Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Faraway, Yet So Close: The Paradox of Global CIO Leadership

Our recent research has focused on identifying the specific leadership skills that distinguish great CIOs. The findings from our study are meant to generalize to a broad audience of CIOs. But what happens when you train your focus on just one particular group – Global CIOs? What is it that they need to succeed and achieve stellar results? Do they do something different than CIOs who aren’t leading on a global stage?

It appears that one of the seven skills we profiled in The CIO Edge, Embracing Your Softer Side, takes on a particular significance in a global context. It is the skill that is perhaps the most difficult to manage across cultures and time zones, but also the one with the largest upside impact when practiced successfully.

The key to effectively building and managing relationships in an international context is understanding. People are different across the world, that much is clear. Some differences matter more than others. Which ones matter and, furthermore, how they matter isn’t always clear. It requires a deep understanding of both the individual and the surrounding cultural context to begin to make this all come into focus.

Essential to building understanding is being open and receptive. The trump card skill here is listening. Not just hearing, listening. If you are to begin to truly understand someone – their ideas, their beliefs, their aspirations, their concerns – then you need to exercise your patience, restrain your own desire to talk and really, truly listen.

Humor, suprisingly, also plays a role. Culture has a strong shaping effect on humor. By establishing a light, but still productive tone to interactions and allowing humor to surface, you give others an opportunity to express themselves and also gain a glimpse into who they are.

Understanding is a two-way street. It is just as important for you to give of yourself as it is to draw others out. Caring and relating are essential, especially when great distances are involved. As a result of being fair and caring, high-performing CIOs engender a deep sense of loyalty and “followership,” even when tough people decisions are called for. Likewise, the ability to relate to all kinds of people fosters a bond and a platform for collaborative relationships and working through tough issues. Finally, personal disclosure of the appropriate type and frequency gives others the opportunity to know “the real you.”

This leads us to the central paradox in being a global CIO - you can actually gain strength as a leader by being vulnerable. Successful CIOs show they care enough about the people they work with to make themselves vulnerable so that it can be a truly two-way relationship. In other words, by demonstrating vulnerability – hoping that others will open themselves up in return – these CIOs are creating an environment that facilitates understanding and sets the stage for stronger relationships. Distance is an important considersation here – the further away you are from others, the closer you have to draw them in.

The role of technology is also paradoxical. Obviously, technology has enabled us to become instantly connected to one another across any distance. Great things can be accomplished without ever needing to be together in the same room. Similarly, a misuse or overreliance on technology can cause as many stumbling blocks as it eliminates, particularly when it comes to building relationships and solving complex matters that tap into emotions, beliefs and personal values.

Sometimes the old-fashioned, people-to-people skills just can’t be replaced. By embracing your soft side and showing a willingness to be vulnerable, you become more connected to your people and this helps to make a very large and messy world just a bit smaller and more manageable.

Note: An edited version of this post is due to appear on the Smart Enterprise Exchange blog site in January along with a related post from my co-author Graham Waller of Gartner. Keep an eye on Graham's blog ( for related info.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The CIO Edge: Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results

Over the next several weeks, I will be highlighting the seven critical skills that my co-authors and I researched and identified as differentiators for world-class CIO's. The truth of the matter is that these skills are in many ways applicable to any C-suite leader, so this need not be of interest only to current or aspiring CIOs. The seven skills have less to do with one's proficiency from a functional/technical standpoint or overall business acumen (although those are necessary skills) and more with how effective leaders engage with diverse stakeholders to deliver results through people, by people and with people.

To find out more and to get the overall context, I have included a link to a blad that features the introductory chapter of the book:

From here, I will go on to reveal and explore each of the seven skills one by one.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lessons Learned

In just a few days, the latest book project I have been a part of, The CIO Edge, will be released worldwide. In the coming weeks I will write plenty about the content of the book, but before I do I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the process itself.

First off, I want to thank my co-authors, Graham and Karen, for their amazing contributions and for making the book writing process such a memorable experience. Part of what made it such a great experience is what I find myself reflecting on. Throughout the process we received several comments from our editors and others working with us on what a remarkable job we did of working together as a team; frankly, much better than they had typically seen when three or more authors get together to write a book.

What we did to make this happen and work so well wasn't anything that is terribly profound or mysterious, but I think it is worth sharing nonetheless. Beyond having respect for one another, listening and having an open mind to diverse ideas, the one thing that I feel really made a difference for us was our willingness to sacrifice our egos and truly put the book first. Simply said, if you let the book (or whatever it is you are tackling) be the focal point and the star of the show, it is much easier to look at matters objectively and push when you need to push and yield when you need to yield, etc. It's not about you and your thoughts, ideas and stake in the matter; it's about creating the best deliverable you can in conjunction with your partners.

So there you have it. Nothing out of this world, but I hope a solid and reliable piece of advice that can help you in similar situations where you have to collaborate with a diverse group of individuals to accomplish a complex and challenging task.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Different Perspectives, Same Ideas

I recently had an opportunity to speak to a group of university alumni about the essential elements of a succesful career. Rather than provide personal commentary and wisdom on the matter I chose to speak from the perspective of what science, including much of the research conducted by Lominger and Korn/Ferry over the years, has to say on the topic. I highlighted some key characteristics such as intelligence and motivation that are more price-of-admission, and others such as learning agility and self-awareness that are more differentiating.

