Drucker on Leadership as Work

In his book, The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker analyzed the ways that management practices and principles affect the performance of organizations, individuals, and society. The book covers the basic principles of management and gives professionals the tools to perform the tasks that the environment of tomorrow will require of them.

These are my takeaways from reading the book.

First, the misconception about leadership and it is not…

Leadership is not by itself good or desirable. Instead, leadership is a means, and to what end is the crucial question.

Effective leadership also does not depend on charisma. In fact, charisma can become the undoing of leaders. Charisma can make leaders inflexible, convinced of their infallibility, thus unable to change when the situations require it.

Drucker also did not believe there are any such things as “leadership qualities” or a “leadership personality.” He mentioned the examples of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, Bernard Montgomery, and Douglas MacArthur. They were all highly effective leaders during, yet no two of them shared any “personality traits” or any “qualities.”

Leadership is about work, responsibility, and trust.

The first thing to say about leadership is that it is work. The foundation of effective leadership is thinking through the organization’s mission, defining it, and establishing it, clearly and visibly. The leader sets the goals, sets the priorities, and sets and maintains the standards. She makes compromises if she must, but the effective leader also has thought through what is right and desirable.

The second thing about leadership is that the leader sees leadership as a responsibility rather than as rank and privilege. When things go wrong, leaders do not blame others. Rather, the leaders own responsibility.

An effective leader also wants strong associates. Because she holds himself ultimately responsible for the mistakes of her associates and subordinates, she also sees the triumphs of her associates as her triumphs, rather than as threats. An effective leader knows that the ultimate task of leadership is to create human energies and human vision.

The final point about effective leadership is to earn trust. To trust a leader, it is not necessary to like her or agree with her on everything. Trust is the conviction that the leader means what she says, which is a display of a thing called “integrity.” A leader’s actions and a leader’s professed beliefs must be congruent. Therefore, effective leadership is based primarily on being consistent.

In conclusion, leadership is mundane, unromantic, and boring. Most importantly, the leadership’s essence is the combination of work, responsibility, and trust to deliver performance.

The What of IT Leadership

In 2011, author Bob Lewis published the book, “Leading IT: Still the toughest job in the world, Second edition.” The book tackles some of the most challenging areas to address in an IT organization. Often the problems have little to do with the technology nor the process. The issues usually have to do with the people, inside and outside of the IT organization.

Here are the takeaway lessons I picked up from reading the book.

In IT, practicing leadership calls for the following.

Expertise often is not the pre-requisite for leading. The pre-requisite is the willingness to take the responsibility and the hard work to communicate the vision, make the decisions, and trigger the change in people.

Leaders recognize that they do not just lead people; they are individuals. Effective leaders lead highly capable organizations, which are made up of highly competent individuals with their strengths and contributions.

Leadership is not a process, where management is a process. Leadership is a practice, and effective leaders will not blindly apply procedures to all situations and expect the same, high-value results every time.

Leadership is to break down organization silos and to get everyone pull in the same direction, towards the vision.

To lead IT, one needs to know the business of the enterprise and the business of technology. Just being proficient in one area and not the other is not sufficient.

Positive results take time to come together. Leaders need to budget and control her own time, rather than letting someone else manages their schedules.

Book Review – Reaching Your Next Summit!: 9 Vertical Lessons for Leading with Impact

Manley Feinberg’s book, Reaching Your Next Summit!, teaches valuable lessons on leadership and change. I work in the information technology field, and I have found the book to be very helpful. In IT, the work is very often about introducing positive changes and facing adverse changes through effective leadership. Feinberg’s experiences are both well-articulated and inspiring.

Whether you are reading this book for managing work or for personal reasons, applying the change management and resilient leadership lessons in the book can have a profound impact. I was delighted to have come across this excellent book.

What I learned about Managing IT Projects from Playing Online Games

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Time flies when you’re having fun. It seems like just yesterday I grew up playing video games on Atari and Nintendo, and now we have many more gaming choices available to us. To this day, I still enjoy playing video games on computers. Gaming for me is not merely entertainment – I enjoy learning and understanding the design and mechanics behind a particular game. I also enjoy the socializing and friendship-building aspects of the online games.

Many computer games clearly were built to provide entertain value, but there is a surprising amount of wisdom to pick up from some of today’s more sophisticated online games. One aspect of playing those online games involving social activities of organizing a group of players to accomplish a common objective, usually involve slaying a dragon or a boss monster. It is fascinating to me that one often can find some intriguing parallels between organizing a raid and organizing a project team within an organization. Whether it is organizing a 25-player, 6-hour long raid or organizing a 25-member, 6-month long project, some leadership and management principles seem to apply for both cases.

Here are some lessons I believe many younger IT colleagues might be able to learn from spending some time in the virtual world.

What are we trying to accomplish and why?

