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Servant Leaders Can Be Mean Too

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

One misconception about Servant Leaders is that they are just "too nice". Many executives hear the term "Servant Leader" and think, "that person will never make it in our environment" or, "they'll just go easy on the staff and we'll never get anything done". Then there is my favorite: "Servant Leaders just want to be liked by everyone". In reality, Servant Leaders can seem quite mean, depending upon the circumstances. Below are four examples of servant leaders that even Donald Trump could be proud of....
  1. Accountability
    Servant Leaders accept the blame for failures within the team. However, in serving their organization and their stakeholders, they must ensure accountability. As a result, leaders must follow up on failures, identify the root cause, fix whatever process and circumstances are required, but also hold people accountable. This is never an easy conversation and the person accountable for the failure undoubtedly does not like receiving the message. Yet, this dialogue is necessary if the leader is to meet the needs of all stakeholders. What separates the servant leader from others is their assurance to reprimand in private and set clear expectations with guidelines to avoid a recurrence of that failure. In contrast, power-based leaders may use public humiliation tactics to "make an example" of the individual accountable for the failure.

  2. Military
    One of the top Servant Leader consultants and thought leaders, James D. Hunter, has many clients in the military (mostly the U.S. Army and Air Force). When you think about a drill sergeant barking orders at new cadets in a military film, you don't think of "nice guys". However, in preparing these troops for the high demands and significant risks of their future, the sergeant is serving these men and women in some of the most extreme ways. In order to prepare troops to respond in a crisis (see below), they must learn quickly to obey orders, follow a chain of command and countless other concerns in a very short time. What sets the servant leader apart from others is their focus on serving those troops and their community (or country), while other leaders may leverage abusive tactics for their own career advancement.

  3. Crisis
    In times of crisis, the servant leader makes decisive actions that may not always reflect full consensus.Regardless , when quick action is required, especially when that action means risk to the leader, the servant leader steps up to the challenge. Often, in cases of crisis, leaders are slow to step forward - be it for fear of retribution, losing political clout, fear of making the wrong snap judgments or simply the insecurity most feel in such uncertainty. In these times, leaders need to serve by accepting the risks of quick decision making to protect and serve the community. In responding quickly and effectively under crisis, the servant leader may make rushed decisions that are perceived as cruel, unreasonable or simply against the norm. However, to do less in a time of crisis may be detrimental to those they serve. While serving leaders make bold decisions to serve immediate needs of their stakeholders, others may manipulate the circumstances to achieve personal fame and glory for their own benefit.

  4. Managing Out
    In serving their stakeholders, servant leaders often find individuals whose interests and / or skills would be better utilized elsewhere. This may mean on another team or with another company altogether. A servant leader understands the needs of the organization, serves its stakeholders by finding the best people for the job and helps the organization's people find the best job. This may mean people need to be led out of their role, to new opportunities. What sets the servant leader apart from others is their commitment to helping anyone displaced by the shifting needs of an organization. A servant leader goes above and beyond to help their team find the best fit for their skills, experience and passion, regardless of where that fit may be.
When circumstances call for it, servant leaders can seem mean too. However, therein lies the difference between servant leaders and others - there needs to be the right circumstances. Servant leaders don't condemn someone for immaterial savings, they will not belittle vendors to achieve higher service levels and they will not reprimand publicly, just to set an example. A servant leader will not be soft because they want everyone to like them, for if they were, they would not be serving their organization. In serving others, great leaders may seem mean, but they never have to be cruel or respond in a manner that reflects anything other than our commitment to serving stakeholders and our community.

  1. Have you known a leader you thought was "mean" but later realized they were serving the organization?
  2. What other ways have you seen great leaders act in a "mean" way?

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Top 4 Commuter Tips and Tools

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

In Boston, my commute was 90 minutes a day, in the car. In New York, it was 3 hours, each day on the train and walking across midtown Manhattan. Now in Michigan, I still spend 2 hours a day in the car. You might say I am proficient at commuting. With this proficiency comes many solutions for maximizing productivity during the commute. Here's what I find helps and recommend to fellow commuters:

1. iPod / MP3 Player: The obvious. I won't say much about it, as an MP3 player is ubiquitous these days. However, it also underlies many of the tools / tips below.

2. Audio Books: Audio books can be immensely helpful on your commute. If you spend just 20 minutes a day listening to a book, you'll find your library rapidly expanded. You will not absorb as much in one "hearing" of a book as a "reading". However, I listen to the best books 4 or 5 times. By that point, I've absorbed far more than one read, often in less time. For resources, many people like, but I find iTunes has most of the same books and have not made the leap to a subscription service yet.

3. Podcasts: Better than audio books for current events and technology updates. If you want to stay on top of the latest news, why not do it on the commute and save that time when you're home for the kids or other activities?

4. Dictation: Dictation is the greatest productivity tool. With the right tools, you can use dictation for everything from email, to drafting documents, book writing, blog posts and more. The trick is finding a good microphone and digital recorder, then obtaining the right software for conversion to text. My recommendations follow:

4.A Digital Recorder: There are lots of good digital recorders. However, I prefer to use the Griffin iTalk Professional, which allows me to reduce the number of devices I carry by converting my iPod into a digital recorder.

4.B Headset Microphone: You'll need a quality headset microphone to ensure the background / road noise is minimized. The products vary here as well. However, I've had great success with the default headset provided by Dragon Naturally Speaking. Most important, remember that the positioning of the microphone is unbelievably important, so a flexible arm is also good.

4.C Dragon Naturally Speaking: The best software for speech-to-text I've used. Although Vista now comes bundled with it's own speech-to-text software, it simply does not compare. The Microsoft product still seems a few generations behind and there's no simple way to do recorded dictation from an audio file. For $150, DNS will save you a lot of time. I use the preferred mobile edition.

4.D Audacity / Sound Editing Software:
This helps when the background noise from your recording is too great for automated dictation. A simple sound editing program can fix this. I love the open source (free) Audacity program. With this tool you can edit out background noise and improve the automated dictation results.

4.E Transcription Service: When all else fails, transcription services are pretty inexpensive these days. Checkout eLance or similar sites for the best rates & reviews on service providers.

I have not found a text-to-speech program I like. If you have a recommendation, please share it here.

So the next time you are commuting a long distance and worried about wasted time, turn those lemons into lemonade. With the right tools, you may find your commute turning into one of your most productive periods of the day.

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Importance of Transparency - Day in the Life of the Team (Part 3/3)

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

Note: The conclusion of our 3 part series, this message reflects on the perception and realities between leaders and individual contributors. Part one was "A Day in the Life of Your Staff". Part two was "A Day in the Life of Your Boss".

We saw both sides of the story. The individual contributor, Jonathon, working incredibly hard and striving to do the right thing, is misunderstood and feels undervalued. The team leader, Michelle, is looking out for the best interests of her team and the company, but is viewed as a taskmaster, unwilling to contribute the same long hours demanded of her team. The world is full of Jonathons and Michelles. The reality is, many individual contributors and team leaders are more alike than they may realize. This gap in understanding is often the result of insufficient transparency between the two. Below are some suggestions, framed by this business fable, for individual contributors and team leaders to improve transparency.

The Individual Contributor (Jonathon)
  1. Provide Timely Updates: When a sudden change occurs that may impact your deadlines, quickly summarize the incident. The timeliness of these updates may be more important than the detail. However, managers also need to understand this practice and have the patience to get the full picture later, when the team members can more effectively provide a full explanation. In so doing, the team leader can quickly respond, if needed, to reset expectations or shift priorities. For example, if there was a quick update from Jonathon before he came into the office, Michelle could have explained that she needed that estimate by noon because there was an external commitment.
  2. Understand the Drivers: When asked for a deliverable, especially on short notice, ensure you understand the motivation or driving circumstances. This will enable you to make the right decisions on priorities if something new arises. For example, in this case, Jonathon would have understood the motivation and may have asked Jerry if his production problem could wait until the afternoon, when the estimate was completed.
  3. Explain Incidents Completely: After the dust settles, ensure all details are captured with an excellent executive summary. Be careful this message does not come across as whining. Your message should remain fact-based and clarify what you accept responsibility for fixing and / or improving. At the same time, ensure your boss understands why you made the decisions you did. The executive summary is also important. As witnessed in this example, personnel leaders are busy too. Jon's 8:30 PM email to Michelle was a decent summary, but lacked the supporting detail Michelle could have used to really understand Jon's many contributions that day.
  4. Empathize With Your Boss: Don't assume you know everything your boss does. In the case where Jon saw Michelle leaving at a decent hour, he was not aware of her 4:00 AM calls or the extent of her time that was focused on personnel concerns - including ensuring his position was not lost. People managers often have a tremendous amount of responsibility and additional tasks above and beyond those transparent to the team.

