Not a Leader? Then Be a Multiplier

Posted on December 10, 2012. Filed under: Career Management, Work Issues | Tags: , , , |

IT leadershipDiscussions about corporate and small business leadership abound. If you hang out in LinkedIn groups or sit in on a work-related Twitter chat, you are bound to participate in some dialogue about leadership. By all accounts, it seems to be the holy grail of professional existence.

I mean, it is what we are all working for, to be a good leader, right?

Well, what if you’re not a leader? And you don’t really want to be?

I know…shock and awe, right? But some people don’t really consider themselves leaders, and they actually don’t want to spend their careers working toward that.

I know because I would be one of those people, and many of the techies that I work with are in the same boat. So does that make us…bad? Destined to low-level grunt work? Mean-spirited because we don’t have aspirations of parting the corporate Red Sea and leading whining people out of Egypt? 🙂

Honestly, it took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t a leader. I tried really hard to play the leadership game. I really did. I took the seminars. I read the books. I coveted the titles. But at the end of the day, I’m kind of, well, a loner. I like having a job that I can run with, create, experiment, fail, succeed. That doesn’t mean I am not willing to collaborate; in fact, I usually welcome that. But I don’t want to have to motivate you…dude…and I don’t want you to have to motivate me either. Let’s just, well, do our respective jobs!

What I have discovered along the way, however, is that although I may not be a leader, I can be a multiplier. Yes, a multiplier.

A multiplier is someone who:

  • Improves the atmosphere.

    We are the glue that makes the project work, so to speak. Without us, the project is probably struggling. We come in and make it better, and ultimately, we make the people around us want to do better too. Not because we trained them or led them, but because we influenced them by how we work. People pay attention to those who make things successful. You don’t have to give training seminars for them to notice.

  • Is referrable.

    We’re the person you want to tell others about. We’ve become dedicated to our craft and are excelling in it. And we’ve built our reputation on it. So pretty soon our network reach multiplies, not because of the throngs of followers we are leading around but because we stand out for the problems we solve that others cannot or won’t.

  • Brings the entrepreneurial spirit.

    I hear many companies talk about wanting this quality in their top talent, but very few are structured in such a way to appreciate it. They think that by looking for a bunch of leaders, they are going to find it, but actually they usually just end up with a lot of people jockeying for position. The reason is that the entrepreneurial spirit has less to do with titles and management and more to do with a willingness to take risks, risks that put you out there all by yourself on a limb. Some might call that a form of leadership, but really the entrepreneur is going to progress at all costs, not looking back to see who’s following and how many.

See, when I thought all my career would come down to is 1) climbing a corporate ladder, 2) managing people, and/or 3) counting success by the amount of people who report to me, I was…depressed…because I was in love with my craft of writing and editing. My techie candidates are often the same way. They are in love with what they do and want to stay close to their technical roots. Yet, in many company cultures, it’s move up the chain to management or stay down where you are.

To recruit top tech talent, more companies need to understand that for most hard-core techies, the lure of management is not that appealing and that this breed needs a different track. That doesn’t make them less valuable; in fact, it just might make them more so. After all, just how many chiefs do you need?

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Innovation Is More Than Just a Good Idea

Posted on October 29, 2012. Filed under: Technology, Work Issues | Tags: , , , |

Study the corporate atmosphere for any amount of time these days, and you will hear endless dialogue about the need for “innovation.” It seems to be the great American corporate battle cry. And for good reason.

As a career pro who works with technical candidates, the cry is especially loud.

Everyone wants to be the next Apple, and they are looking to their techie crowd to make that happen for them.

So, if you are so inclined, you can sit in on countless Twitter chats, participate in numerous LinkedIn groups, and take seminar after seminar on how to become more “innovative.” Some think it rests in having an entrepreneurial spirit (big corps need to act “smaller” and be more…loose), in having better technical skills, in combining technical with business background (more techie MBAs!), in having better people skills (aka engagement), and/or in having better vision (aka a good idea).

While these are all interesting discussions and have some merit to them, I believe they somewhat miss the mark of understanding what truly drives innovation (if they didn’t, then why aren’t we more innovative? I mean, just sit it on a Twitter chat for goodness’ sakes, and Poof! Innovation abounds, right?).

Because I am a word lover, I always like to start at looking not just at the meaning of the word but also at the history behind it.

Innovation as a word is traced back to the 15th century, primarily to the Renaissance (meaning “rebirth”).

And a well-known prime example of that era (and of embodying the newly minted word [but by no means new concept] “innovation”) is Leonardo da Vinci (a true Renaissance man if there ever was one!).

Not surprisingly, then, given its roots in the Renaissance and in da Vinci, the concept is closely aligned with the fields of art, philosophy, and religion. In many ways, scientific thought, and thus technological advancement, grew out of these realms. Imagination, which has always been tied in with art, philosophy, and religion, then put into action the thoughts and ideas spurred on by these fields, which led to scientific observation and to many, many attempts at invention. What resulted, then, from these metaphysical fields was innovation in other areas, like technology, science, and mathematics.

In today’s market, we like to lump everything into a “global” landscape, but then we segment out ourselves and each other by “subjects.” He’s a scientist. She’s a teacher. He’s a CIO. And then we hope and pray that each is an “out of the box” thinker in his or her respective subjects. (And the less we try to make the corporate world, corporate, the more corporate it becomes!)

But the innovative ideas brought forth with the Renaissance came out of inclusive thinking, the idea that you weren’t just a sculptor or teacher or whatever. Education in fundamentals like art, philosophy, religion, language, and mathematics was highly valued. In essence, it was at the core of spurring innovation. Today, we’re more worried about having business skills and leadership skills and big picture thinking as if they can be taught in “leadership” seminars . We want the innovation to burst out of mathematical manipulation or some concrete scientific process, but we don’t understand that productive imagination stems from an understanding of what has come before and of man and nature.

