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business, leadership, education

Copyright Warner Bros.

Scarecrow: You promised us real things — a real…brain!

Tin Man: A real heart!

Lion: Real courage. That’s what we want.

Wizard: You do? boys, you’re aiming low. You not only surprise, but you grieve me.

Why, anybody can have a brain.  That’s a very mediocre commodity.  Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the earth — or slinks through slimy seas has a brain!

From the rock-bound coast of Maine to the Sun…. oh – oh, no — — ah – Well, be that as it may. Back where I come from we have universities, seats of great learning — where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts — and with no more brains than you have…. But!  They have one thing you haven’t got!  A diploma!

Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeeatum e plurbis unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of Th.D.

Scarecrow: Th.D.?

Wizard: Yeah — that…that’s Dr. of Thinkology!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum; Copyright Warner Bros.

 

I have a confession. I do not have a Master’s Degree…I don’t even have a Bachelor’s Degree. There I said it. I feel better! I am glad to get that off my chest! While it has never really been a secret, it is something that I have kept close to the vest for ages. It’s amazing to me how often it comes up in conversation. “I graduated from IU” or “I graduated from Purdue”, or “I graduated from Notre Dame”, or UCLA, UK, BSU, Wisconsin, THE Ohio State University, or countless others…and then…”Where is your Alma Mater?” How do I answer THAT? I usually reply, rather self-consciously, “I went to Indiana State”, or “I went to Judson”, (which is true, I attended both), being very careful NOT to say I graduated from…

You see, I was going to be a rock star! Hey, it was the 70’s, it’s all I ever wanted to do from my the age of 10 or 11. I left for college at Indiana State to major in Music Theory and Composition. I discovered very quickly…you have to have talent! I did not. Over the next couple of years, I got married, transferred schools, and my first son was born. To provide for my family, I put my college studies on hold and began to work one, two and sometimes three jobs.

Honestly, the hold was never removed. By the time my wife finished her degree and we were in a position for me to go back to school, I was teaching college level computer classes. Say what? Yep, I was teaching night classes at a local university in computer programming, word processing and data processing. How that happened is really the story of how I have achieved all that I have achieved in my professional life. Its really a story of lifelong learning.

While I was working collections for Visa in Chicago, I had the opportunity to be assigned to the project team working on their new computer system. I was the end-user helping to define the requirements for the collections modules. A couple years later, after a move to Indianapolis, I found myself in the same position. We were gathering requirements for a new computer system and I was assigned to be the user representative. But, something was different this time. IBM had released what they called the Personal Computer. Microsoft and CPM were in a battle for supremacy of the Operating system and I had purchased a Commodore 64. I had found my calling! I was in LOVE!

At the time, I was riding a bus about an hour each way to work. I was driven. I was going to move from the user department to the IT department come hell or high water. During those long bus rides I devoured every college level computer textbook I could get my hands on…System Development Life Cycle, Relational Database Theory, PL/I, IMS (hey that’s what the new system was using) and countless others.

I received my first break when a job opened up running the print room in the IT department. My job? Pull the green-bar printouts off the printer and deliver them to the programmers. It was REALLY glamorous. A few months later, Joan gave me my first big break and hired me onto the development team writing the software for…the credit card collections department.

To say I taught myself everything I know about software development would not be fair to the countless professionals who coached, guided, and taught me along the way. I owe a huge thanks to Lynda, Bob, Steve, Jerry, Glenn, Beth and dozens of others.

I did the same when it was time (past time) to move into a “management position”. Again, I devoured every book I could get my hands on. I read so many, I could not even do the authors justice by trying to list them here. The point is…my devotion to lifelong learning continued.

Over the span of several years, I progressed from supervisor, to manager, to director. At that point, I was managing a team of about 50 internal employees and an additional 100 contract employees on several continents. The majority of my staff were split between the US and France. It became very obvious to me that there were communication issues among the team. So what did I do? I hired a tutor and began to learn French! I learned very quickly, it goes a long way if you try to learn the culture, try to learn the language, try to meet the people where they are…not expect them to meet you where you are!