The Team Leader (Michelle)

  1. Empower Your Team to Prioritize: In today's dynamic workplace environment, priorities change quickly. As the "boss", you can't always be there to adjust priorities for your team. Therefore, we must empower our teams by providing them sufficient data to prioritize both effectively and independently. Too often, leaders assume staff will guess the right prioritization if something else critical comes up. In this example, Michelle failed to provide Jon the reasoning for the noon deadline. As a result, Jon did not shift priorities appropriately, in part, from a lack of information.
  2. Get the Facts Before Responding: Leaders should not reprimand before they are certain to have all the details. In this case, Michelle's roll of the eyes and negative feedback about the missed deadline, before she fully understood the situation, was a poor response. Instead of reprimanding on the spot and in public settings, Michelle should have requested Jon send her an explanation on why the deadline was missed and what the two of them (including herself) could do in the future to avoid another incident.
  3. Deliver Thorough Feedback: Empowered by all the facts, leaders should provide comprehensive feedback. For example, Michelle was really impressed with Jon's report - it exemplified why she asked him to do it. However, her message reflected the lack of her full comprehension on surrounding circumstances and her inability to make appropriate time available to respond completely. It's important to note though, that this feedback can't be too late, as good feedback is specific and timely. There is a delicate balance that is more art than science.
  4. Clarify Commitments: Share your calendar with the team, both formally and informally. There are plenty of technical solutions available, but this requires informal communication as well. For example, if you have regular calls at 4AM, they should know. Not that you need to broadcast it, but if you're leaving early one day, explain why. If you're tired during an evening meeting, inform the team it is not because of disinterest in the topic. This is not to suggest that working long hours should be celebrated - working smarter should. However, when demanding times call for more hours from your team, it is important they realize your are doing your part as well.
This is not to suggest there are no bad bosses or poorly performing team members. However, there are plenty of great bosses and individual contributors that are undervalued due to a lack of transparency between the two. To ensure you are not perceived incorrectly and to deliver the most effective and sustainable results, focus on providing and promoting transparency throughout your organization.

Additional questions for reflection:
  1. What other tips do you have for improving transparency in teams?
  2. Are there other missed opportunities for transparency you see in this business fable?
  3. From your own experience, do you feel you are transparent with your own boss or team?

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Day in the Life of Your Boss (Transparency Part 2 of 3)

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

First time managers often realize they underestimated how many additional responsibilities management entails and the efforts supervisors perform behind the scenes. So, before you suggest your boss does not work as hard as you, does not appreciate your contributions, or simply doesn't "get it", consider this short parable about one such - admittedly imperfect - manager. It begins with a long, restful evening...

A Day in the Life of Your BossSleeping In
Michelle awoke to the obnoxious sound of her alarm clock ringing at 2:45 AM. It was 3:45 PM for her Asian colleagues she had visited earlier that month. While there, she learned how frustrating it was for her team members to always conform to U.S. time zones. Michelle believed in supporting her team and began accommodating them by awaking incredibly early for these weekly calls. Ugh, she groaned, rolling out bed, trying not to wake her husband anymore than the alarm clock.

Before she got into the agenda with the team, Michelle was interrupted by Yoko, the team lead in Japan. Yoko explained that one of her team members quit yesterday and another threatened to leave, based on a disagreement with management in a parallel department. Michelle was surprised - these were two rising stars in Asia. Losing one was bad, but losing both could have disastrous results. The meeting agenda was out the window, as Michelle began a deep dive, asking what it would take to make the situation right and if anyone had suggestions. She left the meeting with a list of ideas to review with Human Resources. However, she knew time was of the essence and needed to resolve this before the start of the business day tomorrow in Japan - seven o'clock PM her time.

Unpleasant Surprises
When the conference call ended, Michelle sent a long, thorough email to her HR representative. She would be in meetings most of the morning and had another important dialogue with the VP of Marketing at noon. As a result, she'd only have brief periods to respond to questions. By the time the email was out, she had just enough time to get ready for work and be in the office by 7:30 AM. Her boss called an urgent meeting where she anticipated a discussion on the current financial crisis. Michelle feared the worst expectations would be delivered.

Michelle entered the conference room as the meeting started. The vice president of her division began by getting straight to the point. He laid out the bad news Michelle feared most. The difficult year resulted in drastic requirements for the fourth quarter and the company had to make some serious cuts. Each department would have to reduce head count by at least one employee in the United States. Michelle immediately recalled the advice of one of her mentors who said, "remember, you're not firing a person, you are firing a family." Her heart sank as she tried to determine which employee's family she would let go from her already understaffed team. Before leaving the meeting, she reconfirmed, "Yes, I'm sorry, it must be a U.S.-based employee. Remember team, this is for the greater good", her boss assured the team as they filed out.

On the way back to her desk, Michelle saw Jonathan coming in late... again. "Great", she thought to herself, "now Mark, has more ammunition to press for firing Jon". Mark, one of Michelle's peers, seemed to have a personal vendetta for Jon. But Michelle knew better. She knew Jonathon was a great performer, in spite of his spotty tardiness and occasional missed deadlines. With the morning's pressure, Michelle uncharacteristically let a roll of her eyes slip out as she passed Jon in the hall.

Long Breaks
With 15 minutes before her next meeting, Michelle sat in her office to figure out who she was going to layoff. She also emailed the HR department again about the Asia surprise. Unfortunately, it seemed HR could not meet any of the options her team in the region suggested. "Stumped again," she thought. Feeling it was necessary to speak directly with her HR department head, she walked into his office and presented the facts. "I've already lost an excellent team member in Japan last night and I'm about to lose another. At the same time I am being asked to reduce head count in the U.S. - can't we leverage this situation to minimize the impact to the team?"

Her HR representative leaned back in his chair in deep thought. Michelle took a seat. "Hmmm..." the HR guru pondered. There was a long silence, before he spoke, "The cuts in headcount are ultimately about saving expenses. For a variety of reasons, there must be position elimination associated to your cuts and the budget reduction must be from your U.S. budget." He paused, as if hesitating on whether to provide the following option. "However, I suppose you could reduce your U.S. budget accordingly and match that with a headcount reduction in another region." Michelle saw a light at the end of the tunnel, but knew this, in effect, meant doubleing the expense reduction, something she was not certain she could do, but she'd try. Michelle thanked him and began heading out the door when she heard him say, "just remember, we need your decisions before the start of business tomorrow morning."

As she went in and out of meetings the remainder of the morning, Michelle spent the better part of her time working out a solution. She emailed the draft to HR and her boss just before her noon meeting. She knew it was not bullet proof, but if she could get their alignment, the finer details could be resolved this evening.

Always Blaming Others
Michelle headed down to Jonathon's office to pick up a report he promised. On the way, she bumped into Mark. "So, you know who you have to let go, don't you Michelle?" Mark asked without reservation. Mark had been with the company longer and technically had a more senior title. As a result, though he had not earned Michelle's respect, he felt he had positional authority over her and often made demands of her as though he was her boss.

"Mark, I appreciate your position, but I need to make this decision on my own and I will make it based on the requirements of my team and what we need to be successful" Michelle responded, trying to make as little eye contact as possible. "I'm sorry, but I have to run as I am late for a meeting."

She needed to only pop her head into the office to see Jonathon furiously typing away in a chat sessions. "Michelle, I'm really sorry, but I don't have that report for you" Jon's bad news was just one more in the string of unfortunate news that morning.