After speaking, I took my seat and was followed by the next speaker, a distinguished alumni of the university who has had a successful entreprenuerial career. What was remarkable was that for the next 15 minutes he proceeded to make many of the exact same points that I had made during my presentation but in a completely different style and from a very different angle. I used graphs and statistics, he used snapshots that had been taken over his career. I cited published research, whereas he cited his own personal experience. I spoke with focus and precision and he spoke with unbridled passion. But still, the end result was the same.

This left two very strong impressions:

1) Two very different perspectives can still yield the same ideas and conclusions, and
2) It is always best to speak first, so you don't have to keep making references to "what the previous speaker just said" (although that was much appreciated).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Looking for an Edge?

As promised last month, I am introducing some variety to the blog. In addition to my usual focus on current topics in talent management and executive development, I will provide news and insights from my time in Asia and also shine more light on my collaboration with Graham Waller of Gartner, Inc.

Our book (co-written with K/F alum Karen Rubenstrunk), The CIO Edge, comes out in early November. In it, we chronicle our reasearch into the key differentiators of success for the best CIOs in business and industry. Our resounding conclusion is that while business acumen and technological savvy are important ingredients for success, the difference-maker is a strong command of seven specific interpersonal skills. Applying these skills has an exponential impact on the CIOs ability to create value and deliver results across the enterprise.

For more information, check out the Facebook page for the book:!/pages/CIO-Edge/140710635971417?v=wall&ref=search

Also, Graham will be doing a regular blog:

...and I will be providing a response to his thoughts.

On that note, regardless of whether you are in the IT space or another field or functional area, ask yourself if you are getting results based primarily on your technical capabilites or your people skills. If your answer is raw capability, then consider what opportunities and outcomes you might be forgoing by leaning on your technical capabilities. Likewise, ask yourself how things might be different if you were to expand your comfort zone and add to your reperatoire of leadership skills.

Please join in the conversation with Graham and I. We look forward to the dialogue.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Paradigm Shifts - Are You Ready for the Next One?

I remember first learning about paradigm shifts many years ago in college. In fact, the topic came up in two very diverse classes - geology and psychology - in the same semester. That impressed upon me that paradigm shifts can take place in just about any discipline, industry, society, etc. The trick is in getting ahead of the curve and detecting the forces that are gathering to make the shift before the actual shift occurs. Those who do can have systems and practices in place that effectively leverage "the new reality" while everyone else either stubbornly clings to "the old model" or stumbles about in trying to get their bearings on a world that has changed for them seemingly overnight. Many of these individuals and/or firms will eventually adjust to the new paradigm, but they will forever be playing catch up to those who saw the wave coming and positioned themselves to ride it into shore.

Despite all the talk about disruptive innovations, the interconnected nature of our society and the increasing pace of work and life, it could be argued that true paradigm shifts are still a relatively rare occurance in any given area. We are not talking about fads here, but a fundamental shift to a different way of thinking, perceiving or acting.

With that as a context, some recent research we are undertaking suggests that we are on the verge of a paradigm shift in the prevailing model of leadership in Asia. This has implications for companies that are local to the region as well as companies from outside Asia that are looking to the region as a source of significant expansion and growth. I won't say much more right now, but I will definitely have more to say as the months go by.

In the meantime, think about your profession, your industry, your region, etc. and consider what might be some of the gathering forces that may have minimal impact now but will surely be felt in the years to come. How can you position yourself and your organization to actually capitalize on these emerging shifts?

On a closing note, welcome to the new followers that have come on in recent weeks (invite your friends!) and thank you for the comments. I am eager to make this a very dialogue-driven blog, so keep them coming.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Directions

Now that I've relocated to a new part of the world it is time to introduce a few changes to the blog. I still plan to continue to post my thoughts and observations on matters related to leadership and talent management. In addition, I will also broaden my focus to two new areas:

* Reflections on leadership that take into account the Asian context and perspective. I hope to soak up much new insight and learning relevant to this topic while based in the region.

* A point of view on leadership as it relates to CIOs. For the last year and a half, I have been working with a group of co-authors on a book that captures the critical leadership skills for success as a CIO. The book will come out this Fall and I look forward to sharing some related observations here. Here's a hint - the best CIOs are not necessarily those with the greatest technology savvy or even business acumen. There is a separate set of skills that differentiates them.

