Category Archives: leadership

Braindump: What I learned from our virtual leadership conversation

Around 20 people joined us for a conversation about Smarter Leaders, which was organized by Jack Mason in the IBM Virtual Analytics Center. Rawn Shah and I gave introductory remarks, and then we facilitated small-group discussions. I focused on the need for smarter leaders at every level and what we could do to help people develop as leaders.

What did I learn?

We know what can help: identifying characteristics of effective leaders, focusing on leadership instead of technology, collecting and sharing success stories, compiling a cookbook that focuses on needs instead of tools… That part is just a matter of doing it, and there are lots of programs already underway.

Is it going to be enough, or are there other things we can do to break through? If it took e-mail ten or so years to become part of the corporate culture and enable all sorts of opportunities, can we wait that long for connected leadership to become part of the way we work?

We tend to have a culture of waiting for permission instead of experimenting (and asking for forgiveness if needed). This means that lots of people are waiting for their managers and executives to participate in this.

Me, I’m all for people taking responsibility for leadership at any level. We might not make big decisions, but we can still make a difference.

What am I going to do based on what I learned?

I’m going to take a look at the characteristics that describe IBMers at their best. I’m going to figure out how to develop those characteristics myself, and how other people can develop them.

I’m passionate about helping individual contributors build and demonstrate leadership. I’m neither a manager nor an executive, and I don’t want to wait for everyone at the top to “get it” before the benefits can trickle down to everyone else. So I’m going to keep poking this idea of leadership until more people can identify with it and ask themselves, “How can I be a smarter leader?”.

What are you going to do to spread be the word about smarter leaders? =)

What worked well? What could we improve further?

  • I really liked being able to help bring together all these interesting people. It was like going to a real-life conference.
  • I finished my part in time (short talk!). =) I forgot some of the points I wanted to make, but it was okay because I’d already shared them in my blog post.
  • I did a good job of picking on people to get the ball rolling, and the conversation can get even better if I can figure out how to bring more people into the conversation.

  • Small-group virtual facilitation needs to be tweaked further. I felt conscious about people being outside my vision, so I turned my avatar around, but it still felt strange to have my back to a speaker. We didn’t organize ourselves into a circle because it would’ve taken time to position people, and the spatial audio might’ve been weak. I like the way that our Second Life meeting environments sometimes have auto-expanding chairs.
  • My audio was clipping because the sound was set too loud. I should definitely do more audio tests before the sessions.
  • My sketches turned out pretty well on the screen of the Virtual Analytics Center. =) Simple and easy to see from any part of the auditorium.
  • The auditorium turned out to be too small to accommodate breakout groups. One of the breakout rooms had audio running, and we couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. The big gathering area was a good place to have a discussion, though. Teleporting buttons would be a great way to get people from one place to the other without wasting time navigating. (Ooh, teleporting buttons with visual feedback for intuitive load-balancing…)
  • The indicators for who was currently speaking made large conversations so much easier. I want that on all of my teleconferences. =)
  • Text chat still beats speaking in turn when it comes to getting lots of stuff out. It’s odd to mix it in, though. It feels a little weirder than having an active backchannel during a phone conference. I think it’s because you can see people, so you feel more of an urge to talk to them instead of typing.
  • The web.alive folks definitely need to add a way to save the text chat!
  • The virtual environment can capture all sorts of interesting data. I wonder what kind of research can come out of this…

Lots of good stuff!

Smarter leaders braindump (long, visual)

Jump to comments

Things I’m planning to talk about during the virtual leadership session tomorrow:

smarterleaders

Backup URL: http://sachachua.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/smarterleaders1.jpg

Stitching together a semi-rotational program; training is not the limiting factor

Choices

At an external networking event a few years ago, I talked to an up-and-coming MBA grad who told me about the rotational program he was in. He was scheduled to spend one year in one department, one year in another, and so on. I envied how he was being groomed.