"Damn it Jon, I really needed those numbers" recognizing the impact of the morning's events, Michele tried to control her increasingly short temper. "I've got a meeting with our VP of marketing at noon and I promised him I'd have it by then.""

Jon did not realize Michelle had made a commitment to the business by noon. Before he could explain further, Michelle continued, "I think we have an issue Jon. You need to work on meeting deadlines and your prioritization methods."

Tired from an early morning support call and feeling a bit defeated, Jon looked down and replied, "I understand and I'll work on it Michelle."

"Right, well, that's all I ask. Thank you. So when can you have the estimate completed?"

"Certainly by the end of the day today, maybe sooner." Jon promised.

"Alrighty then, I'll tell him to expect the report on his desk in the morning. Thank you Jon." Michelle knew it was important to thank him. Jon was a hard worker, he just didn't always have his priorities right, she felt. So she didn't like being hard on him, but had to let him know she was unhappy.

No Accountability
Michelle had to explain to the Vice President why she did not have the promised report. She took accountability and explained she should have managed it more closely. However, she assured him it would be ready in the morning. He seemed unhappy, but was comforted to know it would be there in the morning. This was not the impact Michelle wanted to have. She liked ensuring her customers knew they could count on her, and her team, to deliver effectively, but it was the best she could do to promise the report the next morning. After leaving the disappointing lunch meeting, Michelle went back to work on her challenge with HR and her boss for cost reductions. There were several questions in her inbox regarding the proposed solution. Although it would reduce her budget substantially, Michelle was focused on retaining the employees she could. This would take all afternoon.

It was a frantic 5 hours as she responded to question after question, both from her boss and HR. Each answer seemed to bring new questions. Each question required more research, charts and data. However, by 5:30, she received the answer she hoped for - she could use the open position in Japan, balanced with expense savings elsewhere in the U.S. to meet her cost reduction objectives. She was momentarily relieved, before she reflected back on the other employee in Japan that threatened to leave. She still didn't have an answer for them, HR had left for the day, and she wasn't sure what she could promise.

Always Leaving Early
Tired, knowing she had another 4:00 AM call the next day and several emails to send out yet that evening, including the message for the estimate she hoped Jonathon was sending later, Michelle decided to go home for dinner before getting back online for the evening.

It was about 8:30 PM when Michelle finally got Jonathon's report. It was very well done - an example of the quality of work she knew he was capable of. She was tired though, had an early morning ahead of her and still had to write the email to her business customer that requested the estimate. As a result, she sent a short note of gratitude to Jon:
Thanks Jon. Looks great. No questions.
Michelle went to bed with her head racing. What would she propose to her team lead in Japan? How would the VP of Marketing receive the estimate? What would Mark say when he found out she had found a solution that did not require laying anyone off in the U.S.? How would she formally address Jon's missed deadline. She wondered if she would get any sleep before the 3:45 AM alarm rang again.

NOTE: This deviation from the usual format is part 2 in a 3 part series on the importance of transparency between team members and their leadership. I welcome your comments and feedback on this foray into business parables. Part 1 is titled "A Day in the Life of Your Staff". Part 3: "Transparency Between Leaders and Their Team" is coming soon.

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A Day in the Life of Your Staff (Transparency Part 1 of 3)

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 2 Comments

How well do you know what members of your team do on a regular basis? Consider this parable of one employee's interactions with his supervisor. It's part one in a three part piece on the importance of transparency between leaders and their team. We begin with a reflection on the peaceful nights so many individual contributors experience...

Employee Working Late at Night
Peaceful Nights
Jonathon woke to his Blackberry ringing. Rolling over, still blurry-eyed, he saw the alarm clock glaring back with “3:05 AM”. This couldn’t be good, he thought to himself as he sat upright and tried to clear his throat before answering. “Hello, Jonathon here.”

“Hi Jon, it’s Jerry, down at the Data Center. I’m afraid we’ve got a problem. It seems one of the servers crashed and we can’t get it to stay up.”

“Which one?” Jonathon asked, hoping it was a low value system so he could continue sleeping.

“It’s ProdBatchFin_05-”

“Ah, crap…” Jonathon interrupted. This was the production server where financial system batch jobs ran nightly. Usually that's not that big of a deal and it can be fixed in the morning, but this was the end of the quarter. If the financial systems didn’t update properly by the morning, the finance and accounting teams couldn’t close out the books on schedule. “All right, hang on Jerry, I’m going to boot up.”

Moments later, Jon was sitting in his kitchen, trying to be quiet, so as not to disturb his wife or young daughter sleeping down the hall. “Alright Jerry, give me the low down”.

“Well here’s the deal – it was running really slow and although we tried clearing the cache and all the usual preventative measures, it still crashed. It’s been down for about 15 minutes now.

The two went back and forth for a couple hours, bringing the server back to life by about 6:00 AM – just in time to get Jonathon’s daughter ready for school. He still had to file a report of the incident and notify some of the financial system users that their data may be a bit late, but that could wait until after his daughter was on the bus.

Leisurely Entry
With his daughter off to school, Jonathon got dressed and headed to the office. Although he was running a late, he figured his boss would understand. However, as he walked in the office, his supervisor, Michelle, saw him and looked quite unhappy. Brushing it off, Jon sat at his desk and began running through his plans for the day.

Although not typically his job, Jon knew he had to complete an estimate for Michelle by noon. The team lost credibility recently, due to some particularly poor estimates that created significant gaps in project budgets. As a result, when this project request came in, Michelle asked him to personally oversee it, to ensure accuracy. After a quick check of email to ensure there were no critical requests, Jon was submerged in creating the report.

Socializing with Friends
Shortly after starting the report, Jon’s instant messenger blinked. It was Eric, his friend in product development who recently helped him and Michelle with a critical fix they needed. “Jon buddy, old pal, good friend…” Eric was still typing, but it was clear to Jonathon that a significant favor was about to be requested. “It seems one of the new marketing applications I wrote has a bug in the code. I can’t get access to the system, but you know that system too and can resolve it before many more customers see it. Any chance you can help me fix it?”

Jon’s eyes glanced down to the start of his estimate for Michelle and back at the instant messenger window, blinking impatiently. Jon knew he owed Eric and undoubtedly, would need to call upon him again soon. “Sure Eric, I’ll take a look, but time is tight, so we have to be quick". Eric and Jon began reviewing the details of the problem. The problem turned out to be a bit more challenging than anticipated though and before he knew it, Michelle was standing in Jon’s door, looking for the estimate - "was it noon already?!" he thought to himself.

"I'm sorry Michelle, something came up last night and Eric needed a fix first thing this morning, so I-"

"Damn it Jon. I really needed those numbers. I've got a meeting with our VP of Marketing at noon and I promised him I'd have it for him by then." Michelle was visibly frustrated and Jonathon was at a loss for words. He didn't realize she had a meeting at noon to share the data, he thought it was - His thoughts were interrupted again by Michelle. "I think we have an issue Jon. You need to start reevaluating how you prioritize and improve upon meeting deadlines."

"I understand and I'll work on it Michelle" Jon, said, too tired to explain and feeling a bit defeated.

"Right, well, that's all I ask. Thank you. So when can you have the estimate completed?"

"Certainly by the end of the day today, maybe sooner."

"Alright then, I'll tell him to expect the report on his desk in the morning. Thank you Jon." Michelle said, not really meaning it, as she turned and walked away.

“Well, there goes lunch”, Jon thought to himself.

Missing Deadlines
Jonathon wrapped up his help with Eric soon after the confrontation with Michelle and began working on her estimate. He had to attend several meetings that afternoon, but managed to multi-task and work in enough time to get something presentable for Michelle completed by five o’clock. It still was not the slam dunk he wanted though, so he called to ensure his wife could pick up their daughter from rehearsal. "Sure, Jon. Working late again tonight, huh?"

"Yeah, sorry, I promise, this should be the last time this week."

"Uh-huh" his wife said, unconvinced.

At 5:30, Jon saw Michelle leave the office. “Geeze”, he thought to himself, sarcastically, “I sure am glad she works so hard”. Regardless, he was making progress on the estimate report and he knew it would be just what she needed to impress the Vice President.

8:30 PM and the report was perfect. The estimates included many different options, spelled out in great detail, so the business could decide which solution they wanted and even pick from a variety of options within each solution. Every option included price ranges with a degree of accuracy attributed to it. The report would have impressed Michelle too, if it had been done by noon. Jon's email to Michelle that night read:

Here is the estimate you requested. I apologize this was late, but there was a production issue last night and Eric needed some help this morning.

Let me know if you need any revisions, I will be online when I get home later tonight.

- Jon
As Jon hit "send" he thought to himself, I wish Michelle understood better how busy I am and how hard I try. Michelle's email came back on Jon's Blackberry as he pulled into his driveway at nine o’clock:
Thanks Jon. Looks great. No questions.

NOTE: This deviation from the usual format is part 1 in a 3 part series on the necessity of transparency between team members and their leadership. I welcome your comments and feedback on this foray into business parables. Part 2, "A Day in the Life of Your Boss" is now available.

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5 Tips for Work Life Alignment, Not Balance

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 1 Comments

Aligning Work and Personal Life
Do you go home every work night feeling drained, with no energy left for your family, friends and other personal activities? While this is normal on occasion, it should not be the norm. Too many people believe the solution is work/life balance. Yet have you ever met someone that has found the perfect balance where work never comes up at home and home life never comes up at work? In contrast, many people have found the perfect work/life alignment. Work/life alignment occurs when one is equally comfortable at work and outside the office, handling both personal and professional activities in either environment. It's amazing how much more energy and enjoyment one finds when they stop trying to balance their work and personal life and focus instead on aligning the two.

Below are 5 tips that help me achieve greater alignment:
  1. Be Yourself at Work
  2. Work for a Mission You Believe In
  3. Prioritize Your Work
  4. Find a Boss You Trust
  5. Establish Friendships at Work
1. Be Yourself at Work
Are you putting on a different face when you go to work? The business term is a lack of diversity or individual acceptance. We're not talking just about skin color, religious beliefs or personal lifestyle. Instead, we're talking about who you are at the core. You could be in a room full of people that look like you, have similar philosophies and even follow the same interests outside of work. However, you could be miles apart in your personalities. You may be a boisterous, outgoing individual, who likes to tell it like it is. Meanwhile, your coworkers may discourage this in preference of a calm demeanor, a quiet office or a more formalized interaction. Neither approach is right or wrong, just different. One may be more appropriate than another for certain companies. Regardless, you need to find the environment where you can be yourself to be happiest. Personality tests, like the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator can help you better identify and align your personality with others.

Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks Coffee International wrote about a similar challenge early in his career. After a big promotion, the CEO of the furniture company where he worked pulled him aside and told him how, now that he was an executive, he needed to stop wearing his heart on the sleeve so much. Behar was crushed as he tried to contain his attitude, bottling up his personality and forcing himself to act like someone he was not. He was uncomfortable and unhappy every day. In the end, Behar left that company and joined Starbucks, where he helped the company become an amazing success - all while being himself and wearing his heart on the sleeve. Two for-profit companies, one allowed him to be himself, resulting in remarkable success for both Behar and the company. The other company you've likely never heard of before.

2. Work for a Mission You Believe In
Where you work does not have to be an altruistic non-profit, but it needs to have a mission in which you believe. Do you work for a company that makes clothes, or a company that improves people's lives, by providing the fashions that make them look good, feel more confident and be more comfortable? Does your company have moral and ethical standards that align with your own? Even if the company does not produce products you use or fully comprehend, it may have a mission to support non-profits, benefit the community in which it is located or otherwise provide some greater good to the world through a mission you can believe in. If it does not, how can you justify the effort you put into that company? And if you can't reasonably justify your work for some greater good than your financial income, you'll always feel like you're spending too much time at the office.

Now, if you can't find a mission at your company you believe in, must you leave that company? Perhaps, but not necessarily. First, try creating that mission. Perhaps organize the next community support event or non-profit fund raising campaign. Whatever your passion, chances are there is some way you can create a mission within or closely aligned to your company. If not, then yes, maybe it is time to find another employer with a mission that moves you.

3. Prioritize Your Work
All too often we believe that to be successful, one must do everything that is asked of them, as quickly as possible. We believe working 60 hours a week, month after month after month assures recognition and success. However, that is often not the case. How many people do you know that work ridiculous hours and ultimately achieved more senior levels? The reality is that the work horse in the room is often appreciated, but rarely promoted. The greatest leaders tend to be those that know how to prioritize. They do not say "no", but simply, "not now". Successful alignment means recognizing that many ideas have great merit and value, but only those with the greatest value should be prioritized against finite resources.

Look at your favorite leaders and mentors, for example. Most successful leaders are not running around in a hectic pace or seemingly under a great deal of stress to address everything possible. Instead, the leaders most people would like to emulate seem calm, cool and collected. These leaders have enough time to do what is right - what they prioritize as most important, now. These are the leaders that have their work and personal life aligned, in part, because they know how to prioritize at the office.

4. Find a Boss You Trust
When you work for someone you respect, both parties benefit. When you are encouraged by a superior and believe they want to help your career, you want to do the same for them. In such a scenario, you will find a way to achieve what your supervisor needs you to get done and often, more. The inverse is also true. When you do not trust your boss or believe they only seek their own success over the team's, you will have little motivation. People with bad bosses find the quickest way, to the easiest solution, to provide just barely what their boss needs. Nobody's going above and beyond for a boss they do not trust.

The book Five Dysfunctions of a Team (on the recommended reading list) explains how trust is at the heart of every team. Without trust, there will be an inattention to results, a fear of conflict, lack of commitment and an avoidance of accountability. Therefore, without trust, there will be little professional success, without success, limited professional fulfillment and your personal life suffers.

5. Establish Friendships at Work
In the last post, I mentioned the Gallup Poll that highlighted the importance of employees having friends at work. This study shows the benefits to the business, such as greater morale, higher levels of quality and strong alignment to the company's mission (for more, see the links above). In addition to the benefits to the employer, there are strong benefits to the employees. Friends at work also provide a support network when one needs to blow off a little steam or has a personal emergency. The friend network improves an employee's ability to feel comfortable at the office and strengthens their feeling of belonging. When a team member has friends around them, the office can shift from just work to a place where they see friends while accomplishing tasks.

Try this for yourself. If you already have friends at work, great - imagine what it would be like without them. Where would you turn to relax and how comfortable would you feel? If you do not have friends at work, try harder. You'll be amazed how anxious some people may be to get to know you on a more personal basis. If you are really not comfortable making friends at work directly, try to at least find some manner of friendship aligned with your work, such as in a professional network.

Too many people today still try to balance separate lives. "Try" is the key word here. Like a teeter-totter, you can not stay perfectly balanced all the time. However, if you seek alignment rather than balance, you find greater, more sustainable results. When you are aligned, you are equally happy addressing personal life at the office and professional matters at home, as necessary. While there will always be a primary focus on one or the other, both will offer equal comfort, confidence and success in any environment. When this occurs, you know you have work-life alignment and not just a balancing act.

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5 Reasons Leaders Should Not Fear Social Media

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

The best leaders today understand the power of relationships, especially when it comes to business. As a result, most leaders have a strong network of colleagues that, over the years, become friends. These friendships and business partnerships extend online as well. However, many straggling organizations still insist upon blocking traffic to "social sites". In contrast, the best led companies do not fear social media - they embrace it. The strongest leaders leverage the benefits of social technology while addressing the risks in a manner that empowers their teams but protects the company. Below are 5 reasons great leaders should not fear social media and a balanced reflection on the risks.

1. Best Friends At Work
Who still believes that work is impersonal? When was it necessary to ensure that your business contacts are not also friends? Need we remind some organizations of the Gallup Organization's findings from their study of high performing organizations:

Gallup... observed that employees who report having a best friend at work were1:
  • 43% more likely to report having received praise or recognition for their work in the last seven days.

  • 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development

  • 35% more likely to report coworker commitment to quality.

