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Alicia Blain

Archive for July, 2010

Had another flashback yesterday to my early corporate days.  I was at a client site waiting in the lobby for her assistant to “sign me in”.  It was a few minutes before 9AM so I got to witness the mad rush of employees scurrying to badge in before 9AM. It dawned on me that today’s corporate version of the 20th Century time clock had become the badge activated turnstiles found in most large organizations. But I digress. As I observed the staff passing by me I was struck by the casualness of their dress.  Now I don’t mean the typical casual Friday type garb.  I mean jeans, crocs,  T shirts – c a s u a l.

For someone who has seen corporate dress go from suits to khakis to jeans, it’s an amazing sight to see and shows me again how far we’ve come.  When I started out in corporate back in the day, there were only 2 types of suits you could wear – navy blue & dark gray.  Now granted, I worked for a bank so the stodginess level skyrockets but even still,  most corporate workers wore suits.  At the time, there was a very popular book called “Dress for Success” by John Molloy which all wannabe corporate types read because it explained what the corporate uniform was at the time.  We all embraced it.  Even the women.

There was  a “Women’s Dress for Success” edition which basically was a carbon copy of the one for men except it left room for a tiny little more splash of color and a few acceptable accessories such as a conservative pin or brooch.  Pantsuits were absolutely not allowed.  I remember that for years, I never wore a pantsuit to work.  All my clothes were suits with very long skirts or very conservative and boring dresses.  The colors: Black, navy blue, charcoal gray. We basically copied the men.  If you wanted to really go crazy you’d wear a kerchief with wild colors like pale pink or blue, light gray or white.  On the rare occasion that you wanted to be insanely different and wanted to wear, say a blouse with a pattern on it,  you’d avoid eye contact all day and pray that you wouldn’t be noticed too much.

We did everything we could to look like men.  Over the years, we started adding bolder colors to our suits, we occasionally wore a nice conservative pantsuit and in the summer months when our legs were a bit tanner, we threw caution to the wind and left our pantyhose at home.   After many, many years, we felt comfortable putting away our Dress for Success Bible. Actually many of us used its pages to stoke up the fireplace in the winter.

When companies began experimenting with casual Fridays, I remember thinking it was just a fad that wouldn’t last. Employees running around the company with khaki pants and nicely pressed long sleeve shirts or polo shirts?  Are you kidding?  Well, after a few years, I realized I had to go out and get another wardrobe for work.  Shocking… Oh, and by the way, I always thank Generation Xers for pushing the envelope and getting companies to accept casual Fridays and a less uptight dress code.

Casual Fridays led to casual everyday to finally,  the uber casual of today.  Employees are going into the workplace as comfortable as can be.  They express themselves not only in the casualness of their clothes but in the casualness of their accessories – whether that is a nose ring or a colorful tattoo on the arm or the leg.  My, how the pendulum on corporate dress has swung.  Some think it has swung too far. Of course there are still many industries (law, for example) and companies that have never embraced the uber casual of today but most fit somewhere in between. 

My philosophy: as long as it fits with the norms of your clients, you should be ok. It certainly beats wearing an uncomfortable navy blue suit with a stupid kerchief and pantyhose on a blistering 90 degree summer day. 

Happy Friday, everybody!  For those of you that still work in an office, what did you wear to work today?

I was reading the recent edition of CIO Insider when I came across Meridith Levinson’s article titled “10 Communication Mistakes CIOs Still Make“.  As I read it,  I realized that sadly, I still see CIOs committing those mistakes.  I have to admit that  fortunately, the number has decreased over the years which is really good.  This made me think of the list as it relates to Millennials.  Although the entire list is applicable, I think that when it comes to Millennials, the following 4 mistakes from the list are the most common I’ve seen and the hardest to overcome.  Here they are.  Drum roll, please…

Mistake #1:  They don’t seek buy-in.  Any good CIO knows that it’s always better to get their staff  (or customer) to buy-in to a particular solution or approach before moving forward.  The problem is that oftentimes CIOs will focus on getting buy-in from their direct reports and leave them with the task to obtain buy-in from the rest of the staff. That’s a lost opportunity for the CIO to make a connection with Millennials.  Millennials have a lot to offer but many times need to understand the gameplan.  Remember this is the group whose parents have been involved in every aspect of their lives and have taken the time to explain the “why” behind the decisions the family has made. They are ready to climb onboard but  it’s easier for them to do that understanding the “why”.  The extra level of effort the CIO takes to give them the “why”, to get their buy-in will go a long way.  Without it, there’s a disconnect.

