2014 in Review

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Here is the WordPress.com helper monkey stats for my site in 2014.  Not sure this is of interest to the general public, but if so, here you go!

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,900 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Leadership and Branding Lessons From The Cub Scouts

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What can you learn watching Cub Scouts sell popcorn?  Marty Brej, my friend and former boss at Thomson Reuters, recently helped his son sell pop corn for his scout troop.  As he explained it to me over dinner:

  • Actively Engage: Briefly & confidently explain to passers-by who you are and what you are doing
  • Wear The Uniform: Be official…YOU are really the product people are buying!
  • Exemplary Behavior: Behave in a way that show respect for the uniform
  • Always Say “Thanks”:  Especially when someone declines to buy; you never know who will come back
  • Market Your Best: Display your best selling products prominently and effectively
  • Up-sell: …but have a fallback plan if people can’t afford it
  • “The Cub Scout Gives Good Will”: Support what others ask of you as you are asking them to support you

It struck me that these are all essential lessons in business and leadership.  These are also key concepts in networking, self-marketing and building your professional brand.  I thought about breaking each out of these down further, but I think the message is pretty straight forward: be genuine and exemplary in your conduct, providing value for value.  Also, buy some popcorn.

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

A Quick Test Of Your Brand and Influence

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Try this test to gauge the strength of your brand and influence at work.  Assuming your firm has Caller ID, call a few people that you know are in the office:

  • THEY PICK UP: A good sign; they know it’s you and they answered
  • YOU GO TO VOICE MAIL: Assuming they’re not on another call or stepped away, you may be suffering from “bad branding”
  • YOU GO DIRECTLY TO VOICE MAIL: You may have been diverted altogether; this is not a good sign

While this test isn’t fool-proof, it may give an indication as to how you are perceived, which has a direct impact on your effectiveness.  Any comments?

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

3 Questions to Ask in Developing Your Technology Roadmap

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Maintaining a firm grasp of the basics is an essential element of being an effective leader.  This is especially true in developing a technology roadmap with your partners in business operations.  There are three basic questions to ask and answer:

  1. What do you HOPE will happen?: Leveraging technology to move the firm forward requires that your business partner have a vision of where to take the firm and how this vision impacts revenue, expenses, profits, etc.  As a leader, it is essential that you understand what your business partner “hopes will happen” so you can translate this vision into meaningful information and activities for your teams.  This way, your teams can apply the vision to their day to day work and become an active partner in the firm’s success.  Make sure you know the answer to this question and make it a part of your thinking, speaking and writing so that you and your teams remain focused.
  2. What are you AFRAID will happen?: Learn what your business partners fear and what those fears may cost.  Are the costs operational?  Financial?  Personal (reputation or career risk)?  Understanding the risk to business operations will help you avoid real costs and unnecessary expenditures.  Understanding personal risks will help you understand otherwise-mysterious behaviors on the part of your business partners.  Overall, you must ensure that you and your teams are aligned with the business in avoiding risk.  Your teams can further identify obstacles within their own ‘field of vision’ as technology specialists that may not be readily apparent to the business operations teams.
  3. What are you DOING about it?: Understanding how your business plans to achieve its goals and avoid risk is where you add value a solution provider and business partner.  This is where the collaboration between business and technology can pay real dividends in terms of cost avoidance, customer retention and revenue generation.  Active engagement between business operations and technology also provides opportunities to build a more collaborative culture within the firm.  Getting your teams to understand the business they support, the goals of that business and the risks that the business seeks to avoid can transform your technology team into a business technology team.  This means working to support the business’ plans but also leveraging the unique brain power of your teams to propose other opportunities to move the ball forward, all with a shared understanding of the firm’s goals and obstacles to success.  One team – one goal.

Knowing where the business is going, identifying obstacles on that journey and being aligned with business operations are the keys to developing strategies and tactics to remove barriers and achieve the firm’s vision.  Leaders must ensure that this knowledge drives innovation in three key operational areas for the technology teams:

  • Successful execution of one-time initiatives and projects
  • Implementing effective changes to day-to-day operational processes
  • Developing and implementing sound policy and procedures.

Ensuring that the activities in these three operational work streams are focused on achieving the ends of the technology strategy will significantly improve your teams’ focus and increase your effectiveness as a business partner.  Ask the questions – know the answers and make these answers meaningful in your teams’ day to day lives.