  • 28% more likely to report that in the last six months, someone at work has talked to them about their progress

  • 27% more likely to report that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important

  • 27% more likely to report that their opinions seem to count at work.

  • 21% more likely to report that at work, they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day.

2. Companies Don't Buy & Sell, People Do
When it comes to major agreements and long term commitments, people do not simply buy something from a company. Instead, they build partnerships and gain understanding from those partners about that company and their products. Then, business partners create mutually beneficial, value generating agreements together. The net result, after years of success on both ends of those deals is a stronger relationship, often extending into friendships. Those friendships can generate trust and efficiency which transcends employers, creates stronger networks and brings value to the next company by which either partner is employed. No longer does a person bring only their experience and skills to a company that hires them, but they bring the skills, experience and trust of their network as well.

3. Who Do You Want in Your Foxhole?
When times get tough, who do you want in your foxhole with you? Someone you only know based on their numbers, contracts, functional requirements and other formalities? Do you really think such an individual will stick their neck out for you or go that extra mile, unless the compensation is there? Or, do you want someone you've known well, whose family you know by name and whose favorite charity you supported last year? If nothing else, it helps to know your business partner's spouse will yell at them if they screw up a deal they committed to you on.

4. Innovation
Structured, internal, corporate innovation alone is too constrained for today's global economy. Innovation does not work well in a vacuum. The more creative outlets and inlets you provide your entire staff, the greater the chance they will discover breakthrough innovations. As your staff listens to their friends complain about how the products your competitors make, fail to meet their needs, they will better understand the implications of your engineering, research & development. The more your teams hear their contacts mention the need for someone to invent a solution to xyz problem, the greater the chance your company will create and solve that new market problem.

5. Mass Dialogue
Never before in history, has the opportunity for mass dialogue existed in such a manner as what social media provides. Print media creates mass, one way communication. Television does the same. Static website are no better. Previous communications technologies equate to shouting at your customers. With social media, feedback mechanisms like rated reviews, number of views and frequency of comments provide a means by which leaders can proactively hear the unified voice that is their consumer mass. This creates, in essence, a platform by which leaders can carry on a mass dialogue, like never before.

Dark Side
Don't get me wrong, their are risks inherent to social media as well. Yes, your employee could reveal some deep, dark, corporate secret. Or, someone claiming to speak on your organization's behalf may slip and act unprofessionally in a business forum. There may even be a greater volume of technical risks, such as computer viruses, worms and social engineering in these mediums. However, the solution to these risks are the same they've always been: education, training, policy and appropriate network security. The solution is not cutting off your company from opportunities for fear of the unknown.

In the end, as technical leaders in your organization, it is up to you to set the expectations of the company with regard to innovative opportunities. This evolution in communication technology is no different. The next time you debate blocking the latest social media site, consider, instead, joining the site and putting your great staff to task in finding the right way to keep that channel open for the corporation to leverage all benefits, without exposing you to the usual risks.

1. July 10, 2009.

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New Book: Servant Leadership for Project Management

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

Recently published, "Business Driven PMO Setup, Practical Insights, Techniques and Case Examples for Ensuring Success", written by Mark Price Perry, includes a chapter on the Project Management Office (PMO) as servant leaders. As Senior Vice President of Operations at BOT International, host of The PMO Podcast and a regular contributor to, Perry has a wealth of hands-on experience and a keen awareness for Project Management work "in the real world". In addition, his servant leader values were apparent not only in the book's content, but in his approach to it's creation as well. With 20 contributors, Mark was certain to balance his own insights with the experience and opinions of other practitioners. In fact, I was honored to be included as a contributor to the chapter on Servant Leadership.

In the chapter entitled, "Project Management Leadership: Servant-Leader vs. Subject Matter Expert", Perry introduces the concept of servant leadership for project managers. In addition, the author presents servant leadership for the PMO in the framework of the 10 servant leadership characteristices defined by Larry Spears (Listening, Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the Growth of People and Building Community). In addition, contributor Jennifer Arndt, PMO Manager for the American Chemical Society, wrote about Situational Leadership for project managers while Michelle LaBrosse, Founder and CEO of Cheetah Learning, wrote about How to Get What You Want.

In my contribution, entitled, "Servant Leadership for the IT Project Manager", I explain why the project manager is best positioned in the organization to execute and / or change leadership culture in an organization, given their multiple cross-functional touchpoints. In addition, I explained that Project Managers need to look at the Complete Return On Investment (CROI) for a project, not simply the tradditional, financial perspective. In addition to the standard financial ROI, the Complete Project ROI encompasses values such as new skills obtained by the project team, team building outcomes, education of stakeholders and enhanced morale. Finally, this contribution also addressed the concerns project managers face in the times of a crisis or turnaround and how we, as servant leaders, should respond.

Mark has done an outstanding job in creating a book every Project Manager should have on their shelf and he is receiving excellent reviews as a result. The feedback implies "Mission Accomplished" for Perry as he delivered the no-nonsense, real world actionable insights that seem lacking in today's Project Management literature and guides. I encourage you to pick up a copy (no, I do not receive a commision).

Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Mission, Goals and Objectives — Business Driven vs. Theory Driven
Chapter 2: Organization — Constituent Oriented vs. Inwardly Focused
Chapter 3: Managing Projects — Think Process, Not Methodology
Chapter 4: Managing the PMO — Embracing Flexibility vs. Mandating Conformance
Chapter 5: PMO Tools — Establishing a PMO Architecture vs. Implementing a Tool
Chapter 6: Executive Reporting — Keeping It Simple
Chapter 7: PMO Leadership — MBWA 2.0 vs. The Meeting Manager
Chapter 8: Project Management Leadership — Servant Leader vs. Subject Matter Expert
Chapter 9: Creating High Performance Teams
Chapter 10: Establishing a PMO — A Practical Roadmap
Chapter 11: Line of Business PMOs — The Ubiquitous Nature of Project Management
Chapter 12: Advancing Organizational Project Management — From Theory to Practice
Chapter 13: PMO Passion — Where does it come from?

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Conference Leadership Impressions from SAP SAPPHIRE

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

I was very fortunate to be offered a coveted pass to SAP's Sapphire conference last week. This is one of the larger conferences in the IT industry and specifically targets senior managers and executives requiring large-scale applications. As a result, although I was there for my employer and focused my time on their solutions, I also observed some of the leadership styles by so many information technology executives attending this conference. The attendance was down - a sign of the economic times, but there remained a broad range of leadership styles represented by Speakers, Vendors and Bloggers. Below are observations on the leadership styles these individuals presented at the conference*.

Speakers & SAP Executives (Positive)
While commitments back at the office prevented me from catching all of the keynote speakers and SAP executives presenting, I was able to get to most of the top keynotes.
Opening Keynote: Abbe Mulders & Steven Levitt (Neutral)
Major themes for this conference included clarity, transparency, Sustainability and, of course, advances in technology. A promising start for SAP Executive leadership and speaker expectations. The conference kicked off with Ms. Abbe Mulders, ASUG Vice Chairperson, Dow Corning Corporation CIO and Mr. Steven Levitt author of FREAKONOMICS. Abbe provided a good welcome and spoke of the power of ASUG, (the American SAP User Group). Again, a plus for recognizing the power of users, collaboration and support. Levitt provided a very revealing life history that included the fact that his father was not stellar in medical studies and practice, but chose the very uncommon field of intestinal gas. It worked for him - he became recognized as an expert in his field, even including a GQ article dubbing him "The King of Farts". Following in his footsteps, in a manner, the younger Levitt found himself terrible at Math - a bad sign for economists. However, he focused on very unique circumstances in which very few "self-respecting" economists practiced. It worked for him as well. This emphasis on "anything's possible" when you focus on the right area, was also a positive for leadership.

The only real negative from the opening Keynote was Levitt's surprising factor that drunk walkers are 8 times more likely to die than drunk drivers. Shocking as this may be, he avoided addressing the risks to others in equivalent detail. One would think drunk drivers are far more likely to kill others than drunk walkers. A setback for transparency by speakers at the conference.