As my career progressed, I felt I was ready for my first IT leadership position. I was given the CIO role at a small but fast growing company. There my study changed from management to leadership. The first step was to examine myself without any of the guises of self-deception and identity strengths, weaknesses and my personal brand. Again, I dove into book, after book, after book. Again, I learned from peers and mentors (thanks Ron, Christine, Lori, Rick and others) I learned about creating a culture of excellence, developing leaders in your teams and servant leadership. I realized, I had been educated in leadership from a very young age. My dad is the definition of a servant leader. What a great example to follow.

The next step on my continuing journey came about five years ago. I attended the CIO Symposium at MIT. To say it was a life changing event does not even do it justice. The work they are doing in IT, technology, and business through the Sloan Business school struck a deep chord in me. I picked up a pamphlet on the MIT Sloan Executive Education Certificate Program. The course in the catalogue were compelling. But, I thought, I could never get in. I don’t have a degree. After all, this was MIT! After a few weeks of internal struggle, I applied. Several days later, much to my surprise…I was accepted! That’s right..I was going to study at MI-freaking-T!

Which brings us to today. This past April I completed the final class in the Certificate Program in business, leadership, negotiationManagement and Leadership. I am very proud of where I am. I am not satisfied with where I am. I will continue to learn, I will continue to grow. The path I chose (I DID choose it, didn’t I?) was not easy. It is not a path I recommend to anyone. I will counsel my kids, my grandkids, and anyone who seeks my guidance, to get their degree. However, I will also counsel them that learning does not stop with graduation. To succeed, you have to continue to study, learn, and grow, through books, family, co-workers, bosses, employees, peers and mentors.

Perhaps my journey is the reason why Scarecrow was always my favorite Oz character.

Scarecrow: The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.  Oh joy, rapture!  I’ve got a brain!

 

Who knew Oz was in Boston (Cambridge, actually)!??!

 

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Now before you think I am calling Professor Jared Curhan a pirate, let me explain. First of all, if he was a pirate, he would be the lovable, friendly kind like Johnny Depp or Keith Richards. Of all the classes, seminars, and workshops I have ever attended, I have to rank Professor Curhan near the top when it comes to educators who can captivate, entertain, and educate, even a very difficult subject like Negotiation for Executives.  In doing his closing remarks for the MIT Sloan Executive Education course, Professor Curhan, confessed he struggled to summarize such an intense couple of days, he wanted the class to have a take-away with all the salient points, but it was too big to put into a single page, even a large page, even a poster-sized page. With that confession, he unfurled a beach towel..a huge beach towel. The beach towel was printed with a very detailed drawing of a pirate ship, buried treasure, mermaids and other sea creatures, each one depicting a point from the class. So, while Professor Curhan is not a pirate, we really did have Lessons in Negotiations from a Pirate! But, I am ahead of myself…

As in my previous posts about the classes I have attend at MIT Sloan Executive Education, I don’t want give away the content of the course (you should ATTEND ONE…or two…or three), but I do want to talk about the experience. I have to admit, of all the courses I have taken, I was most nervous about this one. I was not sure what to expect. Were we going to learn how to be cut-throat negotiators? Were we going to learn tricks and tactics to help us win at all costs? Was I going to learn my entire approach to negotiations was wrong?

My mind flashed back to one of the first major negotiations I was involved in. I was sitting in the “business chair”, alongside our corporate counsel. We were negotiating a deal that was in the tens of millions of dollars. We were under a deadline to seal the deal. We scheduled our final negotiations for a Friday in June, with the message to the others, we were not leaving until we had a deal.

Friday came and our vendor and their high priced Washington, D.C. attorney arrived from the airport. Everyone was suited-up and ready to get down to business. After a long day of negotiating, (and frankly, not making much progress), the vendor’s attorney announced he had a plane to catch and got up to leave. I felt our attorney bristle. He calmly looked across the table and said, “I told you, we were here to make a deal and we were not leaving until we had it closed. If you walk now, the deal is over and we will call your competitor.” Grumbling something about taking a later flight, they sat back down.

About midnight, our attorney looked around the table and announced we would halt for the evening, but we would reconvene at 8 AM Saturday. Now, remember, this was a group of five or six guys from out of town, who had not expected to be there overnight. Also, remember this was June. Have you ever been in an office building after hours, in June…after the HVAC shuts off for the unoccupied schedule? To say the conference room had gotten, well, close was an understatement.business, leadership, negotiation

The next morning we all gathered in the same hot stuffy conference room (hey, who knows how to override the HVAC? Evidently, nobody). We sat down for another long day across the table was the high-priced Washington D.C. attorney, no longer in his three-piece suit from the day before. Today he was sporting his suit pants, paired with a Grateful Dead t-shirt he’d purchased at the 24 hour Walmart down the street! By midnight Saturday (our deadline), we closed the deal.