Deliberately moving through different departments helps you build a wide base of experience and a diverse network. The formality of the program means that the frequent job shifts won’t be taken against you, as they might in an organization that values depth and specialization. Management development programs like that are essential for cultivating people with a broad understanding of the organization. Without sponsors or organizational backing, most people would find it difficult to shift from one part of the organization to the other.

Rotational programs and other leadership development initiatives tend to be offered only to high-potential people, where high potential is not only based on performance, but also velocity. When I was starting at IBM, my eldest sister advised me to find the fast track, get on it, and stay on it. While not entirely following her advice—I’d pick coaching people on collaboration over working tons of overtime on well-understood projects, even though the first doesn’t show up on my metrics and the second doesn’t—I’ve also nudged my manager about some of the development programs I’ve seen. I’ve volunteered for things like the Technical Leadership Exchange and the Take Two women’s leadership program. I read as much as I can, as widely as I can. I learn from people all over IBM.

Envy is a surprisingly useful driver as long as you don’t let it consume you. This reminds me of the invitation-only web development course I heard about when I was in high school. I wasn’t invited—me! and I’d done well in our programming competitions!—so I talked my way into it. It reminds me of how I envied the courses that students in other universities got to take, so I read through the online course materials and learned whatever I could on my own.

It’s not about the world being unfair, and it’s not about other people receiving opportunities that you have to make for yourself. It’s about looking around and saying, “Hey, that’s a great idea. How can I borrow part of that idea and make something for myself?”

Back to rotational programs. I don’t know what fields need to be set in my record for me to show up on HR’s radar (in a good way), but I’m not going to worry about that. I don’t have to wait for permission to learn as much as I can from other parts of this huge organization. I probably have the perfect starting point, actually. During my graduate studies, I learned about research. In Global Business Services, I’ve learned about development and consulting. In my Innovation Discovery engagements, I’m learning about marketing and sales. From our clients and experts, I learn about strategy, operations and finance. I help people in communications and learning and IT. I can take free online courses in almost any area. I don’t have the depth that comes from everyday delivery, responsibilities, and war stories, but I’m learning from people who do.

This matters because there’s tremendous value in being able to break down silos and work across organizational boundaries. The more we can reach out and tap the talent throughout IBM and the world, the more powerfully we can work. If we can learn from different parts of the organization without a formal rotational program, then that broader understanding becomes available to anyone who wants it. If we can influence and inspire without formal authority, then other people can learn emergent leadership too. If we can figure out this different way of working, we can share it with other organizations and influence the world.

I don’t have an executive sponsor or an HR program shaping my career path, but I have many mentors and role models, including some who take a chance on me and give me opportunities beyond my level. That’s enough to make a difference. The limiting factor here isn’t training. It’s my time and energy. There’s so much more to learn.

If you’re waiting for training—or an organizational blessing—look around and see what you can do with what you have. You don’t need a rotational program or a classroom course. Think about what’s really limiting you, and find out what you can do about it.

Thanks to David Ing for nudging me to think about this!

Women and technical leadership

I’ve read enough books to understand that when it comes to rapid career growth, family, and personal happiness, I can’t have it all, at least not all at the same time. I collect role models and goals anyway, just in case it turns out to be possible.

I think about the choices I make and try to project the consequences decades down the line. Do I look for a role in a growth market, and can our relationship thrive despite the distance? Do I focus on becoming an individual contributor, or do I prepare for people management? Do I focus on Canada or find a global role?

This profile of senior technical women from the Anita Borg institute helped me understand a little bit more of the road ahead. For example, if three out of four senior technical women have a partner or spouse who also works full-time, then maybe W- and I can balance our careers. If half of the single senior technical women surveyed have children, then people can lead even in a difficult situation like that. If senior technical women are more concerned with professional development than with work-life practices, that tells me that work-life practices and the need for flexibility probably won’t be limiting factors. Senior women in management roles think more about new opportunities outside or inside the company than senior women in technical contributor roles think of these things, so senior women in management may be at a higher risk of turnover. This reminds me of a mentor’s advice to stay technical, because strong technical contributions are a way to stabilize your position.