Léo Apotheker (Positive)
Well rehearsed and spoken, Apotheker presented the importance of clarity and transparency SAP provides its clients to their customers. Also surprisingly strong was this Co-CEO of SAP's message on sustainability. Apotheker claimed the SAP sustainability roadmap is the first in their industry and set a goal for the organization to make every business process sustainable. Strong points for good leadership. Apotheker's style tended toward a traditional corporate leader - befitting his role.

Ian Kimbell (Positive)
Mr. Kimbell, SAP's self-proclaimed "Demo Boy" was first introduced at the conference while demonstrating solutions for Mr. Apotheker's keynote. Probably the most polished of all presenters, Kimbell seemed more comfortable on stage than most people are simply in their own skin. Kimbell's demonstrations, humor and general ease on stage was so good, in fact, that some people have questioned the reality behind his demonstrations and the effort required to achieve similar goals - was the demonstration too simplified? Still, Kimbell is to be applauded, especially for his later performance, balancing the ever-dynamic Hasso Plattner. Kimbell presented strong leadership through thorough preparation and charisma. A traditional leadership style, perhaps leaning a bit toward the hero-worship model, but positive nonetheless.

Hasso Plattner (Positive)
Co-Founder of SAP, he's been called the company's "Rock Star". In a conference that touted transparency, there were none more transparent than Hasso Plattner. His presentation was very technical for the crowd, but still remarkably clear given his to-and-fro speaking points. With comments like, "SAP may not want to tell you this" or speaking to examples that were still in proof-of-concept phase, Plattner suggested the most down-to-earth mentality of those on stage that day. If you wanted the reality of a situation, you knew Plattner was your person. Whether he could be considered a servant-leader would take much more research, but Plattner's ability to operate at a remarkably senior level while balancing in-depth technical details was very promising. One thing's certain, he did not over-rehearse his presentation.

Vendors (Negative)
Vendors with positive leadership were too difficult to identify from brief interactions on the conference floor. Poor leadership, on the other hand, was all too easy to spot. A wide variety of vendors were represented. From behemoths like IBM and Accenture, to companies most have never heard of. One vendor surprised me by asking if he could scan my badge without even speaking to me (a practice which would only add my name and contact information to his undoubtedly growing spammer's list). Also standing out on the floor were the obvious ploys to attract attention through any means possible. I remained disappointed by the number of "Booth Beauties" (other terms are more common). I still find it hard to believe that companies with quality products should have any need for these tactics and therefore, made it a point to avoid these stands. Milder marketing ploys, were also prevalent, such as the expensive sport cars, power equipment and sizable freebies. While there were undoubtedly plenty of well-led organizations on the floor, unfortunately, the negative still stood out. This resulted in a set-back for overall conference leadership impressions. (Note: I am pleased to say that the vendors I work with were all professionally represented at the conference).

Bloggers (Positive)
Contributing to the discussions and education was a great group of bloggers. Twitter was a popular means of sharing thoughts and feedbcak on the presenters, while other bloggers shared their proposed articles to come, following the conference. Watching these groundswells in action at any conference is always exciting. Within minutes of a presenter's notable commitment, the quote and feedback on that quote, was already online for the world to see and being discussed. Yes, social technology has truly brought the power to the people. Throughout the conference, though disagreements arose, it remained constructive on Twitter and blogs - another positive for the good guys and strong leadership from the Blogging community.

Now the conference is over, we've returned to offices piled full with issues to be addressed and fires to put out, and what have we learned? Besides the excellent lessons on SAP technology, strategy and opportunities, what have attendees experienced from a leadership perspective? They saw a positive side to SAP's executives, a negative side from many vendors, and a positive leadership example from the blogging community. Net result? Kudos to SAP for not only presenting their technologies, strategy and people in a positive light, but for also a providing a net-positive leadership experience.

* Observations are from the conference only, I did not take into account their character or broader leadership methodologies.

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The Future of Leadership (from a conversation with Bill George)

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

Through ExecuNet, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bill George, a former CEO of Medtronic, now a professor at Harvard Business School and author of True North, Finding Your True North and Authentic Leadership. Bill's perspectives on Leadership support the servant-leader model and his work has been referenced as an example of measurable success through servant leadership. As a result, I was excited to hear Mr. George speak and ask his views on technology's impact on future leaders.

In the beginning of the call, Mr. George defined his views on authentic leadership. Bill stated that we need 4 things from leaders:
  1. Alignment
  2. Empowerment
  3. Service
  4. Collaboration
Bill also spoke of the many challenges facing leaders today. Chief among these challenges were the economy and shifting expectations between Baby-Boomers and Generation X. For the economic challenges, he suggested this era will produce more authentic leaders than before, stating that "leading through a crisis is the real test (of leadership)... coming through this crisis will launch more great leaders as a result." As for the challenges presented by differing expectations across generations, Bill had several excellent points, including:
  • The Baby-Boomer generation of leaders has been too "Me focused" (over all)
  • Generation X is more "We Focused" than "Me focused"
  • Today's younger work force is not motivated by the "Command-and-Control" model, resulting in talent acquisition challenges for companies still operating under this model
Other challenges he thought leaders of the future would need to address included:
  • Today's organizational model is too focused on the "proven skills" of individuals
  • We need to be more focused on talent and capacity to learn (the rate of change will not slow)
  • Our organizational models need to evolve into a more integrated solution, more "like the Internet" and less "hierarchical"
  • The "Taker type" of leaders (those that only take, while others only give) will not succeed in the future
  • We need to focus on "Ready, Fire, Aim" - the market is changing so quickly now that organizations focused on "Ready, Aim, Fire" will have difficulty passing "aim"
I asked Mr George his views on the impact technology is having on today's leaders. The focus was on the evolution of social technology, asking how these technologies are impacting leaders today and how leaders of the future can leverage these technologies to be more effective. His thoughts included:
  • Social technology is part of the answer to being a more effective leader
  • We are just getting started in our capacity to leverage this technology
  • We will still need small, peer-based groups, but not as many of the hierarchical groups
  • Legitimate networks will be necessary - not just mass connections
  • Great leaders of the future will be successful networkers and leverage people and tools to find answers and solve problems quickly
  • We are becoming more global and technology is connecting people as they move all over the globe
  • Technology is enabling everything he discussed today (less hierarchy, more "we focused")
I am grateful to Bill George and ExecuNet for creating this opportunity. Mr. George is an example of how Authentic / Servant Leadership models succeed and are, in many ways, even necessary to ensure the success of our organizations of the future.

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Servant Leadership: The Answer to Leading From Behind

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

Whether you are the CEO of a Wall Street darling, managing a 3rd generation main street business or reforming social injustices, one thing is certain - we all feel behind today. From corporate scandals to our economic crisis, poor leadership has created obstacles for us all. Therefore, how we get out of this mess will take a different type of leadership. We need leaders that inspire us. Leaders motivated by something greater than themselves. Leaders focused on sustainable success over hollow, short-term gains. What we need is Servant Leadership. With servant leaders leveraging technology and a focus on the right results, yes we can, lead from behind.

Leading from behind starts with the right character, vision and selflessness to inspire; traits that servant leaders Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa exemplified. These individuals all led from behind, knew there was a better way and forged the path to success through service to those they led. However, servant-leadership is effective in any field, not just social reform. Consider, for example, servant leaders in business like Herb Kelleher, Sam Walton and Max DePree.

Kelleher created and led Southwest airlines to be among the most successful companies, bucking one of the most devastating trends in its industry. Fortune Magazine even referred to Kelleher as perhaps the best CEO in America. This servant leader emphasized that people take themselves lightly, but their jobs seriously. As an example of service to those he led, Kelleher was known to spend holidays loading baggage with ground crews.

Like Kelleher, Sam Walton knew the key to success was serving the people that served the organization. Walton was famous for saying, "The folks on the front lines - the ones who actually talk to the customer - are the only ones who really know what's going on out there. " Walton also taught that customers were the real boss, not the stockholders.