That's it for now. Stay tuned for more.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Off to Singapore

Well, the day is drawing near. At the time of my next blog post, I will have officially started my new assignment in Singapore. The next few years will be spent chronicling what I hope to be many fresh and intriguing insights into talent management gained from my time in the region.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Step 6 - Consequences

You may have reached this stage with a successful outcome in terms of reaching a developmental goal, but that success may be for naught if the proper time isn’t taken to work through this stage. Before moving on, acknowledging what has (or hasn’t) been accomplished is essential. If the goal has been accomplished, make sure the desired rewards are delivered and celebrate the achievement. If efforts have fallen short, take a hard look at what didn’t go right and consider the consequences. Either way, an accounting of the process needs to take place and the appropriate outcomes delivered. This provides closure to the process and sets the stage for subsequent development efforts.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Step 5 - Blend

Now it’s time for action. You’ve got the motivation, you’ve got the plan, now you just need to execute it. Key elements here are encouragement, feedback, a willingness to tolerate mistakes, and being open to experimentation. The plan for development, no matter how well crafted, doesn’t always work to expectations. Problems need to be spotted and diagnosed early, alternatives explored, and new approaches monitored for effectiveness. This is where leveraging others is particularly helpful. To the extent that others are aware of and understand the need that is being worked on, they can act as a network to provide feedback, advice and support. While it can be difficult for the learner to be open about his or her need to develop, it often makes a difference in terms of eventual success. Others know how difficult it is to change and often the learner’s willingness to admit the need for change and the need for help in changing can rally others around him or her.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Step 4 - Build

To round out my posts before I depart for my new assignment in Singapore, I will provide an overview of the final three steps in the development process. (Steps 1-3 were highlighted earlier this year.) The next step is "Build":

Once you have a motivated learner with a clearly identified need, now you can start to address the “how” of development. This is a fairly time-tested, reliable process. Set some measurable goals, put together a detailed plan, including specific changes in thinking and/or behavior, and make sure the necessary resources are available to support the effort. There are, of course, some important things to consider. How much time can be allocated to addressing the need? How long will it take for real signs of improvement to start to appear? What factors in the work environment might distract from implementing new approaches or even reinforce current practices? Another thing to consider at this stage is that development is not always about taking a straight line to “getting better” at something. Oftentimes, more indirect and creative approaches can be used, including engaging in workarounds (for example, I’m not good at planning, so I’ll just delegate it to someone else who does it better) or substituting strengths to cover for a weakness (for example, I feel awkward in new social situations, so I will use my sense of humor to create rapport).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Exploring the Many Faces of Learning Agility

When it comes to learning agility, one size does not fit all. In fact, recent research conducted by Lominger International has revealed that there are seven frequently occuring profiles amongst high learning agile people, each with its own unique mix of strengths and development needs.

Which profile a high potential fits the closest with has implications for determining what settings that individual's strengths can be most effectively put to work in and what situations can provide the best opportunities for development. Now organizations can make more precise decisions about deploying and developing their learning agile talent and can learn to view high potentials through a more differentiated lens.

To learn more, check out the information on our site:

I look forward to a dialogue with followers of this blog regarding the many faces of learning agility and their implications for managing talent strategically and effectively.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Experience, New Perspective

A core tenet of Korn/Ferry's approach to talent management is that on-the-job experiences are the key driver of employee growth. The greater the challenge, the more potential upside there is for learning and development. That being said, I hope to be living proof of that principle in the next few years, as I will be soon be undertaking an extended assignment to relocate to Singapore.

I look forward to the new experiences, the fresh challenges, the enhanced skills, and, ultimately, the broader perspective and deeper wisdom this opportunity will bring. My hope is that the benefits of these learnings will find their way into this blog.

Stay tuned.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Step 3 - Action

Declare your intention and take action. You have reflected on feedback related to your performance and working style. You have thought about your goals and long-term aspirations. You have considered what leadership characteristics are most important for your current role and your career goals. You are ready to commit to action. First, state your intention. Out loud. In front of other people - your colleagues, direct reports, spouse. They will not only hold you accountable but they can also provide support. Now, do something. Build momentum. Experiment. Practice. Get feedback. Practice some more. Get more feedback. Continuing practice with feedback is a key to building your skills and reaching your potential.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Step 2 - Acceptance

Acknowledge what’s missing and why it’s important. No doubt you are accomplished in many areas. What you’ve been doing has worked to some degree, but what is not working? Unless the need to change is clear to you, no amount of coaching, nagging, or feedback will convince you to do something about it. It’s your life, your career, your choice. You decide what to view as inconsequential and what to view as limiting. And you live with the consequences. The question is – what if what is missing is really important? And, what would change for you if the issue were resolved? If you can project significant and immediate benefits, you’re likely to have the will to do something about it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Step 1 - Awareness

At the end of last year I offered some tips for those looking to undertake some professional development in the new year. Whether it is a personal resolution or part of your formal development plan, certain principles apply to successful development. In a series of posts, I will highlight some of the key steps necessary to begin and sustain your developmental journey. I'll begin today with the first critical step - building awareness.

The essence here is to look both outside yourself and inside yourself. What does it take to wake up to the truth? Awareness can come from the outside in or the inside out. A clue on the outside provides a reality check and signals to you that something is amiss. Ideally, you get feedback from others - your boss, peers, significant other, friends, even enemies. Perhaps, you have the results from a 360 degree assessment. In other cases, you take the cue from personal reflection and introspection. What does your gut tell you? What patterns of thought get in the way and keep you from being effective? A blend of outside input, inside reflection, and a chance to test your discoveries will create a perpetual feedback loop of ever increasing awareness.