March 2008

Complements are like mirror images of each other. The article “Adjusting Your Leadership Volume” puts it this way, “Leadership involves two great pairs of opposing approaches. One pair, the how of leading, consists of forceful leadership and enabling leadership” (p. 16). How many of us have worked for Type A bosses? They have the forceful part down pat, but they tend to be lacking on the enabling side. Just like Aristotle’s thought, that “what is good, virtuous, and effective in thought and action is the midpoint between deficiency and excess” (p. 14), we have to slide across the scale depending on the situation and the person.

“The other pair, the what of leading, consists of strategic leadership and operational leadership” (p. 16). I once worked for a man that was close to 90% strategic. He needed people around him that were able to see the vision, understand it, and implement it. It’s why we worked so well together, because I could get dirty with the day-to-day, but also able to sit back and make sure the end result, the strategic, was going to marry up well with the vision. Or said differently, the ability to see the forest and the trees, which is one of my strengths.

This article was really good for me because it helps me to see the two “pairs of leadership” visually, and helps me think about what is required in order to accomplish the current goals.


Where on the lines do you need to be?

– Kaplan, B. & Kaiser, R. (2007, Winter). Adjusting Your Leadership Volume. Leader to Leader.


One of my irritations with business today is CEO pay. I’m not against someone earning what they can and what they are worth, but is anyone truly worth the multiple-millions paid to some of today’s CEO’s? According to this article, apparently not.

… in a study of 128 large companies averaging $6.5 billion in assets and 16,000 employees, Bradley R. Agle, Nandu J. Nagarajan, and Dhinu Srinivasan of the University of Pittsburgh and Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld of Yale University found that whether or not a CEO is charismatic has little bearing on an organization’s bottom line (p. 56).

What the study does find is that the more charismatic the CEO, the more volatile the company’s earnings. Because of their personality, charismatic CEO’s are more likely to take larger risks, which either lead to larger gains or larger losses. But in the end, measures of performance (stock returns, returns on assets, returns on sales, returns on equity, and sales growth) are no better or worse than the non-charismatic CEO.

A note to executive search committee members on the board of directors:

To have a significant and lasting impact, leaders need to look to other factors driving performance and not rely on their likeability, the force of their personality, or the size of their egos. To ignore these other factors is to miss out on a real opportunity to make a positive difference (p. 57).

— How Does Leadership Personality Affect Performance. (2007, Winter). Leader to Leader.

I’m a problem solver. It’s what I do. It’s part of who I am. And that strength is what makes me good at IT. When someone says, “I have a problem,” I’m like a race horse that just heard the bell for the next race. But a strength can become a weakness when we don’t know how to moderate it. In a previous job, I got in trouble because I didn’t know how to say no. When someone would call and ask for my help in getting data they needed, or to help on a project, I would naturally say yes. It’s what problem solvers do. But in the end, I was so overextended on time, it would take months to get caught up. I was trying to help too many people, and in the end, I didn’t help them, the company, or myself.

I was reading the article “Adjusting Your Leadership Volume” by Bob Kaplan and Rob Kaiser and it reminded me of that period in my life. They have a good example related to performance reviews. “Let’s take the case of Fred, whose coworkers describe him as ‘berating’ his people. How would you rate him on the following item: ‘Direct – tells people when he is dissatisfied with their performance.’ A 5 right? That seemingly good grade doesn’t distinguish between being very direct and being too direct” (p. 14).

Knowing how to adjust the “volume” of your leadership depending on the situation is tricky. We even have to do it for each person in addition to the situation. Just like people learn differently, whether by seeing, hearing, doing, or reading, people need different methods of motivation in order to correct a problem or to stay the course in a demanding project. Figuring out the level we need to use is crucial to our success as managers.

I like this quote, which puts our strengths and weaknesses in perspective, “The idea of volume control goes all the way back to Aristotle, who postulated that what is good, virtuous, and effective in thought and action is the midpoint between deficiency and excess” (p. 14).

— Kaplan, B. & Kaiser, R. (2007, Winter). Adjusting Your Leadership Volume. Leader to Leader.

This story is something IT departments should take to heart:

According to a report issued yesterday by WhiteHat Security, nine out of 10 Websites still have at least one vulnerability that attackers could exploit. On average, there are about seven flaws on each site studied” (¶ 2).

I have to wonder though if it is due to time-constrained employees, or the fact that technology is moving so fast that it is hard for the normal employee to keep up with work as well as learning about the new threats.

Cross-site scripting (XSS) is still the top category of vulnerabilities, appearing in approximately 70 percent of Websites, WhiteHat says. But the researchers are predicting that cross-site request forgery (CSRF) will eventually take the No. 2 spot behind XSS” (¶ 4).

This is why I absolutely NEVER use Internet Explorer and I have NoScript installed on every version of my Firefox browser. I’ve run across normal e-commerce sites that NoScript blocked. Whether the XSS script was there on purpose or the site had been hacked I never tried to find out, I just left the site.

— Wilson, T. (2008, March 25). 90% of Sites Still Vulnerable. Dark Reading.

