Posted by: kenwbudd | April 14, 2009

Leadership; more skills needed in recession

Trust me! I’m a Leader!

The only way out of a difficult situation is through good positive leadership. It has been a long time since I met a leading figure that I respected. Now I would be satisfied with meeting one that I liked and can spend more than 5 minutes in their company. What qualities do you look for in a good leader in these challenging times? Intelligence, foresight, sobriety, etc.

You have heard this introduction before in many guises; money is tight, employee layoffs loom and spirits are dwindling, we’re in a recession. So where are the great leaders and orators that will lift us out of this or are we those great leaders, playing out of position. Maybe you should stop looking out for help and start looking inwards. You, as an IT consultant, subject matter expert or executive have the insight and determination to develop and expand your powers to take on the qualities of a good leader. Why do you not take it to the next level?

Same old same old
You have spent all those years keeping your staff engaged and motivated through numerous spirit breaking projects; company mergers, legacy systems upgrades, application server integrations, etc you are well used to meeting the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune seekers. Managing changing expectations in uncertain times is what you do as a day job. Why do you expect others to do it for you? They are far too busy with more important things, like growing their egos, cubicles and their expense accounts.

You, as the leader
Find within you and develop further, the ability to lead and inspire. In times where fear and instability raise their scary heads, people need someone they can feel confident in. Someone who knows in what direction they should be going, in what direction they are actually going and the potential impact of this delta.

All is questions
You don’t have all the answers, no-one has but you have a team of experts around you that do. If not then expand your points of reference. There is a vast array of knowledge resources out there. Use them.

When all around are losing theirs
Make yourself the go-to guy, the point of contact and voice of reason. A safe haven where people can go and talk freely. Somewhere they can brainstorm without being rained on. Somewhere they can workshop with sharp tools and smart products. It is your job to make them feel good and go away feeling better about who they are, what they’re doing and how they are contributing. People want leaders (strange but true). Look around you and then take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself ‘Who else is going to do it?

Develop your listening skills
Be consistent, be effective, be a frequent communicator, but most important of all, be an intelligent listener. Ask good questions, absorb what’s being said and appreciate the issue that’s being passed to you with the same level of attentiveness and concern as you expect from them.

Short Term benefits
Find the quick wins and short-term benefits to help the team and the organisation. You also need to communicate upwards with the entire leadership team, ensuring that the whole organisation is in agreement and aligned.

Develop your voice
The leadership team as a whole needs to be very committed to the new roadmap. Ask for their buy-in and a demonstration of their unity. After all, you’re asking everybody else to do more with less, why not include the management team. There is no room for passengers and overweight expense accounts on this voyage.

Is there real credibility in the operational results you’re striving for. Be honest, set achievable expectations and execute on promises, if you want to be taken seriously. You can easily declare ‘We pay on results and performance’ but don’t say it if you can’t deliver on it yourself.

Be Captain credible or Rupert realistic
This means striving to deliver better results on projects, more quickly than you may have been accustomed to in the past. How is this possible? No long term projects or milestones allowed. Two- and three-year projects in these recessive times are doomed to fail. The impact on the bottom line has to be shown within 6 – 12 months, for their credibility to be sustained.

Caution, do not pull in the delivery dates too drastically but look at the credible re-structuring of them. Break them into smaller modules, more agile projects, with regular, smaller deliverables that add up to a realistic whole. If you do it right then the sum of the parts will exceed the original whole. It should help you get through the tighter change management and more stringent implementation criteria. You will have witnessed the rapid construction of these recently, safety barriers thrown up by the business to protect themselves from criticism.

Prioritise your priorities
The ability to prioritise is key in these situations, but you have been doing that as a routine anyway. Now think about priorities differently, more like the leader you are. Leadership in a recession requires strong prioritisation skills. Look differently at the expense and capital side and what can get done, as a priority. Look differently at the organisation as a whole and find the core functions that will deliver the short-term results but provide a platform for growth in the future.

The Pareto Principle
Using Pareto’s 80-20 principle, closely examine your IT portfolio and determine which 20% of your investments will give you the 80% benefits.

Innovation re-invented
Innovation, creativity, flexibility and the ability to embrace change, isn’t that where we have been for the last decade. Unfortunately it was aimed at technological solutions but now its concentrated on finding ways to cut expenses without layoffs. If you let people go now when the financial pictures gets murky, where is the rapid growth and steady recovery going to come from? So, for now, you have to be extra creative in trimming your budget, again.

Jettison excess cargo
Big fat overweight expense accounts are underoing a slimming program. Creative scheduling and cutting executives’ perks and pay need to be considered before contemplating employee layoffs. The most agile and productive companies, are completely opposed to layoffs but this is delaying the decision not fixing it. It may lead to having to chew their own limbs off, at a later date.

Layoffs unplugged
Although they believe that layoffs are damaging to motivation i.e. the worst things you could possibly do, and the last tool in the arsenal to pull out, it may become inevitable. A company who begins laying people off, believ that the rest of the people stop worrying about their work and start worrying about themselves and their future. Thus there is a noted drop in productivity in those who remain with the company. Unfortunately they seemed to have accepted the example of a badly handled layoff and I am afraid to say that this may be the norm.

Knowledge losses grow
In past recessions companies laid off workers to please the banks and Wall Street, but when the economy rebounded the costs of finding new hires; recruiting, training and getting them up to speed, was more than the savings that were realised during the layoffs. They also lose the “tribal knowledge” of how things are done in the organization and are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Leadership qualities
The conventional model of a leader is rather dictatorial. One where they believe themselves to be omnipotent; all powerful, larger than life and always sure and definite in their manly stance. They are defensive, secretive and avoid any signs of weakness or criticism. Doors are locked, blame is dished out and examples are made to ‘motivate’ the others.

A good leader, is humble, self-effacive and expresses positive self-doubt when appropriate. He is honest in his praise and criticism alike. They admit to their faults when necessary, but if they do this when it is not appropriate, then it will be interpreted as a weakness.

Tigers caged
You may have read recently, if you were not on a tour of another galaxy, that many conventional business executives have been found out to be no more then paper sabre-toothed tigers and have been easily captured in the news; as willing players in long term corporate scandals, requiring mammoth bailouts. Given those negative headlines we are all dearly wishing that our new ‘leaders’ will aim to provide us with something different.

Teach a man to swim
“‘Fish swimming upstream’ is a good way to describe people who buck conventional wisdom and don’t just go along. The ability to position yourself and your organisation as a sanctuary for good talent. You can spend a lot of time, money and effort seeking out the good people but it is much better if they come to you. Develop the ability to attract, develop and retain top talent.

Networking, networking, networking
Develop a world-class network of your top peers from the IT world, as well as providers and others you’ve encountered in your business dealings. Get the most out of the resource pools that surround you, whether it’s your team, a potential hire, an executive, etc and do not neglect the greater technology community. This is the source of your new promising land.

Don’t go overboard
Moderation in all things! Remember that the knowledge, wisdom and resources at our disposal are far bigger and greater than we ever let ourselves imagine. Just scratch the surface and stand back. These are dangerous waters full of monsters and pirates but having jettisoned excess cargo and found all the stowaways, shored up the leaks and established a true course, be prepared to accept eager boarders on this voyage of discovery. Captain, my captain!

Is Blind faith the best approach when not seeing good results?

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