.

While listening to Andy Stanley's Leadership podcast earlier this week (it was an older episode, not listed on the iTunes website but available through iTunes itself), he talked about the concept of being a raving fan in public, and an honest critic in private. He basically distilled all of the above philosophies into a catchy soundbite, but his explanation is what really struck home with me.

Basically, his contention is that the team needs to present a unified front. Whenever they are talking with the customer, all of the members need to be reading from the same script. Obviously, any assessments and commitments need to be realistic, and we shouldn't be trying to deceive, but we also need to be supporting of each other and not trying to  undercut or demean each other. However, in private, in the inner sanctum if you will, the leadership team needs to foster an environment that allows for honest criticism. Employees need to feel that their thoughts and ideas are valued. They might not always be right, but they need to feel empowered to question the status quo. However, the employees also need to learn how to criticize. Or, as I've heard it said before "If you're not bringing a solution, you're just complaining".

This is definitely some good material for me to chew on, and I'm already trying to apply this personally, as an employee. You see, we work with a consulting firm that provides development resources. Some of those resources are located in the US, and some are located offshore. It's very easy to adopt an "us versus them" attitude, where "Us" is the business, and "Them" is the consulting firm. Instead of presenting a unified "We are IT" front, or being a raving fan in public, it's all too easy to air the dirty laundry and make excuses to the business as to why things aren't going smoothly. This does everyone a disservice, and I've personally committed to 1) not doing it any longer and 2) trying to squelch it when and where I can.

It's already caused some friction with some of my co-workers, but I guess that's another "management challenge" for me to work through.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Operation Freakout Commences in 3. . . 2. . . 1. . .

So, our HR department is apparently subject to clerical errors.  It's the only rational explanation I can think of. You see, my name has inexplicably been plugged into an open team lead slot on the org chart, and I now have direct reports.

I can now screw up more than just my career.

Oh happy, happy, joy, joy.

Seriously, I have been promoted and am now a team lead. I have 2(+) direct reports. I say 2(+) because there is one theoretical open position that I don't know if I'll be allowed to fill or not (it's complicated). The further complicating factor, however, is that both of my direct reports work in another office building, in a different state. Hooray for distance managing!!!

I am a bit apprehensive about this change in my career direction. It's something that I've wanted to happen for over 5 years now, so I'm glad it's finally started. And, to be honest, I think a small team like this is a perfect way to dip my toes in the water. It also helps (I hope) that I've worked with these guys for years, and that we all know the business area we're supporting very well. So, I don't have to learn a new business or technology, just a new skill set.

To that end, I have been poking around for various resources, and have found a number of podcasts. The one that I'm thoroughly enjoying right now is Andy Stanley's Leadership podcast. I've only listened to 3 episodes so far, but what he's selling resonates with me. So far, I can highly recommend it. I've also subscribed to some from the London School of Business and the Harvard Business School. I haven't really listened to those yet, so I can't offer an opinion.

All of that being said, I have a bleg for you as well. What are some of your favorite leadership training materials or resources? Is there a book that you really enjoyed, or is there a website you frequent? Do you have a podcast that is required listening each week?

I have a great opportunity in front of me, and I don't want to screw it up.