Passing the “Mess Test”

image source: MorgueFile

Someone posed a question on LinkedIn’s “CIO Network” discussion board the other day – “Can a CIO be effective as both a strategic leader and a hands-on manager?

It’s a question that’s as relevant to non-IT leaders as it is to CIOs, don’t you think? Here’s what how I answered it:

The key, to me, is not whether a CIO CAN be effective as both a strategic leader and a hands-on manager, but WHEN a CIO should be a strategic leader and when s/he should be more hands-on.

Being too hands-on when strategic leadership is needed will make you look like an untrusting, micro-managing, bureaucrat – “Hey, quit doing MY job and do your own,” they’ll say.

Being too strategic when hands-on support is what’s called for will make you look obtuse, cartoonish, and irrelevant – “Hey, we need some real help here, not just your pie-in-the-sky platitudes and rhetoric.”

Mismatch the approach enough times (or at the wrong times) and your reputation will suffer significant, lasting, and unflattering results. Mismatch the approach enough times (or at the wrong times) and your organization will suffer even worse in terms of morale, engagement, productivity, creativity, politics, blame, obfuscation, and such.

So how do you know which to be when?

My rule of thumb – the Mess Test – if you know how you’d clean up the mess if things go terribly, terribly, wrong, stay strategic. But if you’re not sure how you’d mop up should things go awry, be more hands-on.

The Mess Test won’t work in EVERY situation, but it’s a good North Star to check your decisions. And by asking yourself, more regularly, precisely how WOULD you mop things up, if need be, you’ll naturally improve BOTH your strategic leader and hands-on manager competencies.

Your thoughts?


Hindsights, PIGs (Patterns, Insights, and Gaps), and Lessons Learned

I’ve long-believed that, for recurring challenges, hindsight is the #1 best planning tool. Taking the time to consider what worked, what didn’t, and why – your P.I.G.s (Patterns, Insights, and Gaps) – accelerates a deeper understanding of what it takes to make good things happen sooner – and more regularly.

On the one hand, re-evaluating our failings helps us avoid making the same (or similar) mistakes twice. And on the other hand, reviewing our successes and achievements serve us doubly – as an affirmation of our capabilities, and as a solid foundation from which to further grow.

So let’s.

Facilitating Hindsight Learning Requires Structure

For purposes of this post, let’s use the three contexts of Executive Intelligence to ground our evaluation:

executive-intelligence-chart

STEP ONE – Take out a clean sheet of paper and create – and complete, as best you can, – the following table:

click for larger version

click for larger version

Note that both success and failure categories have been divided into two subsets – those that concluded as expected, and those that did not – because, that’s how things REALLY work.

STEP TWO – Notice the PIGs – the Patterns, Insights, and Gaps:

Patterns

  • What patterns do you see in your successes?
  • What patterns do you see in your failings?
  • What patterns do you see in the instances where your expectations turned out to be wrong?

Insights

  • What do you make of all that?
  • What do you “see” now that you didn’t before?
  • How do you “feel” about all of this?

Gaps

  • Where does it make sense for you to focus your attention, more readily and consistently, moving forward?
  • Based on your PIGs, what do you know you need to learn? UN-learn?
  • Assuming you get all this in place and taken care of, what gaps would likely STILL exist for you at the end of the day?

What Next?

What happens next is up to you. Similarly, what doesn’t happen next is up to you, too.

Regardless, spending some time with your Hindsights and PIGs will likely provide you with meaningful clarity and perspective.

Try it and see. 



Brave New Year: Break Out of the Resolution Rut

(Yet another) professional coach (read: Me) writing (yet another) New Year’s Resolutions blog post is more than I can stand. So I’m “out-sourcing” the task to the Chicago Tribune, which has done a very nice job of it in Brave New Year: Break Out of the Resolution Rut, which reads as follows…along with my comments in green…

The New Year’s resolution has admittedly become a cliche — target practice for naysayers who remind us we probably won’t keep them past Jan. 31. To some of us, though, January is a clean slate upon which we can fill in the activities or choices that can make our lives better.

Now, a lot of resolutions are about ditching things you like (and that, we suspect, may be why so many people dislike them). We prefer to embrace resolutions that will usher in a brighter, bolder way of living. [Nice “re-framing,” as we coaches like to call the shifting of  how we “look at” something.] We asked colleagues, and a few experts, to share some ideas that are a bit more novel, than, say, losing 10 pounds or quitting smoking. (Both of which are perfectly respectable resolutions.)

Maybe you’ll find some inspiration here. Or maybe you won’t and will declare that you’re going to spend 2013 pretty much the same way you spent 2012. Which, actually, is a resolution too. [Yes, choosing NOT to change is as much of a choice as choosing WHAT to change!]

