TED Talks

Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work.
We believe that we should work to be happy, but could that be backwards? In this fast-moving and entertaining talk, psychologist Shawn Achor argues that actually happiness inspires productivity. (Length: 12:18)

Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability.
Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. (Length:20:16)

Bobby McFerrin: Expectations
In this fun, 3-min performance from the World Science Festival, musician Bobby McFerrin uses the pentatonic scale to reveal one surprising result of the way our brains are wired. (Length:3:05)


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More on When You SHOULD Know, but Don’t

know-1082654_640Got a great rebuff from Luiz on my prior LinkedIn CIO forum post:

Barry Zweibel, do [sic] clever CIOs are prescient? How can he avoid questions for whose he will not have an immediate answer? No matter how knowledgeable and prepared he is, and most are, it is extremely improbable that he will be able to anticipate all queries and prepare himself to answer. So, I think that the best way is to say “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out by …”

Here’s how I replied:

Luiz – Yours is a reasonable push-back because, yes, there are times when, notwithstanding all the planning and preparation you do, you’ll STILL be asked questions you cannot answer. And in those instances, your “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out by …” response is solid.

But how many times do you think a CIO, CTO, or ANYONE, for that matter, can reply that way before it starts looking like s/he is unfocused and unprepared? 

That’s why looking for ways to be better prepare for those types of questions is worth considering. You might say it’s what helps some CIOs seem, to use your term, more “prescient” than others. 

In my prior post, I provided an actionable, plan proactively increase the flow of more timely and meaningful information UP the chain of command – from your staff UP to you. Let me now share how you can do that DOWN the chain – from your bosses, board members, key stakeholders, etc., DOWN to you. 

Start by asking yourself this: How DO these higher-ups come up with such challenging questions in the first place? It’s not like they’re even IT people, so where DOES their insight come from? Ever wonder? 

  • Do they get it from the WSJ or a magazine they regularly read?
  • Are they learning about emerging technology trends from their personal contacts or industry connections?
  • Might they be interviewing out-of-work CIOs for newer ideas and perspectives?

My point is that you if you know HOW they’re learning about what they ask, you can become significantly better prepared to answer their questions without having to use your “Let me get back to you on that” reply-of-last-resort, as often. 

  • Example: I remember one particularly cantankerous Board member who used to always catch me off-guard with his questions. So I asked him how he kept coming up with this stuff. It was through some arcane magazine he read. So I subscribed. And you know what? Not only did I get a good week-and-a-half of advanced notice about what he was likely to ask next, but he became an increasingly helpful ally as we continued to bond over other articles we both read in his favorite magazine!
  • Example: A former boss’s boss used to regularly talk with a Big Four partner she knew. While I never met the consultant, myself, I found out who he worked for, and started trolling their website for their latest White Papers and press releases. Soon I knew the consultancy’s talking points which made it surprisingly easily to “already know” their relevance and applicability to our company before being asked.

Is this a panacea? No. But I believe that thinking beyond the obvious, and taking increasing responsibility for whatever impact we are or are not having is both smart and savvy. Not everyone does. For those who do, though, I’d be happy to discuss ways to help further increase your Executive Intelligence, or that of your direct reports.

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When You SHOULD Know, but Don’t

know-1082654_640Oleg recently asked LinkedIn’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) Network Group: “How does someone in the highly visible position such as CIO / CTO say “I don’t know” about a key issue or strong technology problem without compromising his/her authority, career and influence?”

Here’s how I answered:

I like what AHSAN A. said in his response: A smart CTO/CIO will not let this happen for any key issue. Which begs a very important question, Oleg – what aren’t you doing on a day-to-day basis that would help you TO know?

The answer, in part, is informed by the second option you offered in your follow-up post: “do you delegate it out (and hope they will educate you in the process)?” From that, it seems pretty clear that your direct reports have not sufficiently prioritized your need to know about “approach A vs. B or technology D vs E,” etc., and are, instead, focusing on other (quite possibly meaningful) activities that just happen to be more helpful to them than you.

But don’t rush to blame them for that; it’s not their fault. If you don’t mind me saying so, it’s your own doing. After all, you are the boss. You get to set the priorities. And you get to hold people accountable. As the saying goes, “Who’s in charge of this asylum, anyway?!”

It makes sense that you’d EXPECT them to “teach” you (or whatever term you prefer) what you need to know, before you need to know it. But that’s not enough. You need to REQUIRE them to do so.

See the difference?

You see, by giving them the latitude of deciding for themselves what’s important for you to know, you’re left out of the loop. But the reality is that they’re busy people; they’ve got a lot going on; and they’re not the one’s being embarrassed by the questions you can’t answer – you are. Yes, they’re leaving you in the lurch, but can you see that it’s far more likely a case of “benign neglect” than anything more intentional?

Back when I was a VP in a mission-critical technology job, I’d interact regularly with Board members and senior executives. So I know, first-hand, how awkward the questions you’re talking about can be. That’s why I’d regularly tell my staff, “Your job is to give me news – and while I don’t really care if it’s good news or bad news, it must be NEW news. Know that it’s a requirement of your job.”

Know that your situation is imminently addressable, Oleg. (And by “Oleg,” I mean everyone else who’s facing similar issues up, down, and across the chain-of-command.) If you’d like to talk through how else you might increase your leadership impact, please contact me directly.


Thoughts? Comments? Follow the thread on LinkedIn.

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A Portfolio of Mentors


My latest response to a question posed in the Mentor’s Guild their Ask an Expert forum:

Their Question: We are national telecom organization with a new mentorship program aimed to develop our new executive leaders from within the organization. We have identified more than 20 mid-level managers from various functions who are eligible for the program, 4 of them are women. We intend to increase this ratio in coming years, but our immediate problem is finding the right mentors for the women mentees. There are very experienced women professionals in the organizations, but most lack the organizational clout to really push for their career advancement in the key discussions. Assigning male senior executives, as mentors, may present complexities of its own. Our current culture is a definite “work hard-play hard” which at senior levels extends to after office networking events, weekend events with customers, frequent travel, etc. It is one thing to participate in these after a promotion… but at this stage it might scare away women with young kids at home. Thanks for your suggestions.

My Answer: I wholeheartedly encourage you to modernize your mentor matching methodologies — for women AND men. Gone are the days where just one mentor is enough. What your up-and-coming leaders need is an entire PORTFOLIO of mentors. (I’ve been coaching/mentoring, professionally, for 14 years, but it’s a lesson I learned beforehand, back when  I  was vice president of telecommunications for a futures/options exchange.) Consider:

  • advocacy – which is the real key to upward mobility – requires more than just one boss and one mentor standing up for you
  • “single-sourcing” may make sense as a telecom marketing strategy, but it does not when developing your future leaders
  • even if one mentor was an expert in everything, there is power and perspective in getting multiple points of view

More at: Creating a Portfolio of Mentors » http://www.leadershiptraction.com/articles/TheLadders-2006-09-04.htm

P.S. You might also want to encourage the “boys” to consider what your up-and-coming women leaders have to recommend vis-a-vis your “work hard-play hard” culture. They may have some suggestions that not only help with work/life balance thing, but better differentiates your company with your clients and prospects, as well.

I’m happy to further the conversation with you – or your mentors and mentees – directly.  Call or email at your convenience.

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