Leadership Now!

Now

There is a very good interview in the Wall Street Journal today (14-15 July 2012) with George Shultz, former Secretary of State, Treasury, and Labor.

Shultz talks primarily about our countries devastating financial situation today.

On the economy, he states bluntly: “We have some big problems in this country.”

But according to the interview “the policies for revival are obvious with the right leadership.”

Shultz gives an example of former President Reagan (who I blogged about previously (24 June 2012) in It’s The Right Thing To Do] as someone who had what it took to lead us out of difficult times.

“It took long-term thinking…[Reagan] knew and we advised him you can’t have a decent economy with the kind of inflation we’ve got…The political people would come in and say ‘You’ve fot to be careful Mr. President…You’re gonna lose seats in the mid-term election.”

And as Shultz reminds us, what was Reagan’s response?

“And he basically said, ‘If not us who? If not now when?”

The article goes on that “it took a politician with an ability to take a short-term hit in order to get the long-term results that we needed.”

Reagans words and deeds remind me of the Jewish teaching from the Book of Avot (“Ethics of Our Fathers”) from more than 2,000 years ago which reads in 1:14–

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
And if I am [only] for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?”

Reagan was in tune with this ancient wisdom of our forefathers, that we have an obligation to take the appropriate actions to care for ourselves and others and not to put off these actions unto others or for later.

This is one of those true leadership qualities that made Reagan one of the most popular and favorite leaders on the 20th century.

Reagan acted based on principle and not based on votes–the long-term health and outcomes for the country was more important than the minute-by-minute polling.

Of course a leader needs to represent the will and wishes of the people, but he must do so with the bigger-picture and long-term view in mind for the nation to survive and thrive.

Similarly Peggy Noonan writes today about how we need a “political genius” to get us out of the mess we are in as a nation.

She too uses Reagan as an example and explains how he used to state about congress that: “when they feel the heat [from voters], they see the light,” and it is the President’s job to help the people understand and “galvanize them.”

As Ms. Noonan states about a real leader: “he’s direct and doesn’t hide his meaning in obfuscation, abstraction, cliches and dead words.”

A leader who knows and believes as in the wisdom of fathers, and like Ronald Reagan, “If not us who? If not now when?”

(Source photo: here with attribution to Tom Magliery)

>Newer Isn’t Always Better

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I love new technology as much or more than the next guy, but…

Last month, I came across an article in USA Today called “Army Ditches Velcro For Buttons,” which chronicles how after deploying high-tech, “space-age Velcro” in uniforms in 2004, the Army found that the good old button worked better on keeping pants packets closed. The Army is now substituting three buttons for Velcro on the cargo pockets of its pants to keep them from opening up and spilling out.

To me, the point is not whether we use new, newer, or even the newest technology out there (like space-age Velcro), but whether we are right-fitting the technology to our organization (in this case, the button met the needs of the soldier better).

I’m sure you may have noticed, as have I that certain technology enthusiasts like, want and literally crave the “latest and greatest” technology gizmos and gadgets, whether they fully work yet or not.

These enthusiasts are often the first to download a new (still buggy) app and the ones that line up (often bringing their own lounge chairs) the night before a new iPhone or other “hot” consumer technology product goes to market.

Similar, and perhaps well-intentioned, enthusiasm for new technology can end up in pushing new technologies before the organization is ready for them (in terms of maturity, adoption, change, priorities, etc.). In other cases, newer technologies may be launched even before the “ink is dried” on IT purchases already made (i.e. the technologies bought are not yet implemented and there has been no return on investment achieved!).

At the extreme, organizations may find themselves with proverbial IT storage closets full of still shrink-wrapped boxes of software and crates of unopened IT hardware and still not be deterred from making another purchase and another and another…

I remember in graduate school learning about shopaholics and those so addicted to consumerism that their behavior bordered on the abnormal according to the Bible of psychiatry, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM).

This behavior is in sharp contrast with organizations that are disciplined with technology and strong stewards with their organization’s investment dollars—they tend to follow a well-thought-out plan and a structured governance process to ensure that money is well-spent on IT—i.e. it is requirements-driven, strategically aligned, ROI-based, and technologically compliant with the architecture.

In such organizations, responsibility and accountability for IT investments go hand-in-hand, so that success is not measured by whether new technologies get identified and investments “go through,” but rather by how beneficial a technology is for the end-user in doing their jobs and how quickly it actually gets successfully implemented.

This latter organization model is the more mature one and the one that we need to emulate in terms of their architecture and governance. Like the Army, these organizations will chose the old fashioned button over the newer Velcro when it suits the soldier better and will even come out saving 96 cents per uniform.

New technology is great–the key is to be flexible and strategic about when it is needed and when it is not.

>Learning from Steve Jobs, CEO of the Decade

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Fortune Magazine (23 November 2009) named Steve Jobs of Apple, the CEO of the decade.