Mistake #2:  Using scare tactics.  I am still amazed at the high number of executives (not just CIOs) that continue to employ fear as a management or communication tactic.  It’s never worked for any generation and all it does is create animosity.  Millennials are no different.  They are a highly collaborative group and are wired to seek action through concensus not fear.  Fear is a huge turnoff for them and they are more likely than other groups to display or vocalize their annoyance with that behavior.  It could just be that they are young and the younger you are, the more honest you are with people about your feelings. At any rate,  the bottom line is: lose the scare tactics and show you care instead.

Mistake #3:  Uncomfortable Asking Questions.    This is the most serious mistake of all in my opinion.  As the reporter points out in the article, many CIOs have trouble with this one. CIOs are constantly bombarded with questions from their bosses, their peers, the user community, the vendors, and every one else in between.  Because of this scrutiny, they feel like they have to be in control, have all the answers.  Well, in fact, I’ve learned over the years that the opposite approach works best. As an IT leader, when I didn’t know the answer, I said so. In fact, I learned that it was always better to ask questions than to appear to have all the answers.  What I found is that people appreciated my honesty and knew that I wasn’t trying to a fast one.  In asking questions I also gained a lot of insights I would otherwise not have. 

 The  same thing happens with Millennials.  I am always listening to CIOs complaining about Millennials.  They can’t seem to put their fingers on what makes Millennials so different so they just keep complaining.  I’ve written about my own experience early on with this same problem.  But instead of complaining further, I decided one day to simply start asking questions of the Millennials.  One question led to another and with time, I got to understand them and I had my “aha” insight which is that  Millennials are not as different as we think they are, they just apply things in new ways that are unfamiliar to us.   Ask the question.  They will love you for taking the time to ask.

Mistake #4: Heavy Reliance on Facts.    Ok so you have to attribute some of this mistake to the backgrounds of many CIOs.  Many of them have engineering, mathematics or computer science backgrounds.  The left brain is alive and thriving.  It makes sense that CIOs gravitate towards facts and figures.  It’s how many of them are wired.  The problem is that as we all know, leading people, especially Millennials, is not predicated on just facts.  The glue that binds people together is the connection.  It’s how you make them feel – as an employee, as their boss, as a member of your team. 

Millennials are BIG on the connection.  Again, this group has been raised by very attentive parents (remember you are probably also a parent,  raising your own Millennial at home) who have acted more as coaches and  mentors than parents. They seek that coaching relationship at work.  Frankly, who wouldn’t, regardless of what generation you come from.  As the article mentions, if you “capture their imagination”, if you connect with them on a personal level,  you have scored major points. They will not only be loyal but will sing your praises (virally) to whomever will listen.  Now that’s cool.

So now you know what NOT to do.  The question is: what will you DO to connect with your Millennial staff?

BTW: You might want to pass on the list to the other folks in the C-Suite.  Chances are they are making the same mistakes as well.

So as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, here are the 4 techniques I had to learn and embrace as I dealt with the changing attitudes  and more sophisticated IT skill sets of our user base.

Technique #1:     Let go of the status quo.  I’ve talked about this technique in previous blogs and it relates well to IT. As users become more tech savvy and want a voice and a choice in technology decisions, IT and IT leaders need to re-think their role within their organizations. It will be increasingly difficult in an IT consumer world to control all aspects of IT. As that consumer world bleeds into the corporate fabric, keeping the 2 worlds separate becomes a challenge.  As the tech savvy user base in my organization began to ask more questions and wanted more involvement on IT related matters, I decided to make IT more transparent instead of keeping it as a mysterious “black box”. The more we shared our issues and our approach with our users, the more supportive they became and the more willing to accept the IT decisions we made. By being open and transparent, we ,in turn, received some good suggestions and ideas from users some of whom would have never ventured forth an opinion in the past. Instead they would have continued to bypass IT policies as they had always done.  Break the “black box” habit and make IT more transparent and accessible to your users.