What an introduction to negotiation! As the day of the class approached, it had me looking around for an old Grateful Dead t-shirt!

Class was NOTHING like I expected, in fact, I learned the approach just described would be considered a barrier to successful negotiation, especially when a long lasting relationship was one of the desired outcomes of the negotiation!

Over the course of the class, I sold a house in Cambridge (including a breeding pair of Moluccan Cockatoos), bought a car on behalf of my niece, hired a freelance consultant to help with a big project and negotiated an exclusive deal for my middle eastern beverage company to distribute Bepsico products. Of course, these were all in class exercises as we learned to handle various negotiations. Again, I don’t want to give away too much of the class, but I did have several “aha” moments.

After each one of the negotiations, we wrote some notes about what went well and what didn’t go so well. As I looked back over my notes a couple of common themes jumped out at me. First, in each case, I wrote the relationship with the other party was good, amicable, and set a good foundation for future negotiations. On the other side of the ledger, I wrote that I felt like I left money on the table. I started to worry that I was being “too nice”. Here was the interesting part. In each case, I had negotiated a deal that was above my reservation value and in most cases was close to my aspiration value. As the days progressed, I came to understand, I was evaluating myself with the filters of my initial lesson in negotiation…win at all costs. The course validated that relationship building was, in fact, a significant part of negotiation and I was doing it well. On the flip side, I will paraphrase Professor Curhan, “I give them as much as I can and ask for no more than I need. They do the same. If not? Then I don’t.” Meaning, if I set my reservation value and aspiration value fairly, and I negotiate a deal in that range, and I build a strong relationship for working together in the future then, I shouldn’t feel like I am “leaving money on the table.”

In his book, “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”, Richard Bach writes, “Teachers do not teach, they remind us of things we already know.” That sums up the second lesson I took away from the class: “Proper preparation for negotiation takes the nervousness out of negotiation.” Duh! One of the most valuable pieces of collateral we received in the class was a framework. The framework outlined the Seven Elements to preparation for negotiation. Even when pressed for time, keeping the framework in mind can help you think through all of the elements you need to consider. I know I will be using the framework for every negotiation in the future!

Very much a part of  the framework is the mantra, “Don’t lose sight of your purpose.” Many times when faced with barriers to a successful negotiation (like sweating the suits off of people) or tactics meant to “win at all costs”, we tend to lose sight of our purpose. Your purpose should be clear and concise so that it is easy to fall back on during the negotiation process. For example, if preserving a long term relationship is part of your purpose, it may make sense for you not to be involved in the negotiations at all.

Finally, was the concept of value claiming versus value creation. Value claiming assumes a fixed size pie. As you claim value, the other side loses value. While this is ok for some negotiations (give them as much as I can, take only what I need), there are some negotiations that can increase the size of the pie, in other words, create value. Professor Curhan liked to call it the post-settlement settlement. Once an agreement is reached, explore ways in which the pie can be enlarged and value can be created for all parties.

I am only scratching the surface of the lessons I took away from the class. In addition to these lessons, I took away some very valuable relationships with others in the class. To me, that is the way MIT “enlarges the pie”…students gain tremendous insights and have access to some of the greatest minds in business, with the added bonus of meeting and forming relationships with professionals from across the globe.  So, if you are sitting across the table from me in a negotiation and you see my Jolly Roger with Skull and Crossbones, never fear it’s only a reminder for me to make sure that we build a solid relationship and that we both walk away satisfied with the conclusion.


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leadership, education, business, transformationNo, this post is not about a 2015 version of the 80’s band, Flock of Seagulls. Nor, is it really about a flock of geese (lovingly referred to as Sky Carp by my friend Lance). This post is really about the lessons I learned while attending “Transforming Your Leadership Strategy” conducted by MIT Sloan Executive Education. I often joke that I feel smarter just by stepping on campus here in Cambridge. But, it really is no joke, I really do gain new insights each and every time I attend one of the classes here.