Steve Jobs’ unveiled his “digital lifestyle” strategy in 2000 when Apple was worth about $5 billion. Now almost a decade later, Apple is worth about $170 billion—slightly more than Google. Apple has revolutionized the markets for music, movies, mobile telephones, as well as computing.

Steve Jobs embodies User-centric leadership in every way:

Customer is #1—Apple’s products satisfy customers. “He may not pay attention to customer research, but he works slavishly to make products customers will buy.” There is intuitiveness to Steve Jobs’ understanding of people and technology. He knows what customers want even if they don’t or can’t articulate it and he designs the technology around the customer. Think iPhone, iPod, and Mac—they are some of the easiest and most customer friendly technologies out there; hence 100,000 applications for the iPhone, 73% of the MP3 player market, and some of the best PCs on the market today.

Innovation is key—Apple is consistently ahead of the curve. Their products are leaders, not follower-copycats. Despite losing the PC wars to Microsoft Windows, the Mac operating system, functionality, and design has been the one setting the standard for ease of use, speed, and security. The iTunes/iPod completely upended the music and movie industry, and the iPhone is the envy of just about every professional and consumer out there who doesn’t yet own one.

Holistic Solutions Delivery—Steve Jobs delivers a comprehensive solution’s architecture for the customer, and it shows with his merging of hardware, software, and service solutions. For example, “over the course of 2001…Apple launched iTunes music software (in January), the Mac OS X operating system (March), the first Apple retail stores (May), and the first iPod (November).” In 2002, Jobs told Time, “We’re the only company that owns the whole widget—the hardware, the software, and the operating system. We take full responsibility for the customer experience.”

Design Genius—The design of Apple’s products are sheer genius. They are sleek, elegant, compact, mobile, yet user-friendly—they are timeless, and pieces such as the G4 Cube have actually been showcased in The Museum of Modern Art and The Digital Design Museum. Even the Apple store in Manhattan with its winding glass staircases and cube entrance is a tourist destination in NYC.

Big Picture, Little Picture—Jobs is a master of balancing the strategic and tactical aspects of product execution. Jobs set the vision, but is also involved in the execution. “He’s involved in details you wouldn’t think a CEO would be involved in.” Apple is his passion and his desire for virtual perfection comes across the spectrum of both product and service from the company.

Mastery of the Message—he rehearses over and over every line he and others utter in public about Apple.” And it’s not only the contents of the message, but also the timing. Jobs knows how to keep a product launch secret until just the right moment. MacWorld, for example, has been used to strategically communicate the launch of new products, and this has kept both Apple fans and competitors closely tuned to these events.

Steve Jobs is a true model of leadership excellence due in no small measure to his relentless pursuit comprehensive product solutions based on innovation, design excellence, and customer service excellence.

Great Jobs!

>Weapons or Troops and The Total CIO

>Should the CIO focus on day-to-day operational issues or on IT strategic planning and governance issues?

From my experience many are focused on firefighting the day-to-day and putting some new gadget in the hands of the field personnel without regard to what the bigger picture IT plan is or should be.

In many cases, I believe CIOs succumb to this near-term view on things, because they, like the overall corporate marketplace, is driven by short-term results, whether it is quarterly financial results or the annual performance appraisal.

The Wall Street Journal, 30 October 2008, had an article entitled,
“Boots on the Ground or Weapons in the Sky?”—which seemed to tie right into this issue.

The debate is to which kind of war we should be preparing to fight— the current (types of) insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan or the next big war, such as potentially that with Russia or China.

Why are we facing this issue now?

“With the economy slowing and the tab for the government’s bailout of the private sector spiraling higher…lawmakers are signaling that Pentagon officials will soon have to choose.”

And there are serious implications to this choice:

“The wrong decision now could imperil U.S. national security down the road.”

The two sides of the debate come down to this:

Secretary Gates “accused some military officials of “next-war-itis,” which shortchanges current needs in favor of advanced weapons that might never be needed.”

In turn, some military officials “chided Mr. Gates for “this-war-itis,” a short-sighted focus on the present that could leave the armed forces dangerously unprepared down the road.”

From war to technology:

Like the military, the CIO faces a similar dilemma. Should the CIO invest and focus on current operational needs, the firefight that is needed today (this-IT-itis) or should they turn their attention to planning and governing to meet the business-IT needs of the future (next-IT-itis).

But can’t the CIO do both?

Yes and no. Just like the defense budget is limited, so too is the time and resources of the CIO. Sure, we can do some of both, but unless we make a conscious decision about where to focus, something bad can happen.

My belief is operations must be stabilized–sound, reliable, and secure—today’s needs, but then the CIO must extricate himself from the day-to-day firefighting to build mission capabilities and meet the needs of the organization for tomorrow.

At some point (and the sooner, the better), this-IT-itis must yield to next-IT-itis!