Technique #2: Create a Business Lab.  As the IT user community begins to introduce choice and suggestions on IT solutions, IT will need to be aware of these solutions and understand them so that the risks of the solutions being presented can be appropriately measured.  That means IT has to have a way to experiment and tinker with those solutions and a process to evaluate them. The use of a lab is not new to IT departments since they are often used to test new versions or upgrades of IT components from operating systems to software to productivity tools.  This lab is different in that users are part of the experiment. We created Innovation Labs where IT partnered with business IT savvy users in evaluating IT solutions that were suggested by the users themselves.  By having a fluid process in place to manage the requests and the involvement of  IT and the user community both sides could objectively review the solution. The appropriate people like the risk and security folks could be called upon to be part of the review as well. Sometimes, the solutions passed the litmus test, other times they didn’t.  The important thing is that the lab facilitated an independent and unbiased review of the solution by all concerned parties.

Technique #3: Think beyone IT.  For years, IT groups would protest the fact that the user community did not always embrace the IT solutions it provided them.  As the business urged us to become more business savvy we longed for the day when the business users would become more IT savvy.  Well guess what?  The time has come.  Through the collaborative spirit of Millennials I quickly began to see how tech savvy our users had become.   I realized that my team could use these IT savvy users to expand our reach.   We began to create IT Advocacy Groups within the business teams.  These were people we called “friendlies” (it’s tough to break the friend vs. foe mentality, isn’t it?) and they were thrilled to help us with anything having to do with IT. The business teams, in turn, used them to funnel ideas or issues relating to IT.  Instead of closing them off, we were able to increase our IT army beyond our headcount.   The IT advocates loved being involved, loved sharing their IT ideas and loved serving as the bridge between their teams and IT.  Win-win.   

Technique #4: Push your Vendors.  As I began to apply the techniques above, I realized that the vendors of IT solutions were not always aware that IT was becoming more user driven.  In order for IT to properly manage the risks and security issues behind the consumerization of IT that was already occurring, we needed the help of vendors.  We needed them to focus on making solutions more secure, to understand that what was developed on the consumer side would eventually bleed onto the corporate side and that in doing so, more stringent standards had to be applied.  We began to work closely with our vendors to raise awareness and foster in them an understanding that personal and corporate IT convergence would take place and they needed to factor that into the roadmaps of their respective solutions. What might have been acceptable on the consumer side could possibly fail on the corporate side and this had bottom line implications for the vendors.

As I became comfortable utilizing these techniques, it opened the door for more experimentation and I became more comfortable in challenging or at least questioning my old ways from the old days. What about you?  Will you utilize these techniques and challenge your old ways from the old days?

Loaded question, right? Unfortunately, many times that’s how corporate users are seen by the IT folks and with good reason.   Anyone who has worked in IT has seen the role of their department become increasingly one of policing its users.  With the proliferation of devices that can be brought into the office, the security risks inherent in working in a highly connected world and the often blatant user disregard of acceptable use policies, it is easy to see why IT views its user base as somewhat “special”. 

As the head of IT for many years, I can attest to the fact that many users bypass and disregard IT policy on any given day and that it keeps IT folks up at night. Now some users don’t see what they do as a violation and still others know it is and do it anyway. That often makes the IT Departmentu more determined to enforce the policies and to lock down systems and restrict access even more.  After all, IT knows they will be the ones to pay the piper and scramble to fix the problem if security is breached or the organization becomes vulnerable to a virus, malware or something worse.  