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

Just The Facts: Writing to Get Your Problem Resolved

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To get movement in resolving a problem, you’re probably going to have to write to someone.  Whether you’re trying to get justice from the airline or hotel who wronged you on your last business trip or if you need to reach out to a peer to clear a log jam that’s blocking your team, written communication is sometimes the best path forward.  Here’s a simple framework that I’ve found effective over the years for resolving personal and business issues:

  • What’s Wrong: Clearly and concisely state the problem. Keep it factual – not editorial.  No emotions and no speculating on someone else’s frame of mind.  Just the facts.
  • Impact to YOU: Be very specific and unemotional about how the problem impacts (or will impact) you or your team. Again, be concise and factual with no editorial comments.
  • Impact to the READER: Make it clear that you realize you may not be the only one impacted and that this isn’t 100% about you. How might the reader also be impacted?  Beware of sounding threatening; you probably won’t need to connect all the dots for the reader.  An overview of the “dots” is enough.
  • Propose a Solution: Never dump the problem on the reader, as he may well “solve” your problem but not in the way you’d hoped. This can leave you negotiating your way out of a solution that you asked for.  Instead, give the reader a quick and graceful exit by proposing a solution that can be accepted or countered.  Clarify how your proposal benefits all parties.  This way, you stand a better chance of getting the result that you want or at least negotiating something close enough.
  • Follow Up: Let the reader know when you plan to follow up, proposing a reasonable amount of time and then do so.
  • Respect: Be smart about cc’ing others if you’re trying to resolve a business issue. Ask yourself what impact this may have on the reader and on getting the results you want.  Will cc’ing others truly help or will it “give the reader something to think about?”  Don’t give them something to think about.  Get the problem solved.

I like to say that it’s always better to give someone a printed sheet and a red pen than a blank sheet and a black pen.  Applying this approach, along with some respect and common sense, should allow you to quickly solve your problem and move on.

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

I Was Told

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Don’t say this.  Ever.  No, really.  No one in a leadership position should be caught saying “I was told.”  Such thinking can be indicative of a bad mindset and also sends a bad message to both your teams and your business partners.  Nothing says “not me” like the phrase, “I was told.”

Once you assume an executive role, you take on the responsibility of leading even when you may not like where you must lead.  You do have the right to respectfully and tactfully question your own leadership, but once the decision has been made, you have two choices – deal with it or quit.  Part of dealing with it is getting behind the team you are on and leading the resources assigned to you in order to execute and support your firm’s mission.

The message you send to your team when you play the “I was told” card is that your first loyalty is to the team you lead.  To be an effective leader within your firm, your first loyalty must be to the leadership team of which you are an integral part.  The team that reports to you are your resources that you must effectively lead in order to add value to your team and to your firm by getting things done.  If this paradigm is objectionable, you may be working for the wrong firm.

The message you send to your business partners is that you are not in control and that you lack confidence.  Your business partners need an empowered, confident and effective collaborator – not a victim of circumstances beyond his control.  It is imperative that your business partners view you as someone who can execute and deliver.  If they question this ability, you’ll only be adding to their stress rather than solving their problems.

Own your leadership role and set the right tone for both your teams and your business partners.  You may well have “been told,” but as a leader, you need to either respectfully work behind the scenes to effect change to what you were told or publicly get behind the decision and move forward.

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

Be Friendly – Not a Friend

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As a leader, you can be friendly with your team but you can’t be friends.  This is one of the hardest transitions to make as you move into a leadership role.  In the early part of your career, you’re “one of the guys” and that works when you’re a member of a team.  But you can’t be one of the guys once you are responsible for leading people.

First off, it’s awkward.  You’re no longer “one of the guys” and acting as though you are will only make people uncomfortable.  One of the guys can’t fire you or request that the project sponsor have you removed from the team.  Luckily, your best people probably don’t want you to be their friend – at least not while they work for you.  Strong teams want strong leaders – not best buddies.  A strong leader focuses on making smart decisions on the team’s behalf and not on making friends.  Unfortunately, your weaker players probably do want a best buddy, assuming that “friends won’t fire friends.”

Not being friends doesn’t mean you have to be a cold, calculating automaton.  Leadership is about influence, which is earned by everything you do, say or write.  Being friendly is a leadership style and while it doesn’t mean kissing up to your team, it does mean being a decent human being and maintaining a positive, open attitude.  It’s easier to earn influence if you’re friendly and approachable.

Being friendly is a good way to put your team at ease and to foster open and regular communication – the lifeblood of any good functioning team.  This also sets a positive example for your team on how to relate to other people.  A team that regularly earns influence within an organization will strengthen their ability to execute and get things done.  This is a key cultural goal for any leader in building an effective team.

Being friends with people on your team gives the appearance of favoritism and may alienate some of your more effective resources.  Instead, seek to earn your team’s respect by setting a good example and by being friendly and open to their ideas.  You’ll be surprised how forgoing friendship while working with your team will often result in true friendships after your professional relationship has changed….and I’m speaking from personal experience.

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese