Manage Performance without Authority

In a recent blog, I defined collaboration as mutual responsibility. A key element of this definition is the idea of being responsible for results without the “illusion of control.” I cannot compel others to commit or perform, but I can ask directly for their commitments, reinforce effective performance, and engage and manage any performance that is off-track. This idea may seem self-evident, but you couldn’t tell by observing the everyday conversations in most organizations. From direct observations, data collection I’ve done, and anecdotes I’ve heard, such conversations are avoided more frequently than engaged. And, if people ever do engage, it’s typically when they can no longer avoid it, so the […]

Collaboration as Mutual Responsibility

Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. Sigmund Freud I think that Freud was wrong, but not totally wrong. I don’t think people are frightened of responsibility. Instead, I think that they’ve been conditioned to believe that someone else should and will be responsible. But, if we want every person to act responsibly – for results, for choices, for the risks they see in others’ decisions and actions – then we must change how we think and talk about responsibility. When I ask people to describe collaboration, the most frequent definition I hear is working together on some shared […]

The Uncomfortable Truth about Leadership Training

Let’s get it out right up front – organizations spend billions every year on leadership training yet see little, if any, change in actions or results.  The uncomfortable truth is that most leadership training is a waste of time and money.  To better understand this situation, we need to look at three critical questions. -Why does most training fail? -Why do companies continue to spend money for so little value? -What steps can you take to make sure that your investment isn’t wasted?   There are several reasons why training fails. Confuse skill and perspective problems – This factor may be the single most common cause for why training fails.  […]

The Most Important Leadership Skill

If you search the web, you will find countless articles that define the characteristics or skills of a great leader – integrity, vision, honesty, creativity, inspiration, accountability, delegation – the lists go on and on.  Yet rarely do I see the single skill that I believe is most important for successful leadership – the skill of listening authentically.   If it appears at all, “communications” is typically near the bottom of most lists.  And, even when a list includes “communications,” it may not include listening among the skills.  Finally, when people do mention listening, most of the discussion is about technique (like attentive listening skills) instead of purpose or goals. […]

Building Strategic IT Business Partners

Let’s start by defining the label.  You aren’t a strategic partner simply because your job title aligns you to an IT business client.  And, you aren’t a strategic partner if you see your role as identifying and addressing the stated needs of that client.  Strategic partners must bring more to the role than addressing stated needs.  A strategic IT business partner will routinely deliver the following results. Identify latent needs, and describe how IT can help clients achieve their goals in unexpected ways. Surface and resolve conflicts about goals, and build consensus on goals across clients. Define a specific, causal connection between IT projects and expected business results. Define and […]

Lean Into Your Mistakes

Every human being (including every leader) is a work in progress, on a developmental journey, moving away from the person they have been, and moving towards the person they are becoming. Whether you’re engaged in a formal coaching process or not, you are likely to have development goals as part of your annual objectives, intended to advance you on this journey. Even if you don’t have formal development goals, you’re probably aware of ways in which you can be more effective as a leader.   For example, you may want to… do a better job of including others and building consensus on decisions be more thoughtful and rigorous about plans […]

Why Tech Projects Fail, and How to Prevent It

The most effective IT leaders I know always seem to have the same three priorities for their work – create measureable business value, make and keep commitments to their clients, and deliver high quality solutions built for sustainable success.  These leaders are true “partners” – seeking to understand the client’s purpose and goals, proactively proposing ideas, and resolving conflicts that might prevent project success.  Despite these leaders’ values and actions, despite their efforts to lead successful projects, the dirty secret of technology implementation is that too many projects blow budgets, miss deadlines, or deliver products that don’t work as promised – or at least not until the next release.   […]

Productive Nonconformity

“Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.” – Emerson   When people think about nonconformity, they often think about superficial things – language, grooming, clothing, and even tools or toys.  But that is not the nonconformity that concerns me here.  The most powerful, useful, yet dangerous nonconformity is to speak out when all the forces around you compel you to silence.   Perhaps the best-known case concerning the need for nonconformity is the debacle that was Enron – 4000 jobs destroyed, $74 billion in lost shareholder value, billions more in losses by creditors, and the dissolution of Arthur Andersen represent only a portion of the final toll.  Based […]

Transform IT into DT

I’ve had the pleasure of working with dozens of great IT leaders, across various industries.  These leaders seem to share the same priorities – create business value, make and keep commitments to clients, and deliver quality solutions built for sustainable success.  Also, these leaders always act as “partners” with their clients – clarifying purpose, proposing solutions, and resolving conflicts that threaten project success.  But, the “best of the best” have gone one step further and moved their organizations from information technology (IT) to decision technology (DT).   The Information Technology Association of America defined IT as “the study, design, development, application, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems.”  I […]

Having Difficult Conversations with Authority Figures

One dangerous effect of American downsizing is that employees’ fear has limited their willingness to engage in the difficult conversations needed to improve performance.  I see and hear about this effect almost everywhere I go, and it seems to get worse all the time. I tell people that avoiding engagement is also a kind of choice, with its own potential risks.  But people seem resigned to these risks, because they pale in comparison with the more immediate consequences they expect will follow any dissent – consequences like job loss, demotion, or being overlooked for the few available opportunities. I believe that this paralyzing fear is bad for both employees and […]