It’s always been challenging to be in IT and these days it can feel like the challenges are overwhelming.  Years ago, corporate users were  inexperienced, untrained and somewhat apprehensive about using IT.  This gave IT Departments much more control over all aspects of technology within the organization.  Today, it’s a very different story. Corporate users have become very tech savvy and determined to have a voice and a choice in decisions that the IT Department makes when it comes to technology.

I’ve written about the consumerization of IT in some of my other blogs.  I’ve also written about how today’s leaders are running their organizations and teams at a very critical and unique time in corporate history.  The fact that users are no longer taking a back seat to the technology decisions made is another example of a corporate first.  As time passes, I believe IT will become more user driven than ever.  I can see the IT folks cringing as I say this but it is a reality and it’s better to face it head on than live in denial and let the situation get out of control.

As more Millennials continue to enter the workplace, IT will see a push for more and more  user driven IT solutions. It will become very difficult to continue applying a command and control type approach to technology.  Command and control, whether applied to leadership or technology, is an ineffective solution.  Our employees and our users have become too sophisticated for this outdated 20th Century approach to work any longer. 

Instead of continuing to embrace an “us. vs. them”,  friend or foe attitude with our users, it might be time to shed those limiting traditions and find ways to develop a solution that will work and be a win-win for all concerned.   Years ago, as I struggled to make sense of the changes I was beginning to see in the workplace, it was very difficult for me to let go of the command and control approach that is built in to managing the technology function in most organizations.  After a lot of hard work and experimentation I managed to change my outlook by applying  4 new techniques into my leadership style.  Stay tuned to tomorrow’s blog and I wll share them with you.

In the meantime are you ready to shed the friend vs. foe attitude when it relates to your users?

A few weeks ago I wrote about my frightening experience when I realized I had left the house without my cell phone.  As I was looking through the CIO Magazine archives recently I came across a slideshow created by Ross Catanzariti called The Mobile Phone: A History in PicturesBoy, did that bring back memories.  The slides show pictures of mobile phones dating as far back as 1983. 

Sometimes you  really need to look back to appreciate how much we’ve accomplished and how far we’ve advanced.  The pictures provide a 25 year retrospective on how mobile technology has revolutionized our communications experience. In looking at the pictures I couldn’t help but think if we accomplished all this in the past 25 years, where will mobile technology be in the next 25, in the year 2035?  Where will technology as a whole be then? It was too mind boggling to even fathom. But exciting to contemplate all the great possibilities.

What about you?  Where do you think mobile technology will be in 2035?  But what I really want to know is how many of the old mobile phones pictured in the slideshow did you use?  My favorite was the car phone.  As the writer points out, it did look more like a radio than a cell phone – and weighed as much, too.

Enjoy the slides and Happy Friday, everybody!

Recently, I purchased and downloaded a Kindle edition of Managing in a Time of Change by Peter Drucker. This book,  released in 2009 by the Harvad Business School Press,  is a a compilation of  many of Peter Drucker’s articles and interviews that focus on managing in a rapidly changing world.  I am a huge fan of Peter Drucker and believe him to be one of the great management thinkers of our time.  Although he died in 2005, his works continue to inspire and guide leaders and organizations on how to manage effectively during turbulent times.

In one of the interviews that was published, the author talks about how theories of business don’t last forever. He compares how in the past, these theories were able to last quite a while but that today, they can’t last very long.  He elaborated further and said that every theory of business goes from being powerful to obsolete and then invalid.  As this begins to happen to an organization, it typically reacts defensively at first pretending nothing is wrong.  After that, it begins to try to patch the existing theory to make it work.  He goes on to give examples of companies that have experienced those reactions and their eventual outcomes.

I was immediately captivated by Peter Drucker’s notion of patching an existing way of doing things as a way of holding on to something that was sadly not only becoming obsolete but invalid.  That got me thinking if that was what we, as leaders, are doing today as we lead a 21st Century worforce.

As a former IT executive the idea of patching automatically made me think of patch management. With patch management , we apply a piece of software to not only fix or update the various systems and software utilized within our organizations but it helps keep our systems secure from known vulnerabilities.  The whole process of patch management is a necessary and critical function within organizations and is always a win-win proposition.

