Thursday, March 24, 2011

What is Leadership?

Thousands of books have been written about leadership.   I've posted many blogs about my leadership lessons learned as a CIO.   As I mature (I turn 50 next year), my view of leadership has become increasingly clear.   Here's what I look for in a leader (and what I aspire to do myself)

1.  Guidance - A consistent vision that everyone can understand and support.

2.  Priority Setting - A sense of urgency that sets clear mandates for what to do and importantly want not to do.

3.  Sponsorship - "Air Cover" when a project runs into difficulty.   Communication with the Board, Senior Leadership, and the general organization as needed.

4.  Resources - A commitment to provide staff, operating budget, and capital to ensure project success.

5.  Dispute resolution - Mediation when stakeholders cannot agree how or when to do a project.

6.  Decision making - Active listening and participation when tough decisions need to be made.

7.  Compassion - Empathy for the people involved in change management challenges.

8.  Support - Trust for the managers overseeing work and respect for the plans they produce that balance stress creation and relief.

9.  Responsiveness - Availability via email, phone,  or in person when issues need to be escalated.

10.  Equanimity - Emotional evenness that is highly predictable no matter what happens day to day

When my daughter asks me what I do every day, I tell her that I provide guidance and priority setting for my staff, resolve disputes, and continuously communicate.   Of the 10 items above, the Resource part is the only item I cannot personally control, since organizational processes beyond my pay grade set budgets (which always seem to mismatch supply with demand  - it's a curse of IT.)

When I think about the best times in my own career, the real breakthroughs occurred when leaders created a sense of urgency, provided resources, and broadly communicated.    These circumstances led to such innovations as the Mycourses educational portal at Harvard Medical School, the widespread adoption of Provider Order Entry in CareGroup hospitals, and implementation of the BIDMC disaster recovery data center.

Healthcare reform will give us all many opportunities for leadership.   We'll have increasing Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity  ahead and by embracing the 10 characteristics above, I'm confident we will succeed.

Maybe we should add "optimism" as the 11th characteristic of leadership.  Colin Powell says that optimism is a force multiplier.   When workload seems overwhelming, budgets look bleak, a complex project struggles toward completion, or a key staff member departs, a leader will buoy morale by offering words of encouragement that inspire optimism.   When I think of the great leaders in history, optimism in the face of seemingly impossible odds (Winston Churchill at the Battle of Britain, FDR in the Great Depression, John Kennedy during the race to the moon) has made it possible for people and nations to accomplish things never believed possible.  


Keith W. Boone said...

So, air cover, but not necessarily ground forces? ;-)

Matt said...

The most effective leaders I've had experience with have an additional quality - a spirit of service to those they supervise (or otherwise lead). They actively work to remove the obstacles and overcome the challenges their employees encounter in their work. Number 9, Responsiveness, touches on what I'm getting at, but I believe the best leaders don't wait until issues need to be responded to. They search them out.