Transform a Technology Business – Tips for a CEO
This article is to advice those who lead and strategize for organizations, mainly in the Information & Communication Technology field. This article is to provoke thought and debate, and the author welcomes any and all comments with regards to leadership behavior.
This is the first piece of advice: CEOs, CIOs, CFOs and other C-Suite executives (including MDs) need to know that creating a ‘dear great leader’ aura will result only in an individual personality, rather than a character-driven organization. Leaders who are driven by this very nature, will end up with a halo that is initially satisfying and may show results, but will soon result in a below-par performance or come to a grinding halt. Unlike in the movies, a corporate hero in the IT sector is usually the hardcore technical and managerial staff who works in unison to push the company forward. A one-man show is a statistical rarity and hence not a recipe for success.
There is an incorrect perception in most organizations that believes that delegation is equal to abdication. It is in fact not so. Effective leaders know how to delegate, when to delegate, whom to delegate, and know very clearly to stay out of everyone’s way. If you become indispensable for every decision made in the company, then you are going to end up pretty much ragged. Those in junior positions than you will expect you to be an omnipresent god-like leader who is required to sign-off on all things, both small and significant. You will be creating a group of dependent adults, when all you needed to do was to let go and let them do their fair share of heavy lifting.
A majority of a leader’s time needs to be focused on vision, strategy and execution, whilst disengaging from the operational, and engaging on medium to long-term planning.
It is human nature to feel your way through life and business and hope that hard work, or an idea or two will translate into business success. Smart work, i.e. smart planning, market and reality based actions aligned to realistic strategic goals are far more effective than grinding hard work alone. The role of an IT CEO should be more about direction and coaching; akin to a Sen Sai, aka Ninja Turtles. Be the big picture guy or gal and let your able teams run with the ball on a day-to-day basis. This is hard to do as a typical CEO personality is driven to solving problems. You have to break the habit and move away to the strategic layer of running and transforming your business.
In a previous article titled “Millennial Dynamism” I proposed the adoption of a millennial mindset, i.e. the adoption of a personal transformational technology for business to business purposes. As a leader of a technology business, you need to be familiar, if not intimate, with the mindset and technologies promoted by your organization. The term “dog fooding” is apt in this case – consume the very product you manufacture. In this case the term refers to the conscious familiarization and thus usage of technologies in your day-to-day life that will serve as a form of authenticating your business propositions. If you use it at least once, this very act will not only give you credibility, but insight into the viability of the product. There is no better user of your products than you and your intuition, which will quickly tell you whether the product will be a zero or hero.
There is a time to play it safe and there are roles that require the same. However unlike most other businesses, technology is an area that you have no choice but to take risk, and take risk in a big way in order to survive and thrive. If you can’t take risky decisions, and only support those that walk down a safe pathway, then you are in the wrong business and will never transform your business beyond a limited scope of success. Create an environment that expose creative thinking that will invariably contain risk, but lead to tangible rewards. Taking risk is the only road to discovery, invention and providing something of value to your customers.
IT is a vast and ever changing landscape that will humble most people; even the experts. Your juniors, especially those unique and considered “odd” and those outside the mainstream will have unique insights and knowledge than your stoic senior teams. Reach out to them on a regular basis and have discussions and genuinely seek their input and ideas. Of course, for this to happen you need to be trusted and be known to encourage and support their unique characteristics and thoughts in your company. Asking a millennial geek to share their thoughts on where the company needs to go would simply not work for several reasons; including cultural timidity and their perceived notion that you will be averse to such thinking. The time taken to build trust is worth it, as your next big idea or course correction may just come from such engagements with those outside the mainstream of your organization.
Last but not least, don’t forget what is important – being human. In the technology field where you are compelled to a 24 x 7 work ethic, there will always be “superhumans”. However, such personalities in most cases turn out to be more “droid” than human in the eyes of others. Neglecting or in fact shielding your human side to those around you, including co- workers, friends and family is not and will never be a winning strategy. The “droid” may be exalted and their praises sung – but not for long. Chances of you becoming the next Steve Jobs is astronomical (sorry), and even then, you will want to forge your own identity on your own terms and not emulate someone else. Even if you want to become like your tech idol you would’ve noticed that many of them rise fast, and fall sooner or later, and more importantly, you will not leave a sustainable model after you are gone, and will leave an unsustainable organization that wither away after your own exit. Therefore your mission should be to focus on being a well-rounded exceptional human being, not a one-dimensional superhuman. Focus on a balanced life, smell the roses, help the less fortunate, seek inspiration by interacting with diverse people around you – they are most often your fuel and the reason you will become a more effective leader, with the ability to create a dynamic and sustainable organization; one that will continue to thrive long after you are gone. Very few super-human leaders leave room for someone else to learn and take over from them. Don’t go down that road. They are very lonely at the top even though you often hear their lament that there is no one worthy to take over the burden of leadership from them.
The transformation path cannot be plied by a lonely and tired leader. You need the help, realize it, and reach out to those around you who are willing to go down that road with you. Open up, exhale, invite the odd characters to take charge and deliver for the organization.
The writer, Kavan Weerasinghe has spent over 20 years in the Managed Services space serving major corporations in the US, UK and Sri Lanka. Currently, he is a Vice President at Brandix i3, offering Managed Services to local and overseas clients via the Brandix i3 Managed Services Centre located in Colombo 7. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.