Normally I’m not a political person in my blog. There is more than enough of that out there to satisfy most people’s desires. But I was looking at the graph below, which is part of a research report published by The Pew Research Center, and if you notice, the scores for how satisfied people were with the direction of the country declined throughout the period of the war. If politicians study this, are they going to be less likely to engage in anything more than cruise-missile foreign policy in the future? There are times we need to go to war, but not everyone will generally agree with the assessment of whether war is necessary. But looking at this graph, I think politicians in the future may be more likely to fire a weapon and declare that “they have been taught a lesson.”

Pew Research Graph

— Kohut, A. (2007, March 22). Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes, 1987-2007. The Pew Research Center.

In the book IT Risk by Westerman & Hunter, the authors define a framework for mitigating risk in a company related to IT. It revolves around four areas: availability, access, accuracy, and agility. Agility relates to the ability of IT assets to change fast enough to allow companies to take advantage of trends in the marketplace. If the IT department needs a year to make changes to the systems in order to support a new product or service that the company wants rushed to market, we aren’t talking an agile application.

A good example of this is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) application that still requires interfaces to legacy systems it was intended to replace. The more interconnections you build, the more complicated the system will be and the harder it will be to change. Rettig, quoting a research study of over 400 companies performed by MIT researchers, “In many companies, it takes the IT department one to two years to implement a new strategic initiative – hardly the agility companies are striving for … Legacy systems cobbled together to respond to each new business initiative create rigidity and excessive costs. Every change becomes a risky, expensive venture.” (p. 21). Not a prescription for mitigating agility risk in a company.

A number of ERP implementations did not go well, or the company is finding out that managing this behemoth of an application environment is impossible, and they are looking for the next big thing that will give their company a competitive edge in order to survive in the marketplace. And along comes Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). But make sure you know how the company is going to implement SOA. As Rettig says, “…to the extent that these service-oriented architectures use subsets of code from within ERP and other enterprise systems, they do not escape the mire of complexity built over the past 15 years…” (p. 26).

So the sales executive from XYZ Software convinces the CEO and CFO that the best approach is to leverage the company’s investment in their ERP application by adding on a service-oriented architecture on top of it which will let company respond to the pace of business more quickly. But wait, you just added a layer on a layer on a layer. How good can that be? “SOA’s become additional layers of code superimposed on the existing layers. That means it is possible that a process will fail at some point due to some fault in the layers below, and in order to understand and fix the problem, software engineers will need to deal with the layers of enterprise applications below the modular business processes” (Rettig, p. 26). That’s definitely not agile software!

Maybe it’s time we as IT managers need to sit back and rethink the whole process; how we organize data, how we access that data, how we write the applications, etc. Are we stuck in the rut we’ve dug, and don’t realize how bad the situation really is that we’ve made? As Rettig says, “… IT departments tend not to be innovative leaders within organizations, but rather conservative forces, viewed by business executives as cost sinks and liabilities” (p. 21). Ouch! “A recent study by Forrester Research…found that only 28% of CEO’s thought their CIO’s were proactive or creative in terms of business process improvement” (Rettig, p. 27).

Rather than thinking “outside the box,” maybe it’s time to get out of the box, throw it in the trash compactor, and start looking at our processes, applications, data, and other assets from totally different perspectives. If we don’t, we might find that our jobs have been outsourced to someone who will.

— Rettig, C. (2007, Fall). The Trouble with Enterprise Software. MIT Sloan Management Review.

— Westerman, G. & Hunter, R. (2007). IT Risk. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Ever done something like this?

You’re navigating through an airport or in the middle of a meeting, and you get an e-mail asking for advice on what should be done in relation to a problem in IT. You fire off a quick reply before the flight attendant or leader in the meeting gives you that dirty look, and you find out later it was the wrong solution to the real problem.

I know I have. We get so pressed for time in IT, dealing with the demands of the business, vendors, and partners, that we end up trying to do too much. In the world of IT risk, we become a contributor to the risk our companies face rather than someone that is supposed to mitigate risk.

We live and work in what Shrader calls the “Liquid World” – “fluid, continually changing form and adapting to shifting parameters” (p. 96). But this is precisely when we should resist that quick answer and postpone it until we can gather the right people to make the decision. We as IT managers don’t necessarily have all the answers, but we sometimes like to act like we do, or some of us like to act that way. I learned two jobs ago that I don’t always have the answer, but I can get the answer the business needs. It’s actually a liberating experience to be able to admit I don’t know everything, can’t know everything, and shouldn’t (from a knowledge management perspective) know everything. But we are pressed constantly to make quick decisions…

“In the swirling vortex of e-mailing and text messaging, the leader’s strong inclination is to try to arrive at fast paced, almost immediate decisions. But the fundamentals of solid leadership – clear vision, consistent measures of success, and informed yet timely and unambiguous decision making – haven’t changed. Now more than ever before, thoughtfulness and clarity cannot be compromised” (p. 96).

If we as leaders don’t set the standard by which decisions should be made, are we really justified in complaining that our people are not making thoughtful, clear, and considered decisions? As Sharader puts it, “Today’s leaders must recognize that ‘less instant’ is often ‘more thoughtful’ and ‘more solid,’ especially in a liquid world where every decision has the potential for a far greater radius of impact” (p. 96).

— Shrader, R. W. (2007, Fall). Leadership in a Liquid World. MIT Sloan Management Review.

Next Page »