But is it the same win-win when you apply the concept to leadership?  I know it isn’t.   As I struggled to understand Millennials and what leading in the 21st Century was going to be like, my first reaction was what Peter Drucker described.  I was in total denial.  I was convinced that this group was like others in the past and they had better learn to conform to what had worked for decades before.  As I began to talk to them and bring them into the team, I came face to face with Peter Drucker’s next reaction: patching.  I tried to make minor changes to how I had managed in the past. 

Let me give you an example.  One of the things I realized quickly after hiring Millennials was their need and desire to ask questions and have things explained to them.  Many years before, I had initiated a practice that I called office hours.  The concept behind office hours is that I would block one hour in my calendar every day and make myself totally available to my team for any questions, issues or personal development topics they wanted to talk to me about.  The practice became quite popular over time and we all found value in it.  But as it often happens, over the ensuing years, the team matured and many of the questions and topics were addressed and the practice of office hours slowly faded.

When Millennials started entering our team it occurred to me that office hours might be a way of managing their inquiries in an orderly fashion.  So I let everyone know that the practice of office hours was back and that I was open to them coming in and asking any questions they had.  After a few weeks, no one came into my office.  Not one. 

I was extremely puzzled and after a couple of months I was quite annoyed and upset that the Millennials had not accepted this great opportunity.  So I cancelled office hours.  Now here’s the shocking part.  Immediately after, I received emails and texts asking me not to do that.  Wondering why?  What I failed to notice is that in my desire to patch a practice I had used in the past, I had neglected to see a new reality.

You see, I was expecting the Millennials to do what previous groups had done which was to physically come to my office and talk with me in person.  Instead what I discovered in hindsight was that during the assigned time, I had been receiving an incredible amount of emails and texts from Millennials with lots of questions.  In looking back I realized that the emails and texts I had been receiving all throughout the day had now been condensed to the time I had allotted to office hours.   They had applied the concept of office hours in a totally different way that I would have never conceived.

Peter Drucker goes on to say that for theories of business to avoid becoming obsolete or invalid, companies need to build a monitoring system to always test its theories.  He believes that early diagnosis  leads to rethinking the theory and applying it in ways that are in line with the new realities of the company.

I couldn’t agree more.  As I patched my old way of leading, the Millennials were showing me that the idea was still a good one but the practice was stagnant and needed to be re-thought.  It added to other examples making me realize that although patch management was good for IT, it wasn’t good for IT leadership or leadership of any kind.

What about you?  Are you applying patch management techniques to your leadership style or are you re-thinking and embracing the new realities of leading in the 21st Century?

That’s an intriguing question that I paraphrased from a recent Success Magazine interview with Sam Duncan, CEO of OfficeMax.  In July’s issue,  John H.  Ostdick of Success Magazine interviewed the OfficeMax CEO who told of his incredible corporate journey from store clerk to CEO.  He also walks us through the steps he took to instill the company’s core values and how the employees embraced them.

In the article, Sam Duncan says “If you are trying to work on today’s or tomorrow’s problems, you are too late..You have to read and anticipate trends”.    I wondered how many of us actually take time out of our hectic, tactical schedules to observe what is happening around us and in our industry? I mean really take time to observe because that’s the only way that you will truly be able to read trends and ultimately anticpate them.

When was the last time you took time to see what you produce from the eyes of the customer?  To see your team from the eyes of your employees?  To learn what your peers did in their departments?  Chances are most people would say they don’t do this or if they did, not with enough frequency. But the reality is that if you are engrossed in what you do everyday, in the projects you are responsible for and the issues facing your team you are just working on today’s and tomorrow’s problems.  I don’t mean to belittle that in any way because those are big problems that need immediate attention.

But if that’s all you focus on, then you are not preparing for the future.  To do that, you need to anticipate trends and to do that you need to remove yourself from today’s problems.   Sam Duncan tells how he walked the floors of OfficeMax and the stores to immerse himself in what others were doing.  When he discovered that his customers were mostly female he replaced the paint color in the stores to make it more appealing to women and changed the products the stores offered.  He could not have done that sitting behind his desk working on the company’s current problems.   He had to remove himself from that to see the trends that would affect the company in the future.