Meditate: My life is blazing by so quickly that I often don’t feel I’m actually part of it. This year I will focus less on doing and learn how to start being, so I don’t wind up, 30 years from now, shaking my head and asking, “Where did my life go?” I expect change won’t happen overnight. Training the brain, much like working out the body, requires patience and regular hard work. Should I falter, I will return to the words of meditation teacher Elesa Commerse, who told me that meditation helps us “get ready” for what life sends our way. “You should meditate because this is your one precious life and you don’t want to miss it,” she added. “It goes quickly. It is unpredictable. And it is fragile.” — Julie Deardorff [A phrase that I’ve found strangely helpful in quieting my own brain’s incessant chatter is this: “Just because I’m HAVING a thought doesn’t mean I have to actually THINK about it.” Feel free to borrow it!]

Accept imperfection: Including (and especially) when it comes to our kids, says Brett Berk, early childhood expert and author of “The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting” (Three Rivers Press). “Whether selecting a preschool, a pair of pants or a head of broccoli, contemporary parents are a bit too precious about things being precisely just so,” says Berk. “Wanting the best for your child is admirable, but it’s healthy for everyone — parent and child alike — to learn to deal with eccentricities. Our greatest, and most unanticipated, lessons often come from exploring and integrating a response to the quirky and unexpected.” — Heidi Stevens [Exploring and integrating a response to the quirky and unexpected — I LIKE that. But, unless you’re a world-class athlete, or the like, aiming for perfection usually means settling for less than you hoped. So that’s why I prefer (and recommend) aiming, instead, for what’s minimally required…and then upgrading from there. You’ll likely end up achieving about the same level of quality as you would under the Perfectionist’s Paradigm, but will be much more satisfied – and motivated – by it.]

Talk to strangers: I’m going to talk to more people. Not every day (way too anti-social for that) and obviously, with safety in mind. The target will be two times a week. Asking for a decaf Americano will not count, nor will “thank you” (I should be saying that anyhow). When someone has a great hat, I’ll tell her it’s great. If his dog is adorable, maybe he needs to hear that. [BTW, dogs just LOVE it when you call them puppies.”What a nice puppy YOU are.” Go ahead, try it for yourself and see.] If I’m looking for a good restaurant in a new neighborhood, why not ask people who look as if they live there? The rebuff, the smirk, even the glare are all risks I’ll learn to take for thicker, more cheerful skin. For good advice (and not just on this topic), go to Gretchen Rubin’s website, The Happiness Project, happiness-project.com (type “conversation with a stranger” in the search field). — Renee Enna [Be sure to check out “How to Create Your Own Good Luck” in the Networking Skills section on the Self Study page of the LeadershipTraction website » http://leadershiptraction.com/self-study-materials/#networking, as well.]

Eat smarter: Rather than fixating on every little thing I eat, I’ll remember what Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit” (Random House) told me: “What you eat for lunch today doesn’t matter. But what you eat for lunch every day is hugely important. It determines if you’re fit or not, whether you have enough energy, how long you live, do you get to see your kids grow up, how much do you have to pay for life insurance, for health insurance. So what you eat every single day matters a huge amount. But people are trained to think about the decision in front of them, rather than the decision that happens every single day. At some point most people realize they’ve been overlooking this huge part of their life. And that’s when they take control.” — Judy Hevrdejs [Sometimes a conscious decision for “one LESS,” is all that’s needed to eat one less donut, drink one less beer, inhale one less order of french fries — start wherever you have to start, is what I say!]

Note a “joie du jour”: When the going gets tough (or the day gets rainy or the computer gets cranky), think of one little bit of joy in my day. A smile from a friend. A great cup of coffee. Or maybe it’s as simple as being able to get out of bed and stand up. — J.H. [I’ve approached this, in part, by creating some “collages” over at Pinterest. Take a look-see: www.pinterst.com/barryzweibel and maybe even start a “pin board” (or two or three…or more) of your own.] 

Party alone: Barbie Adler, president of Selective Search dating service, says single folks should attend more weddings and parties solo — including New Year’s Eve soirees. “Do not, I repeat, do not bring a filler date or a friend as a stand-in date,” says Adler. “This is false advertising and implies the assumption that you are off the market. Hello, missed opportunities! You are selectively single, (so) capitalize on this opportunity to potentially meet someone. Smile, exude confidence, work the room with taste, class and quiet confidence. Nothing says confidence like someone who warmly introduces themselves to others. You never know who you’ll meet or who someone knows.” — H.S. [Let me repeat that for emphasis: “Nothing says confidence like someone who warmly introduces themselves to others.” Try it and see.]

Watch more TV: I’m tired of having nothing to add to the conversation when it’s about “Homeland” or “Girls” or “Downton Abbey” or one of the other likely very compelling, well-written, thought-provoking (or at least really entertaining) shows that everyone but me seems to be watching. DVR, here I come. — H.S. [I like the counter/counter-intuitive nature of this one — more actually IS more. Can anyone say Big Bang Theory (CBS/TBS), America’s Test Kitchen (PBS), The Newsroom (HBO) or the NFL playoffs (CBS/NBC/Fox)?!]