A recent IBM feature highlighted a few female IBM Fellows, the highest technical rank in the company. I’d met a couple of them already, thanks to my passion for collaboration and Web 2.0. I’m glad to work with a company that cares about diversity, and I’m looking forward to learning from everyone’s inspiration.

From the ground up: Helping our organizations work smarter

IBM’s latest Smart Work study is about how outperforming organizations have adopted smarter work practices much more than most organizations have. It has a lot of useful insights from CEOs and case studies. Reading it, I thought: This is written for executives. What do the results mean for us on the ground? How can we help our organizations work smarter, even if we’re not in leadership positions? Ultimately, cultural change doesn’t come from just CEOs or consultants – it comes from what we do every day.

The study showed that top-performing companies focus on:

  • People: quickly building skills and collaborating outside traditional boundaries
  • Processes: automatically reconfiguring processes and enabling collaboration in processes
  • Information: integrating data sources and using real-time information for making decisions

What can we learn from that, how can we challenge ourselves, and what are some ways we can get started?

People

How can we learn more, and how can we help others learn?

  • Mentor others and be mentored.
  • Share what you’re learning in blog posts, wikis, and other resources.
  • Help out in communities and discussion forums.

How can we reach out to people outside our departments and outside our organizations?

  • Talk to your customers, and make it possible for everyone to have that kind of contact.
  • Ask people outside your team for help and insight.
  • Look for relevant teams and coordinate with them.
  • Build your own rotational program.
  • Learn from everyone, including partners, competitors, non-clients!

Processes

How can we make our team’s processes more flexible and responsive?

  • Find out how people “work around” processes right now. Instead of punishing them, make the processes more adaptable.
  • Figure out what information you need to choose which process to use. Get that information faster.

How can we build collaboration into the way we work and the tools we use?

  • Learn about collaboration tools. Experiment. Make a habit of using them.
  • Give feedback on tools. Tell people what works, what doesn’t, and what could be even better.

Information

What real-time information could help us make better decisions, and how can we get it?

  • Identify the information you need in order to better understand what’s going on.
  • Talk to other people and figure out what your blind spots are.
  • Speed things up. Simplify processes or put in tools to collect data automatically.

How can we combine information to give us a better view of the big picture?

  • Figure out the kinds of information you combine manually. Invest in making a tool that shows you the big picture, like a dashboard.
  • Make it easier for other people to find and use your information.

No matter where we are in the hierarchy, we can help our organizations work smarter. What are you doing to build a smarter planet?

Show your work

Show your work

In grade school, I got into a lot of trouble with my math teacher because I didn’t show my work. I wrote the right answer, but I didn’t show the intermediate steps because I was doing a lot of it in my head. After lots of missed points on tests, I eventually got the idea. I needed to show my work so that the teacher could  double-check that I was doing everything properly. Now, I show as much of my work as possible, and not just in mathematics – in every area that I can. I think out loud. I post my mind-maps. I publish my in-between steps. It’s probably one of my most useful habits.

There are a number of reasons why showing your work can help you work better.

Showing your work means that other people can check if it’s correct. This is particularly important when you’re learning. Talking through your processes helps other people verify that you haven’t missed a step or done things incorrectly.

Showing your work can also help you share your knowledge with less effort. If you publish your in-between work, people can learn from it and from your growth.

Showing your work helps you teach more effectively. As you gain experience, you take more and more for granted. Eventually, you might find it difficult to explain topics to people who are new to the field. Your records of in-between work help you remember and empathize with the challenges faced by new people.

You might be afraid to show your rough drafts. What if someone thinks you’re sloppy or indecisive? What if you’re wrong? What if someone steals what you’ve done?

What other things are stopping you from showing your work? We can explore those reasons in a future blog post.