I can relate to Sam Duncan’s philosophy because it happened to me when I began to observe Millennials more closely.  As I began to shadow them I was doing so because I was working on a current problem – my inability to figure them out.  But that observation led much further.  I was able to see them in action and although not obvious to me at first, I slowly realized that I was seeing a glimpse of the future. The way Millennials worked, the way they interacted, the way they utilized technology, the way they were raised were all strong signals of the trends that were being shaped right before my eyes.  Trends that I would have ignored if I had just been working on today’s or tomorrow’s problems.

I was able to spot and leverage those trends because I purposely disrupted my daily focus of tactical issues and followed a different course.   I couldn’t disrupt it everyday but the more I did, the more I observed new things, new patterns and that gave me the motivation to experiment and try new approaches.  Experimentation makes you a better observer of trends and sadly we don’t experiment nearly as much as we should in organizations today.

So what about you? Do you agree with Sam Duncan’s perspective or are you still trying to work on today’s problems?

For a long time, corporate America has cherished its subject matter experts or SMEs as they are known. It takes a lot of experience, hard work and a deep expertise in a particular subject area to become known as an SME and it’s not a title given lightly.  For the most part, however, SMEs are individual people called upon to share their knowledge as needed by their team or their boss. This makes sense as Baby Boomers and Xers have approached work from an individual contributor standpoint.  They have made it a point to develop expertise in their subject areas on their own.  Even as part of a team, SMEs still stand out from the others based on the specific knowledge they know.

As I tried to make sense of Millennials and observed them in their natural work habitat,  it occurred to me that the notion of  an SME as we understood it today may not hold in the future. As most of us know by now, Millennials have grown up in rapidly changing times.  They were also highly connected,  both technologically,  having access to any type of information at their fingertips and collaboratively working on projects with their peers.  They quickly learned at a very young age, that with information changing so quickly, it would always be better to work in groups and tackle a project rather than do so individually.  They became very comfortable and adept at breaking down projects and assigning portions of the projects to members of the group.  Each person would be responsible for their piece but the group would come together to address the specific outcomes the project required.

Now this wasn’t something that they learned in school or from their parents.  Working collaboratively is something Millennials do naturally.  I often think it’s because they grew up having to tackle so many activities that working together with fellow Millennials was the only way they could juggle it all. Even when they were at home, they were still collaborating online and sharing their knowledge with their friends.  They became what I call Collaborative Groups.  As they came together to determine the solution to a problem or a project,  the group as a whole had the expertise more than the individuals.  Although each person had the information he or she was assigned to obtain,  the solution to the problem was determined as a group.

The Millennials bring that way of thinking to the workplace.  They work things out collectively not individually.  Even when you think you are assigning a Millennial a project, you can bet they are asking other Millennials or teamates for input and assistance. It’s important that you not jump to the conclusion that Millennials can’t think or do things on their own.  They can but they prefer not to.  They are wired to understand that in today’s world one person can no longer have a deep expertise in something . It is much more efficient to get the participation of others. This way you are sharing ideas and different perspectives with people  from within your team or preferably, outside the team.

Millennials learned early that diversity of ideas breeds innovation and makes the ultimate solution richer.  You can’t do this as an SME but you can if you are part of a Collaborative Group.

In the future don’t be surprised if SMEs are replaced by Collaborative Groups.  I’ve seen them in action and they are very effective.

Yesterday I went to a client site to speak to their management team and I was struck by the amount of security the employees and guests had to go through to get to the office. It felt like Ft. Knox.  Now don’t get me wrong.  In today’s world you can’t have enough security so I understand the need for all the precautions.