In the game world, we ask which dragon do we want to slay tonight? Announce the final objective up-front and let people know what is in it for them. Players come to a particular raid for many of their own reasons. Some will come for a specific loot or reward. Some players come to the raid to experience a particular portion of the game content. Some players will come to a raid to learn more leading a particular raid. Some will come just for fun and sight-seeing.

In the real world, people band together to form a project team for a variety of reasons. Those reasons could be driven by organizational, political, or other factors. The why factor always should be aligned to a business goal. Helping others to understand the end state up-front can help to build commitment and to foster positive motivation.

How are we going to accomplish the objective?

In the game world, we need to understand the details of the encounter as much as possible before you can have a successful raid. “Know the fight” is a common phrase used in online gaming. Today’s online game raids can be quite sophisticated and involve many stages or phases. Everyone participating in the raid should have a basic understanding of the raid and what to expect during each phase. However, knowing the fight at a high-level is just half of the battle. Each segment of the raid will have certain activity requirements that need to be met, often under some time constraints. If the requirements are not met in a timely fashion, it is quite possible the raid will fail. To plan ahead, the raid team needs to translate the requirements into workable tasks and assign a time line.

In the real world, it works pretty much the same for a project. The project team should have a common understanding of how the project should be executed at a high, summary level. The project team then breaks down the work into tasks and assigns deadlines or timing dependencies to those tasks.

Whom do we need for this effort?

In the game world, a raid will require a collection of players to fulfill a variety of roles. In online games, the roles can also be referred as jobs or classes. To complete a raid successfully, it will require a proper combination of roles all working together and executing the tasks along the way. In addition to having the proper roles, the raid team will also need skillful players in order to succeed. The skillful players know their jobs/classes well and understand how their roles fit into the raid encounter. The more skillful players can also provide valuable input into the raid and support everyone else to get the job done. Very often, the most time-consuming aspect of organizing the raid is to find and recruit the classes/players you need for the raid.

In the real world, we also need people with the proper skillsets and competency level to execute a project. Staffing a project team with a perfect combination of the skillsets and personalities can be a difficult task. Sometimes, the staff choices are given or established by the organization beforehand or is not entirely negotiable for some reasons. When those things happen, the project team will work with what it has. Sometimes the project team might need to recruit additional people or to replace individuals in order to cover the skill or competency gaps created by the project team make-up.

Which tools will we need to manage the effort?

In the game world, the game client application serves as the foundational tool for all raid team members. Having access to the same information by everyone is critical to the successful execution of any raid. Many raid teams rely on websites or in-game chats to communicate pertinent information about the raid. Very often, critical information also must be delivered quickly. Many raids today are also supplemented by another communication tool, such as voice conferencing. The game world can be unforgiving, and unwanted things can happen extremely quickly. A few poorly-timed missteps by the raid members can easily add up to a deficiency that is too severe for a raid team to overcome, leading to a wipe.

In the real word, consistent execution of a project requires all project team members to have access to the same project information via a set of common tools. Information can be communicated in written form or in verbal form. Project plans, meetings, memos and minutes are just a few tools we often use. The real world can be just as unforgiving as the virtual one. Poor communication can add up to either severely delay a project or sink one.

When Games Mimic Life

Even with the proactive planning in place, many things can still go wrong. Risk management most also be practiced when operating in both worlds. In the game world, risk management takes the form of having a robust combination of roles and solid communication channels. In the real world, we often have a lot more risk management options available to us if we put in the proper level of planning. There is no reason why we cannot do what we can to be properly prepared and well organized for any project.

Whether in the game world or in the real world, producing positive results with a group of people takes leadership, management, collaboration, and communication.

Footnote: Wall Street Journal reported that a new study reveals that adults who played a video game helped their mental agility more than adults who did crossword puzzles. Just saying.

Image Credit: Courtesy and Property of Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

One of Many Ways for Showing Employee Appreciation

Disclaimer: The views expressed here reflect only my personal views and are not the views of my employer

Now we have that out of the way…

This morning, the senior management team at work showed their appreciation for their employees by serving breakfasts at employees’ desks. The executives were all wearing aprons and pushing the breakfast carts all over the office suite, serving breakfasts from cube to cube. The warm greetings and laughers brightened up the usual quiet and sometimes mundane mid-week office atmosphere. Different executives and their carts traveled the same route several times, making sure everyone is covered and re-filling the coffee and juice.

There are many ways of showing appreciation for the employees’ work, and I thought this one was particular well done. Often appreciation is heartfelt not so much by how it was expressed but by the fact that it was carried out. Like many companies, the reality of work load and project pressure becomes front-and-center once again once the breakfast is over. In any case, I believe the executive team did this because they genuinely wanted to show how much they appreciate everyone’s work.

In my opinion, this was an informal but a solid demonstration of servant leadership. Always good to see when a senior management team really tries to lead by example. When it comes to the acts of generosity or do-right-ness, I believe it is often the intention and the effort that count the most. Kudos to the executives for walking the talk.

p.s. Extra shout-out and kudos to the support team who helped the executives in making it all possible. Dana and Charmaine, you are the best!!!