Monday, February 20, 2017

Right doses of right Leadership can indeed drive Big Hairy Audacious Goals !

It was a difficult project to begin with and starting from the business team and the solution providers and the implementation team were all cautious in their predictions of success. In this part of the world it was the first time that such an audacious project was been executed; there were a handful of global precedents and they too had seen significant challenges in achieving successful adoption by the business. The team attempting the feat was a collection of disparate skills which added to the challenge, they had no choice.

The project was conceptualized by the CEO – it could have been termed as his pet project – who painted a dream that few could visualize. He was convinced that if he did pull it off it would be a benchmark in an industry that was beset with delays, cost overruns and quality issues. His man Friday and close confidant was put on the job to find people willing to take the risk and become part of the team. Thus empowered, man Friday reached out far and wide to enroll an eclectic group which had created unreasonable success in the past.

Naysayers many, they warned citing instances of failures of mammoth proportions; any normal person would have probably been dissuaded, but the assorted team had never said no to any danger – perceived or real. Their confidence in attempting the journey was akin to the first team that successfully climbed virgin peaks. Internal pessimists decided to go along with a detached passion while the optimists decided to take on the project of their lives to partake in the glory should the summit be achieved.

So the project got off to a tentative start with the bunch of experts with no prior experience but loads of attitude, commitment and willingness to explore uncharted territories. They broke down the problem into micro steps which appeared achievable even by rookies. A monitoring system was put in place to carefully analyze every step, sign-off, and celebrate every step that took them forward. Challenges were scrutinized and alternatives tested with speed until they found the solution that fit the mosaic.

Stumbling through the journey the team slowly aligned to the task at hand; each individual contributor came from high ground of past success with associated ego and a winning formula that worked for them. The CEO stayed glued to the ground taking stock frequently, pushing the team to drop their differences and doubts. It took effort for them to arrive at common ground, but they did in their loyalty to the CEO and the challenge the project represented, a peak unconquered, a path untrodden, a batch un-lapelled.

Collectively the group now functioned like a well-oiled machine; the journey seemed easier than it did at the beginning, the road smoother and the target achievable. The CEO continued to charge the team showcasing their success to one and all while plaudits were showered on his audacious vision. As the finish line showed up on the horizon it brought many doubters back wanting to bask in the derived glory; their disconnect from the project visible, their faces clearly plastic in their celebration of imminent achievement.

Study conducted by Standish Group for over two decades clearly outlines the first and foremost reason for project failure as lack of Management focus; this project had more than a fair share of management oversight, in fact at times the group wished that they would be left alone to work. The CEO though overpowering in his demeanor, he knew when to back off and when to push. The end result was for everyone to see and learn from; the industry celebrated his success and many attempted to emulate it.

On another part of the world another enterprise in the same industry with the same set of internal and external challenges decided to pursue the safe path which was the norm. They too started their journey around the same time with resources available unwilling to take undue risks. The CEO – an able man – believed that his will shall be done, delegated the responsibility with an occasional tab on progress. Hearing of success in the other project he berated his team and their inability to complete simple tasks.

Leadership is not just about defining the vision and charging the team to execute; effective leadership requires a lot more, a connect to the ground, knowing when to push, when to back off, finding the right resources, and empowering them while keeping different personalities together. Leadership is not vested only with the CEO or a title holder, it can be practiced by anyone who is charged with a cause and willing to take a stand. Are you ready to get into discomfort zone to try something new ?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Build trust and respect at work, it stays a long way !

A: Much feared and revered he had iconic status in the industry; a hermit who was rarely seen in any public forum, stories were abound on his persona. Everyone knew he was a workaholic for who spending 12-14 hours at workplace was normal; he was famously notorious for midnight meetings and negotiations in the wee hours. Stories spread on his passionate work style and commitment to the enterprise, he was not a role model but inspired a generation of workers; he was synonymous with the company he worked in.

He made few friends with his ruthless style, it was difficult to find people who could say that they knew him as a person. Little was known of his antecedents or when he would give way to the next level of leadership. Commanding respect he was enigma that the industry had not been able to solve. 80 hour work weeks can be punishing even to the fittest, it finally did take its toll leaving him incapacitated for a while; understanding mortality, he hired a trusted lieutenant who modelled himself in his shadow.

Providence or coincidence, the teammate fell to pressure faster with serious medical condition which was rare for someone that young; but by this time the superman was back in full force thus taking up the slack. Over time their collective success elevated them into role models with many attempting to emulate their success little realizing the price they had paid to rise to the summit. They had sacrificed their personal lives in favor of their careers – families that were well provided for but emotionally disconnected.

B: Envied by many his steady climb did not go unnoticed; well read, articulate and opinionated in a good way, he was always ready to help his peers. He was a prominent speaker across conferences and events – people loved his views and thoughts which were at times audacious but pragmatic enough to be followed. Rarely one to put in long hours excluding exigencies, he did not expect his team to burn the midnight oil, but work to a plan with efficiency which he demonstrated and expected of his vendors too.

His team revered him and trusted him to keep the flag flying high and pass on credit where due; he coached them and encouraged them to take calculated risks – ready to take the brunt of failed experiments. Vendors loved him for shooting straight, his candid talk and fair approach to value realization on a sale while negotiating to build relationships with shared success. Always open to case studies and references it made him a beacon for every company that he worked in and industry that he adopted.

His family could be seen beaming at his success openly in family gatherings as well as industry events which added to his persona. He dissuaded people from imitating him, his mannerisms or style; but he created many leaders from within his team who grew to prominence in the industry – some also acknowledging the role their mentor played in their success. Shortcomings if any stayed hidden or overpowered by his professional success and the fact that he was always available to Management Trainee or CEO alike.

The contrast between A and B appears to be extreme and exaggerated; their approach to work and life are quite divergent. Professionally both created success that set benchmark in their respective industries, both were sought after by the industry, both loved and thrived in the attention showered by big and small. Their paths crossed many times with each acknowledging the other; they knew about the differences between their approaches, neither commented on them and the industry took them for what they represented.

While A continued to stay invested in his professional life beyond the normal retirement age, B got off the corporate treadmill early to enjoy the fruits of labor and started his entrepreneurial journey. Many years passed by with A now taking a backseat and B fading away from the scene; providence arranged their meeting which brought them face to face again. His reputation had stayed firm even when A had taken a backseat in most matters; the meeting never took formal overtones with mutual respect demanding a different setting.

The transaction happened quickly, the relationship built on a strong foundation stood the test of time. For B it was a validation of the seeds he had sown carefully over the years – of treating people with respect irrespective of rank and position, of helping without expecting anything in return, of being the spokesperson when none ventured, of being a good human being. Life goes round in circles; invest in people and relationships, the returns over the long run are worth a lot more than you can imagine.