Both Kelleher and Walton's beliefs aligned with Max DePree, former CEO and Chairman of Herman Miller, one of America's foremost furniture manufactures. DePree wrote "Leadership is an Art" and "Leadership Jazz". Both books received praise from President Clinton and other famous leaders. DePree stated, "The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant. "

Many more examples of servant leaders in business exist, like Howard Behar of Starbucks fame or Ken Melrose from the turnaround of Toro Company. There are also other companies that found success through servant leadership, companies like Medtronic, Service Master and Marriott International. Furthermore, leadership experts in academia frequently proclaim the need for servant leadership, like Jim Collins' did in his book Good To Great.

Those who follow the path of servant leadership will have something in their favor - technology. Advances in social technologies are shifting the balance of power to the masses, thus increasing the demand for effective servant leadership and empowering those who leverage it. One recent example was the success of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. This "community organizer" used servant leadership, empowered by effective social technologies, to help win his election. Numbers like 6.5 million online donations, 13 million email addresses, 35,000 volunteer groups, his own social networking site, 70 million online fundraisers and over 400,000 blog posts all played an undeniable factor in the election . Servant leaders today will leverage social technology tools for the success of their organizations.

When we take this opportunity to perform as servant leaders, we will ensure the future success of our organizations and our communities. How then, will leaders recognize success at leading from behind? I believe Robert K. Greenleaf the father of modern servant-leadership put it best when he said:
"The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?"
When answering affirmatively to these questions, the effective leader will recognize they are no longer leading from behind the curve, but ahead of it.

NOTE: The above post was originally written in February for "The Bill George Challenge" on ExecuNet ( The challenge was to describe a leadership style that would adapt to a more particapatory managament practice, listing role models you would reference and how you would measure results. The challenge was placed in the framework of President Obama's call to action for everyone to take responsibility and participate in solving the challenges we face.

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Opportunities in a Recession for the IT Leader

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

I recently spoke to a group of college seniors in IT management about some of the challenges they faced. Like most IT professionals today, they had a depressing view on the economy and their opportunities. There is plenty of press on these challenges we face (for example, see Thomas Wailgum's article, "Why the Recession is Marginalizing CIOs"). On the other hand, there is virtually no press surrounding the opportunities now available to CIOs, VPs, Director and other IT leaders. While everyone focuses on the challenges, few recognize the opportunities before us. Everyone seems focused on "delivering more, with less". However, this focus does not open our eyes to the realization that there may never again, in our careers, be a better time to accomplish key objectives.

What better time to kill low value projects? For example, that project draining resources for months, producing little value, but is allowed to drag on because it is the "pet project" of another CxO. With a constrained budget, something will have to give. Now you can make that case to the rest of the executive committee that either this "pet project" or the plan to narrow your product margins, delivering bottom line results next quarter, will have to be, at least, postponed. Even the CxO in question would find it difficult to oppose shelving the project in lieu of more timely, cost saving initiatives.

What better time for talent management? There are, sadly, many people losing their jobs today. As an IT Servant Leader, one can see few if any positives in this scenario. However, with some companies outsourcing entire divisions, others cutting to the bone and being required to cut even further, there is amazing talent available today that was not there a year ago. Now is the time to bring them onto your team. And what about the great staff that you already have? Employees are very appreciative to have a job today. Now is the time for you to show how much you appreciate them. But, you say, your budget is cut, preventing celebration dinners? No problem - have BYO events. Just set a time and place for the team to meet for drinks or dinner. It doesn't always take money to make people feel appreciated. Sometimes just having a job and a little extra time from their manager to say "thank you", especially outside the office, is all someone needs.

What better time to decommission overhead drains? How many servers do you have laying around, running antiquated software, creating heightened security risks and yet rarely seeing the front of a user's screen? Come on! Now is your time to stop all that. Make the case to your customer they no longer need it. Point out the countless other applications they could use for the same work. Suggest enhancements to more current applications that could be adapted. Do you think there will be a better time than now to make the argument that maintaining these applications is not worth the overhead?

What better time to innovate? Yes, the budget is tight - virtually nonexistent some would say. But innovation does not always require a lot of money. What are the students in the IT program at your local college working on? Would they be open to researching an idea for your department? What about that new team member in your Business Intelligence area - wasn't she working on a new idea after hours? Leverage that passion already residing within your team by simply supporting their ideas. With most other IT leaders focused on cost control, few are considering this opportunity to innovate. Those that do, are more likely to emerge with the best products, services and people to tackle the challenges when the economy recovers.

Every time I am confronted by another person in the IT field - be it a college student, manager, or CIO, who sings the "poor me" song, I think back to opportunities like these. It reminds me of that great RE/MAX commercial, where people are kicking themselves for not buying now. As IT Leaders, our problem is not "deliver more, with less". Instead, our opportunity is to "deliver more value, with less waste". Rarely before and possibly never again in our careers, will the opportunities and support be greater to gain alignment on this goal. Instead of singing "poor me", why not view this as an opportunity to ensure you're not kicking yourself later?

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Social Technology - Making Relationships More Personal Than Ever

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

As the personal computer replaced typewriters and the Internet evolved into common use, more critics began to panic that we, as a society, would lose our human touch. After all, just how personal can interaction be through computer screens? One wonders if they thought the same of the telephone. Even a man I greatly admire, James A. Autry, a thought leader on servant leadership and remarkably successful business man, devoted an entire section in one of his books to the theme that technology negatively impacts the ability for personal interaction (and servant leadership) to be successful. James and many of these critics were right in their observations given the state of technologies at that time - the late 80's and early 90's. Before social technology hit rev 2.0, everything was static, there was limited conversation and nobody saw the Internet as a place for friends to connect. Instead, you had a mess of static webpages. These early websites closest thing to a personal touch was a bunch of personal data that was broadcast to anyone at all. The problem was, only a select network of individuals wanted to read these individual's broadcasts but there was no easily defined audience or targeting mechanism. That was then, this is now.

Before Social Technology evolved into common place, in times that predate digital social networks, we had direct personal relationships based primarily on physical interactions. Those you knew living close to you, working in your office or family that visited semi-regularly were all in the know about your life's events. Even your closest friends from high school or college - the select few who kept you updated in Christmas letters or shared their updated contact information with each subsequent move. These individuals all provided "warm fuzzies" when you heard an update every couple of months.

If there were major life events, such as weddings, funerals or even the occasional reunion, you would even travel far to see those closest to you. You'd reconnect briefly, be amazed at how much had changed over the years and regret that you had not stayed in "closer contact". You'd promise to "do better this time" and maybe you would, for a couple of months at least, before the status quo returned and you'd meet up again at the next major life event....

And so it went for most of us. Sure, there were exceptions, those who were friends for life, those that didn't move far from home and made sure to visit everyone when they returned to visit, perhaps even the occasional high school "clique" that never ended. But as a whole, I suspect most of us experienced something like the above - only maintaining even semi-regular contact with a very small subset of friends and colleagues. However, modern evolutions in social technology have changed all this and flipped the coin completely. We now have the opportunity, through the technical empowerment of social technology, to make and maintain our relationships on a more personal level than ever before.

It is easier than ever to stay connected or reconnect with friends and colleagues. A quick Google of someone's name is likely to identify a Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Ning, Naymz or similar networking reference. Physical vicinity is almost irrelevant. When you meet at the life event, you exchange your preferred profile space, go home, link up and now you're getting daily one-liner updates from Twitter or a similar service. You suddenly realize that their child is the same age as yours or slightly ahead and, trusting them from the common bonds of your youth, may rely on them for advice. How did they get that thumb-sucking under control?

Perhaps you discover that your old college roommate went back for his law degree. As luck would have it, you needed someone to go over that new contract before you sign. Again, the common bond of trust is pre-existing and new business is drawn up with old friends. In the end, it becomes easier and easier to make ties with your personal life and professional roles. For some this may not be what they seek. Many people prefer a work-life balance, vs. a work-life alignment. But even if for purely personal reasons, the daily status updates, photo sharing and routine communication with friends becomes more simplistic and readily accessible.

