Lessons in Leadership

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From CIO Magazine, by Abbie Lundberg

“It’s wet. We’re into the seventh day of the great New England downpour of 2006. There’s well over a foot of rain flooding roads and fields and basements. Rain makes me reflective, and today I’m looking back on last month’s CIO Leadership Conference.

The conference was a mix of inspiration, great networking and practical advice. We opened with a talk by author and historian David McCullough, closed with a practicum from Harvard professor Joseph Badaracco on how to handle ethical dilemmas, and in between there were terrific sessions with Harvard icon Warren McFarlan, Royal Caribbean CIO Tom Murphy and loads of other accomplished practitioners.

Thinking back on what I heard, a few things stand out. Here are my top 10:

10. ‘Failure is not an option’ (once uttered by Apollo 13 project leader Gene Krantz). This, according to McCullough, was one of George Washington’s defining traits. No matter what mistakes he made, he didn’t let his disappointment in himself discourage him. Thinking about Washington in those terrible days of 1776 gave me a whole new perspective on the word dis-courage.

9. The kind of organization you’re in determines what kind of leader you need to be. McFarlan’s example of the challenges (successfully) faced both by Pete Solvik, CIO at Cisco when the company was in hypergrowth mode, and Brad Boston, Cisco’s CIO since 2002, was a great illustration of how different business conditions require different skills. It also highlighted the futility of defining a single ideal CIO profile.”

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Entropy – The Second Law applied to management

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From Teaming Up by Darrel Ray

“Bear with me on this one, I think you might find it useful if you are interested in why things need so much attention and work in your team or group. The second law of thermodynamics (entropy) says that disorder tends to increase in a system especially in relation to other systems. Two systems will seek a common energy level. It is like a library where the books seem to get misplaced constantly. A library needs a librarian to constantly work at putting books where they belong. Without constant work the outside system (the users) tend to bring disorder to the library. The library tends to get disorganized and less useful or efficient to the user. The second law of thermodynamics works very well in my house. Chaos seems to constantly lurk just around the corner. The more outsiders who use my house, the more messy it gets.

What does this have to do with management or leadership? Human systems need constant care just like a library or a house. The job is never ending. Unfortunately, managers who tend to think in black and white terms believe that once a system is in place it should work without their care. System dynamics are never stable, there is never a time when a system is perfectly balanced. Just as you are constantly adjusting your balance when riding a bicycle, a team needs constant balancing and adjustments.

Fortunately, managers who are good coaches can create teams and human systems that do a good deal of the correction themselves. People can learn to identify typical problems and correct them without management intervention. To the degree that the manager teaches and coaches these skills, the manager can spend his or her time doing higher-level work but the manager can never assume that the system is perfectly balanced and running on its own. Even if a library is used only by highly trained librarians there would still be books out of order or left on desks.”

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