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CIO Unplugged 9/12/12

September 12, 2012 Ed Marx 7 Comments
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Elevation (Part 2)
As Slope Rises, Leadership Must Rise

Last month, I posted on elevation using a mountain climb metaphor and honed in on the privilege of leadership. The unwritten covenant of leading people:

To be the leader I aspire to be, I must elevate to match the slope before me. Anyone can lead when the terrain is flat or even at a moderate incline. But there comes a time when the journey leads to a peak. It’s on this trail where leadership is tested, validated, and honed.

A few months back, I spoke on elevation. Someone asked, “How do I know I and/or my team need to elevate?” That’s a great question.

How do you know you need to elevate? Self-awareness. Take a good look in the mirror.

  • Comfort. If you feel everything is comfortable, you’ve probably reached a state of stagnation. Comfort is cozy, but retards growth.
  • Perfection. When you believe everything is fine, or you’ve reached the top.
  • Reality. When you are unable to discriminate the top 10% of your staff from the pack because they are all “best in class.”
  • Self-evaluation. When you do your annual review, you think you are a perfect performer.
  • Invincibility. You talk more about past accomplishments than the work ahead.

How do you get your team to realize they need to elevate?

First, admit your own need to elevate, and then make necessary changes. Second, provide clarity around expectations and hold others accountable. Finally, share behavioral examples of what it means to elevate. The gaps should become self-evident. Sharing what it means to elevate helps even the most defensive person begin to see a need for change.

Here are a few behavioral examples to begin with. Feel free to add others in the comments.

Elevation is:

  • Manic attention to detail. Mistakes happen. I make them and we all make them. I get it. That said, when I make mistakes because of lack of attention, it makes me look sloppy and takes away hard-fought wins. When I’m late, turn in inaccurate numbers, neglect spell check, screw up e-mail, storage, etc., it hits my credibility. If I lose credibility, I lose our ability to lead.
  • Loving my people by disciplining them when warranted. Just as I lavish praise and recognition for incredible performances, I must balance with discipline. Discipline should always be private.
  • Leading my customers. Customers are not always right. Steve Jobs recognized this. He knew the concepts customers wanted and designed from there and led. Old IT simply responds to customers – order takers. That worked in the past, but will not work for the future as the slope of competition rises. I must be unafraid to lead my customers, even when the customer does not want to be led.
  • "My team is never my enemy." We are a team. We don’t have cycles and emotions to waste fighting one another. I address team conflicts within the context of organizational values and inside our own house. Don’t go outside of this boundary. Don’t go complain to the customer. They have their own issues and don’t want to hear about ours.
  • Not allowing variation from good practice. Or, better said, mavericks will kill you. We’ve all experienced the negative impact of mavericks. Leaders must root out mavericks for the higher good. I am not talking about someone who does things differently and brings unique perspective. I am talking about those who willfully do things they know they should not because they think they know better.
  • Assertiveness. I tire of hearing lame excuses about why things are delayed, i.e. waiting on so-and-so to call or e-mail me, or “The reason we have poor performers is because of HR.” No, I don’t buy that. I pick up the phone or go to their office. Make it happen. The ball is in my court.
  • I can be counted on to do the job expertly and without complaint and without silliness. Reminds me of Garcia. This is required reading.
  • Messaging commander’s intent throughout your organization. If the captain says take the north hill, we take the north hill. If I allow the message to be reinterpreted, I’ll find staff taking the south hill. If there’s a major disconnect between what’s commanded and what people do, it’s a leadership issue.
  • Evaluating employees honestly. If the majority were top performers, we’d have a perfect organization, which we don’t. If I’m friendly to a fault with some of my subordinates, this might blind me, so I must constantly acquire external opinions. If a staff member loses their position, am I concerned more about their impact on our mission or the impact on their lifestyle? My primary concern should be the organization.
  • Knowing I need to elevate. Most do not perceive a need for elevation. Leaders elevate constantly. Period.
  • Being a non-conformist. (Not to be confused with maverick.) Don’t “get” just to get along. Don’t comply simply to fit into the culture. Push against grain where warranted. Change culture if necessary. Never for self; always for the organization.
  • Knowing the mind gives out before the body. Train myself to be strong in mind and my body will follow. Healthy mind, healthy body.
  • Ownership. Own problems. Don’t play ticket tennis. Never give up. Don’t point fingers. Take responsibility and practice accountability.
  • Busting silos. If someone is bleeding, should I wait for a medic since I’m not the medic? No. I go stop the bleeding. Don’t let artificial walls keep you from action.
  • Continuous self-improvement. Don’t wait for a required book study or a class to come along. Ask: How am I better than last year? How have I transformed?
  • Line of sight. Knowing how my efforts lead to the fulfillment of organizational objectives. I must know my individual staff’s mission and staff should know mine. Collectively, they should inspire all of us.
  • Faithfully lifting up and living out the values of the organization.
  • Raising my hand to say, “I found a risk, and we need to address it.”
  • Competency. Doing my job, and doing it well. No shortcuts or cheating the system.
  • Cross-organizational teamwork.
  • Spending more time with users than with my office mates.
  • Embracing correction.
  • Getting eye to eye with those I’ve been entrusted to serve (lead). Never, ever deliver difficult messages via any other means except eye to eye. Never.
  • Pouring myself into those I’m entrusted to serve.

Leadership is tough, especially when the slope rises. You may reach a point along the journey where you hit your limit. That’s okay. Recognize it, and deal with it.

Not everyone reaches the summit. Most mountain expeditions have less than a 50% success rate. Smart climbers know their limits, and they stop and turn around to avoid disaster. Sometimes you need to head back down and regroup before you start back up. Other times, it’s best to let someone else lead.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "7 comments" on this Article:

  1. usually I am a fan, but the Message from Garcia struck a negative nerve – agree with personal responsibility, however, too many words dedicated to slamming labor in my opinion. It also sets up an us vs. them superiority scenario and there is too much of that in society today.

  2. Recipe for success (in all things)… End of the day it’s all about discipline, hard work and focus (on the right things)

    Thanks for the great post!

  3. The letter to Garcia was published in 1899. I’m no historian, but wasn’t that the heyday of management’s exploitation of labor, when the barons of various industries built empires on the backs of underpaid and overworked employees, who toiled in dangerous environments with little in the way of benefits or security? Call me a bleeding heart liberal, but that letter comes off as some entitled prick getting mad that when he orders his employee to carry out some questionable task (like looking up a random name in an encyclopedia) that the employee doesn’t shut up and do it already. God forbid they ask the purpose of the assignment!

  4. IMHO, these wordy anecdotes are relevant when there is a vacuum in talent.

    None of this is necessary in the presence of pure raw talent.

    It’s nice to write though…

  5. I first encountered the ‘Message to Garcia’ pamphlet in Church, and I love love love it. My favorite part is that the author extols this messenger for not asking for any more information than was given him, and sets out to find a Garcia in Cuba. From the piece: “Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?”,” but I also assume that he did not ask any of the questions that the Clerk stupidly asked, like “Who was he?” (that this Garcia is the leader of the insurgents in the Spanish-American war). He simply trudged off and found Garcia.
    What I can’t figure, though, is how it took him three weeks. Garcia is the second most common surname in Cuba — he should have finished his mission in under an hour.

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