Get rid of things: My desk at work, much like my closet at home, is a terrifying, overwhelming mess of stuff I keep around just in case I may need it in the future, or because it holds some sentimental value. But there is no need to keep my late grandfather’s dirty handkerchief. The 3-year-old bags of gourmet coffee sitting in my cubicle aren’t less of a waste just because I haven’t thrown them out. The piles of notes and books I have accumulated deserve an hour of my time for proper filing. In the spirit of de-cluttering mind and space, I will keep only the things I use and/or love, and edit weekly. Organization expert Peter Walsh has some detailed de-cluttering tips at organize.com (click on the link to The Peter Walsh Store). — Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz [I think there’s a tv show, or two, about this, as well!]

Choose happiness: In a conversation about the trend toward empty-nester divorce, Mary Jo Pedersen, author of “For Better, For Worse, For God: Exploring the Holy Mystery of Marriage” (Loyola Press), left me with a reality check that I’ll work to apply to all of my relationships: “Our expectations of marriage are so out of line,” Pedersen said. “Marriage isn’t supposed to make you happy; it’s supposed to make you married. Marriage creates an environment in which you can choose happiness and you can create a wonderful home and friendship that will bring you happiness. But the institution itself, like everything, it’s what you do with it.” — Wendy Donahue [Try this: Each morning, ask yourself what you might do to make yourself proud of yourself. Then…choose THAT.] 

Log off: Gemini Adams knew she had a problem when she would show up at parties and people would tell her they already knew everything they needed to know about her life from her Facebook updates. In “The Facebook Diet: 50 Funny Signs of Facebook Addiction and Ways to Unplug with a Tech-Detox” (Live Consciously Publishing, due out in January), Adams describes how spending too much time on social media hurts work productivity and real-life friendships, not to mention your neck and back. “It’s like AA,” Adams says. “The first thing is admitting that you spend more time on social media than you’d like to.” To help wean yourself off, she recommends fighting tech with tech: Download Freedom, an app that lets you set your computer so that you can’t access the Internet for an hour, or Rescue Time, which tracks what’s happening on your computer so you can quantify your social media time suck. Or just leave your phone at home every once in a while — if that sounds horrifying, put it on silent — and remember what it feels like to be fully present in your life rather than tweeting about it. — A.E.R. [Maybe/maybe not. I’m undecided on this one. But if it feels like “too much,” to you, then it probably is. And if me merely asking the question causes a surprisingly emotional response from you, then it probably is, as well.]

Hit the ground walking: It was one of those emails from Harvard Health Publications that got me walking last spring. The thrust of the message: Walking was an easy way to work toward being healthier without needing special equipment or skills. Heck, even the sweat seemed optional. So I started walking. The days were lengthening so it was easy to hit the pavement at 7 or 8 p.m. and walk for an hour or so. But then summer turned to fall and fall to winter. My daily walk has slowed to a once- or twice-a-week thing. My resolution is to get back to a daily walk by incorporating it into my evening commute. I’m going to get off the bus short of my destination and walk the rest of the way. — Bill Daley [Hey, how about this: Update your Facebook and Twitter pages, while walking, through the power of Instagram and your smartphone. BAM!]

Establish boundaries: I’ve recently discovered the benefit of establishing boundaries when it comes to coping with people who are toxic. Dr. Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and author of “Positive Energy” (Three Rivers Press), told me, “If you have energy vampires around you, which are people who suck the energy from you or do you wrong, don’t get into that unhealthy dysfunctional exchange. It could be just constraining yourself and not going for their bait when they engage. Then they become less interested and will move on to someone else.” We have a choice about whom we spend time with and why. I am going to make a better effort to choose wisely in 2013. — Jenniffer Weigel [Make no mistake: Boundaries = Good, and Good Boundaries = VERY Good.]

Do things badly: One of my most enjoyable experiences this year was learning to draw realistically, something I’d never really pursued because my mom is an artist and I’m not super-talented. I’m still no Picasso, but as it turns out, I am someone who takes great joy in creating a recognizable image: the process, the product, the (slightly) more sophisticated way I now see the world. For instruction, I turned to the terrific book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (Tarcher), by Betty Edwards. I also started to swim laps in 2012, which I love, despite the fact that my breast stroke is maybe one step up from the dog paddle. Now I’m wondering what else I might really enjoy doing badly. Knitting sweaters? Speaking Spanish? New worlds await. — Nara Schoenberg [I’ve always said that bosses learn more about you from how you recover from failure than they do from how you bask in success. Plus, “doing things badly” also helps you model how you want your staff to recover from their failures, which is something you likely want them to do more gracefully than they currently do.]

Copyright © 2012 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

Okay, so good luck. And if you find yourself getting stuck, needing a little accountability, or just want to talk things through, just give me a call.