In other words, we need a deep well of knowledge to pull from, all of us, no matter what the primary occupation.

We just need, well, to be educated and in more than just programming languages and engineering calculus (and in leadership development taught by HR).

Nevertheless, corporations are going to have a hard time finding this type of talent. For one thing, the marketplace has spent many years now shunning the high-minded pursuits (I mean how many parents have lamented their son or daughter becoming a “philosophy” major because they knew companies didn’t care about it) and society is so addicted to gadgets and technology.

But something will have to give sooner or later. We are already desperate for leaders and visionaries.

So we can no longer afford to miss the forest for the virtual trees, so to speak.

What made Apple so innovative was a leader who had studied man and nature, who grasped behavior, and who could adapt what was already being developed to a shiny package that is too hard for many to refuse. He was more than just a one-dimensional person who loved technology (observe his time in India in search of spiritual enlightenment), and his education was anything but specific. Commenting on his college background, he said, “If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

“Good ideas” and “technological innovation” don’t just happen because people are smart or presented with ideal teamwork conditions; there has to be more substance there. And too bad for us, more often than not, there’s isn’t.

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Why Employee Programs Usually Fall Flat

Posted on August 30, 2012. Filed under: Work Issues | Tags: , , |

by Sheree Van Vreede (@rezlady)

employee programsI should start out this post by saying that I am a cynic (we prefer to call ourselves “realists,” but I’m learning to embrace my negativity…) 🙂

I have been an entrepreneur now for 13 years, and I spend my days working on the employee (job seeker) side of things. I also run a consulting business that has a small team of people who serve corporate clients in the publishing industry. Before all that, however, I spent time in both the corporate and the academic worlds getting a birds-eye view of what both cultures offer.

My business partner and husband, Stephen Van Vreede, spent a great deal of time in the corporate world, rising to a director-level position, dutifully earning his Six Sigma Black Belt, and overseeing a large-scale inbound call center (meaning he spent a great deal of time on the hiring/training/incentivizing side of things). He now spends a great deal of his time helping our IT/technical clients navigate through corporate waters.

Together, we also have acquired numerous contacts in the corporate HR/recruiting arena and participate in numerous forums focused on the world of work.

The reason for all this synopsis is that I want to be clear about where I am coming from when I say that most employee programs fall flat, and why.

In my last post, I wrote about vacations and how it is getting harder, not easier, for people to disconnect from work when they go on vacation. In writing that post, I touched on the fact that as employees we are a hot mess because we say one thing and do another (“Work better not bother me while I am on vacation…I’ll just check work e-mail a few times a day.”).

The whole thing reminded me of a key rule I learned early on in my career, and one that many of my HR/corporate leadership friends don’t like to embrace:

Listen less; watch more.

In one of my first work experiences after college, I learned this lesson the hard way. Like so many people, I had a boss who was very demanding, and it was my job to meet his needs (aka I was the office lackey). At first, I spent a lot of time “listening” to what he needed. We would dedicate time each week to sitting down together while he rattled off his wishes…the new PDA thingy that had just come on the market, an appointment with so-and-so, etc. And boy was I a good listener because I would hop up from our meeting thinking I had a clear understanding of just what he wanted (I mean, after all, how hard is it to go out and buy the exact PDA he said he wanted?).

The problem, and it took a long time for me to get this through my thick head, was that he liked to pontificate more than he actually wanted the stuff. In other words, he loved just having our weekly meeting and having me at the ready to serve him. He didn’t really care about anything he was saying.

For there I was buying the PDA and getting him the appointment, and the more I fulfilled his said wishes, the less he wanted them! The PDA he dropped on the cement floor and then proclaimed, “It’s too fragile. Take it back and get a refund.” The appointment he canceled. And so on. Pretty soon, I just learned to sit back and let him talk.

And although he was somewhat of an extreme case, I meet people with some of the same characteristics (and I have them too) every day.

The truth is that as people, we rarely say what we mean.

As you can imagine, this does not strike a good note with many of my HR friends. By and large, they are not cynics, like me. They take the positive route, believing that if they listen more to what leadership says and to what employees want, they will create the next best thing in corporate training or leadership development.

One good example is what is now called “onboarding” (just the name alone should be an indication of how ineffective it is likely to be). Both employees and management said they wanted a better “orientation” (that so-1990s term!) process for new hires, one that seemed less stuffy and more representative of the true “culture” of the organization.

Oh my, what music to HR’s ears! Culture, culture, culture…so off they went creating (aka hiring expensive consultants who went on “listening” tours around the office) onboarding processes that met every demand from both employees and leadership (and made things more fun too!). So the end result was Nirvana, right?

Well, not so much. Now no one seems too happy. In fact, in today’s world of work, employees are more convinced than ever that leadership doesn’t care about them, and leadership is more confused than ever because it feels pretty sure it “listened” to everything the employees said. HR? Well, it’s still patting itself on the back for creating such a fun culture, but deep down, it’s left wondering why no one else seems as enthused.

Like I said before, what a hot mess.

You can’t build an effective program, of any kind, much less business model based solely on what people say. To produce a succcessful marketing campaign, many companies will put together focus groups to try to hear what prospective customers say about their products, but what’s more effective is when they actually observe their behavior. (“I would never buy this candy bar because I am trying to lost weight,” she says while unwrapping her third one.)

So the key here is much like my demanding boss, make him feel listened to but watch what he does (in the end, we really just want people to “get” us). Once I responded more to his actions and less to his demands, we both were much happier. 🙂

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