But as I was waiting to go through the scanner, on my way to get the special ID badge before going through the ID activated turnstile, I couldn’t help but think how sophisticated office security had become over the years.  When I first started my career,  there was no security in the building I worked.   You went to your floor and opened the door to your office where you were greeted by a receptionist.  If you got there early – before 8AM, you needed to either be a big shot with your own key into the office or in my case, use the courtesy phone that was outside the door.   The person on the other side of the phone would ask your name and employee number.  Magically, the doors would open and you could go in.

I remember that a couple of years later we moved to another floor and security was certainly turned up a notch.  Now there was no receptionist to greet you in the morning.  We had a numbered lock on the door and all of us had to learn the secret code.  Imagine the craziness that ensued when the code was changed.  That’s why it rarely ever was.  Everyone knew the code after a while including coworkers from other floors and other buildings, the cleaning crew, you get the drift.  So much for tight security.

Somehow back then we didn’t think anything bad was going to happen.  We felt safe in our unsafe offices and this was in New York City!  I would work late many nights and sometimes I was all alone in the office.  I never worried about being there alone or getting on the elevator by myself.    Today, given the same conditions, my reaction would be very different.

Today I’m happy going through a scanner, walking around with an ID badge and going through a turnstile to get to my destination.  It feels like the most natural thing in the world…

How about you?  How secure was your office back in the day?

I was reading Anya Kamenetz interview with Cynthia Warner in this month’s issue of Fast Company. The article was called  ”From Big Oil to Big Algae: How a High Ranking Veteran of BP was Won Over by the Potential of Pond Scum“.  In the article, Cynthia Warner, the high ranking BP veteran mentioned in the title,  talks about her challenging climb up the corporate ladder at BP and her eventual decision to leave and go to a company focused on alternative fuel. 

It was a great article because it touched on the difficult challenges that women have had to face to climb the corporate ladder and the perserverance needed not to let the challenges limit their careers.  In describing her decision to leave BP, Cynthia talks about the difficulty of making change within a large organization.  She said:

“I had an epiphany that if I was going to put so much personal energy into making something happen, it was a lot better to create the key to the future than to nurse along the dying past”.

What a great quote.  That got me thinking about the role of leaders today and whether we as leaders were focused on creating the key to the future or just holding on to the past.  This is an exciting time to be in a leadership position in corporate America.  It is also a scary time.  We are facing so many unprecedented situations that are firsts for us, that have not been seen in the past.  Everyone is cautious about the future and skeptical about trying something new. In the face of so much change,  we have a tendency to hold on to what has worked for us in the past.  Unfortunately, that’s a dying proposition.

Today’s leaders are tasked with the difficult challenge of building a bridge between two corporate worlds.  The familiar one from which we’ve evolved and honed our leadership principles and skills.  The one where things moved at a slower pace, technology was more manageable and competing in a  24/7 world was not part of the equation.  It was during those simpler times that most of us developed the skills to be leaders and we’ve modified those skills along the way as the corporate pace has increased.  But the corporate world of tomorrow is nothing like that world.   The speed of doing business will only get faster, our competition more global and technology will continue to skyrocket at a frenetic pace. To make things even more interesting we will be managing a very large workforce that may be ideally equipped to thrive in that world but we’re not entirely sure what to make of them now much less how to manage them.

We are the leaders charged with finding the keys to create the future.  We are at a unique crossroads and the decisions and approach we take to creating that future will set the tone for leadership in the 21st Century.  We don’t have a roadmap. We are creating the roadmap as we go. It requires us to take risks, experiment with our leadership principles and challenge our comfort zones.  This is the time to be creative not safe with our leadership decisions.  As times get better and organizations feel more secure in taking on more risks and more projects,  we won’t have the time or luxury to experiment with our leadership practices.  It will be too late then.

We are in a real renaissance period of leadership where the bridge to the future is being built.  We need to be bold and creative and innovative to make the jump.  Instead of saying “No, let’s do it the way we’ve always done it”  when faced with a challenge say    ” Ok, let’s give this a shot and see what happens”.   A calculated risk will give you clues to how to create the future.  The tried and true, if ineffective,  holds you to a dying past.

So what type of leader are you – one attempting to create the future or the one holding on to the dying past?