Still Room For Improvement
Of course, social technology solutions are still far from perfect. Many of the social technology services are awkward on mobile devices. The proliferation of these technologies is still relatively limited and standards have not yet matured. In fact, the lack of connectivity for a majority of mobile devices or even decent user interfaces for many of those that are connected, limit the adoption rate of mobile social technology. Meanwhile, the elders of our society, the age group most unlikely to adopt new technologies, remain virtually untouched by social technology. However, as we mature as a society and more youth become adults and adults become elders, all familiar with these systems and solutions, the adoption rate will naturally expand accordingly. Finally, there remains too many competitors and redundant solutions. As competitors battle for market share (user base) and systems settle into niches, these standards will pan out as they do for all technologies. Before long, all these roadblocks will become speed bumps and social technology adoption and proliferation will complete.

How Do We, As Technology Leaders, Respond?
Great, so we recognize that social technology is making relationships more personal than ever before. We understand this brings a human touch back to the office that may have been lacking in the last decade. In fact, we may even see our friends and colleagues are more connected than ever. So what does that mean for you, as a technology leader? It means first and foremost that this is not a battle, it means that we need to leverage these resources ourselves and it means we need to align our business plans with the social technology present and future.

Not a Battle
How are you structuring your policies and security around social networking? Are you completely blocking Facebook and Myspace? What about LinkedIn and the more generally considered "professional sites"? How do you handle Ning, which consists of a mix of both personal and professionaly-focused networks? Sadly, the reality is there may be some increased security threats from these sites and so proper precautions should be taken. But if you think that your staff could only possibly use social networking and media sites for purely personal reasons, think again. Whether you immediately open up access to these resources for your employees or you plan for it in the future, only you can decide. One thing is certain though, social technology is not going away and it is an excellent resource for your employees - both personally and professionally. Consider shifting your policies from one of absolute opposition, to one of moderated temperance. Of course, excessive personal use that abuses corporate assets should always be addressed, but the line between personal and professional networking is a very gray one and difficult to define. Otherwise, employees that are completely blocked from such resources, intending to use it for professional networking purposes will feel stifled, lacking the tools they need to complete their job effectively and not empowered to perform their best.

Leverage These Resources Ourselves
Are you connected with social technology? How many friends do you have online? When was the last time you connected with your old colleagues? You know that position that you've been trying to fill for months? Having a solid network on LinkedIn, empowering you to query your most trusted advisers and former employees sure would be helpful. Imagine, with one message you could immediately ping most of your former colleagues and know immediately how any referrals you receive are connected to you.

Aligning Business Plans with Social Technology
Does the marketing plan at your company encompass how they plan to leverage social technology? If not, why not? Social Technology should be considered as regularly, if not more so, than print, television, email and web alone. Viral marketing is best and most cost effective online, something everyone wants to hear nowadays. Leveraging YouTube, product watch sites and email campaigns that don't stink of force-fed ads are all low cost solutions to their traditional counterparts. What about your hiring strategy? Be sure to know what the discussion boards say about you as a manager (check eBossWatch for example) and as an employer (what do the hiring site discussions say?). Are you polling your own network online for hiring? In every new major initiative, within your own department and beyond, consider how social technology can help (or even hurt, if not properly addressed) your plans.

Yes, not so long ago, the Internet was evil, out to destroy our society by disconnecting us from the human touch. As the underlying technology evolves, adoption rates grow and interfaces become more familiar though, it is clear that social technology solutions have made our relationships more personal than ever before. There remains opportunities for improvement, but the fears of the past are fading and the promise of the future for both personal and professional opportunities to connect with friends and colleagues is immense. As a technology leader in your organization, it is up to you to ensure your teams realize this wave and help make it work for you.

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Whiner or Winner?

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

For technology executives, the one constant is change. However, as humans, we are by nature, creatures of habit. This could easily explain why so many folks are resistant to change. Change does not, by definition, feel familiar. It's awkward, different and for many, uncomfortable. But like all things new, we can choose how we respond to change. My experience suggests there are not many folks that respond to change with indifference. Instead, it seems most people fit into one of two categories: Winners or Whiners.

When I was working on turning around a large back-office technology project, there was one individual who was thrilled to be a part of the "new solution". Although she had a vested interest in the old way, she looked to the future, realized things were broken and was anxious to be recognized for a successful project. As a result, she often came with a proposal for improvements, new technologies, processes or ideas. She understood the need for change, would lay out the problem in detail, explain why it was a problem and often have two or more recommendations for solving the problem. She was a winner because she embraced the change, identified roadblocks and problems with the old school of thought and proposed solutions based on solid examples.

Of course, at the opposite end of the spectrum are individuals that resist change with a defeatist attitude. While the term may seem derogatory, "whiner" underscores where most of the effort is placed by these individuals. Certainly, it is not intentional. I don't think anyone, regardless of their frustration level, says, "today, I am just going to complain about what's going on at the office". Instead, some personnel, when faced with change, spend a lot of effort thinking about the negative side (not unlike their winner counterparts). The problem is, whiners stop there. And why not? It's easier to stop there and just tell their coworkers about the pain. Where whiners turn into winners is when they make that extra effort, they go that extra mile and do something about the negatives. Instead of simply communicating the problem(s), they become a part of the solution.

Whiners and Winners are in every organization. When you find winners, great, leverage them as examples to the whiners. When you find whiners, remember - they're not setting out to just complain, they're just stopping too soon. Ask them what they would do about the problem they mentioned? How would they improve the environment? What process would they use to avoid it from happening again? Then make them a part of the accepted solution. Without commitment and a role in the solution, it will be too easy to revert back to the Whiner.

Whatever you do, do not become a whiner yourself. Anytime you catch yourself complaining - especially in front of your team, be certain you come up with a solution and communicate it to them. This holds true for commiserating as well. Nodding in agreement with complaints without putting the complainer to task at finding a solution, makes you a whiner too. So make sure you're thinking like a winner and presenting solutions to your problems while putting your team to task, doing the same. Go the extra mile, set the example for your teams and build winners out of the whiners.

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Servant Leadership Article on

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

I hope this message finds you and your loved ones enjoying the best of the holiday season. As a colleague and friend in the IT industry, I wanted to share an article I recently wrote on with you and ask for your feedback. The article is entitled “Servant-Leadership for the IT executive” ( and focuses on introducing the concept of Servant-Leadership to fellow IT executives.

You see, I have already had the chance to view and participate in many different leadership styles over the course of my career to date. This experience included one organization that promoted servant-leadership, one that was relatively indifferent and one that strongly opposed the concept. While each organization produced good results, I found that servant-leadership produced the greatest, long-term and sustainable results for the IT organization. As a result, given the limited number of individuals in IT familiar with the concept, I’ve taken it as a bit of a mission to spread the awareness of this leadership style. I hope you will help by providing comments on the article or feedback directly, via email.

Thank you, in advance, for any feedback you may offer. If you are interested in more information on servant-leadership, you can also check out the following resources:

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Where Have All The Leaders Gone?

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

The following is reproduced, with permission, from Russ M. Miller, LLIF Chairman and CEO of the Performance Institute (

"The Power of Leadership"

Where have all the leaders gone? We used to have larger-than-life leaders. Public figures such as Franklin Roosevelt, Golda Meir, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King who inspired millions with their visions. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan were equally influential in the business arena.

Those leaders and others like them are gone. Today we have fame without accomplishment, form without substance. We elevate people to leadership status not for what they did but because of the way they did it.

We need leaders today more than ever before. People spend millions of dollars attending weekend leadership seminars that promise instant leadership: Follow directions, insert anybody, and out pops a leader.

These "one shot" instant leadership seminars probably produce fewer leaders than those made by accident, circumstance, or self-invention combined. These programs may reveal skills and theorize about leadership evolution, but they cannot teach the character and vision that are the raw materials of leadership.

Your character is a key element in your self-image. Your self-image determines to a large extent the level of success you achieve as a leader. The level of success you achieve as a leader, of course, helps determine the level of success your organization will achieve.

Developing leadership is hard work. It requires time and commitment to form the core habits that make up the foundation of leadership behavior. Top athletes know that it takes time and personal commitment to develop their skills into championship form. The same holds true for top leaders. They also know that it takes time and personal commitment to develop their skills into top leadership form.

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