I believe what makes these courses unique and extremely valuable are the students themselves. The diversity of the participants is incredible. The countries and therefore the cultures represented included Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Greece, Spain, Ghana, France, Nigeria, Canada, Denmark, Brazil, and, of course, the United States. The industries represented ranged from NGO’s, government agencies, banking, retail, financial, Army, and education (and many others).  To be able to gather with these 60 professionals and discuss leadership was indeed a privilege.

Professor Deborah Ancona led the group through a series of interactive lectures and exercises over the course of two days. She use an unique approach by varying the sizes of the small group activities from two to five, with the stipulation that for each new exercise you had to group with different people. The goal was to meet and speak with everyone in the class. I lost track, but I think I came pretty close to achieving that goal (a pretty amazing feat for an introvert!).business, leadership, education, transformation

I don’t plan to recount all of the sessions from the last two days (to get that level of detail, you need to attend the class!). However, the goal of taking any course like this is to learn something (or be reminded of something) and to take action. After all, you can’t transform your leadership strategy if you don’t take action. Professor Ancona actually gave me a leg up on writing this blog with the last activity of the course. We were to review our notes and list three things we wanted to remember and three actions we wanted to take. Then, in groups of five, we were to share those things. Honestly, the hard part was keeping it to only three! But, here goes:

Lesson Number 1: Leadership is Personal – this was the first notation in my journal, but it probably struck me the most. You can take dozens of leadership classes, you can read thousands of books, you can spend hundreds of hours with mentors, but when it comes right down to it, Leadership is Personal…there are no best practices. Sure, there are techniques, but just as every person is unique, every leader is unique. You have your own strengths and your own weakness. Harness them to lead. Our CEO, Jim McClelland, often says “Accentuate your strengths and make your Weaknesses irrelevant”.

Lesson Number 2: The Bystander helps put things in context – Professor Ancona led us through the four roles of a team: The Mover – the person that suggests an action; The Follower – the person that supports the action; The Opposer – the person that pushes back on the idea for action; and The Bystander – the person that provides context, the big picture and perspective. (Li, I now know what you meant when I asked “Why do I need to be in every meeting” and you responded “You help put things in context and provide the big picture”).

Lesson Number 3: Don’t brick in your teams – teams that are internally focused on norms, team dynamics, and tasks are are only half right. X-Teams (if you don’t take the class, at least read the book) are teams that are networked to others within the organization and outside the organization. By reaching outside the team, the resulting product (whatever the product the team is tasked with producing) is better. Leveraging expertise outside the group when sensemaking (again…take THE CLASS) provides a richer context. Reaching up within the organization and engaging in the politics of the organization is essential for success, as is task coordination across all of the players in the project.

Now, for the actions:

Action Number 1: When in meetings, assess the dynamics of the conversation and make sure that all four roles are represented. If one or more of the roles are not equally represented, I will step in and assume that role, or encourage others to assume that role. For example, if no one is The Opposer, I will suggest to the team that we spend some time discussing why the idea for action WON’T work.

Action Number 2: Encourage everyone on our team to “get out”, go “be in the business”, walk a mile in our mission partners’ shoes (I hate the term end-user, I prefer business partner, or mission partner). Not only will that help with sensemaking, it will enable others in the group to play the Bystander role and set context and perspective.

Action Number 3: Review our previous and on-going projects and identify areas where we may have struggled. Map them against the 4 Capabilities of a Leader (Visioning, Relating, Inventing, and Sensemaking) to see the areas for improvement. Was the vision not clear? Did we not engage the stakeholders? Did the actions not match up with the goal? Did we not spend enough time sensemaking?

There you have it! As I mentioned in one of my LinkedIn posts, you are all now my accountability partners. Follow up! Make sure I am executing the actions!

Now, about those Sky Carp, er, uh, I mean geese. What leadership lessons CAN you learn from a flock of geese? Leadership is Distributed…to lead, sometimes you follow and let others lead. Watch a flock of geese fly over and you will see the goose out front, drop out of formation, a new goose take the lead, the former leader fall back into the formation. Distributed decision making means sometimes the leader becomes the follower.

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtongici)?
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Interested in IT and it’s role in business? Check out my posts on Intel’s IT Peer Network.