Friday, June 4, 2010

The Leadership Team

Let’s be realistic. Your resume notwithstanding, you are not Superman (Batman, perhaps, but not Superman!). It’s one thing to keep a pulse on the status of the transformation and to be aware of the skill sets of your team, and another thing entirely to have more than twenty-four hours in a day to manage the minutiae involved. If there is a single element needed to ensure success, it’s to surround yourself with a great leadership team—a group of direct reports, fully attuned to your objectives and capable of working cooperatively amongst themselves and with other corporate constituencies.
Mad Magazine once published a cartoon showing the Lone Ranger with his Indian sidekick Tonto, surrounded by attacking Indian warriors. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and asks, “What do we do now?” Tonto replies, “What do you mean by “we” kemosabe?”
Amusing because, well, it highlights the importance of being surrounded by a team that shares your challenges and whom you can trust in order when delegating. It also works the other way around. Your direct reports should feel comfortable when coming to you with any problem that requires resolution, knowing they have your trust. Still, a former US President used to say “Trust, but Verify.” From time to time you should reach out to the base levels in your organization in order to assess the morale and effectiveness of the entire team. If you are the type of manager who “walks-the-floor” (and you should be), you will be able to do spot-checks to directly determine whether your organization is running like a well-oiled machine or an episode of a bad reality show.
Beyond trust and alignment of purpose, you should also try to establish the right mix of skills in your leadership team.  Multidisciplinary teams will ensure you receive a variety of perspectives rather than the same, repetitive advice. Singularity of purpose does not entail singularity of opinion. Within this multidisciplinary framework it would be ideal to have a balanced combination of management and technology skills.
Be prepared to mentor your direct reports to ensure that, in the end, you have a team that is congruent with the values you wish to imprint. Intrinsic elements, such as excellence, satisfaction, work attitude, commitment and integrity, need to be defined and enforced in practice and not merely on laminated sheets or through mug-imprinted company mottos. They should be established by example and should be measured (sensed, more than measured) on a day-to-day basis.
When it comes to organizing your direct reports and setting governance, make sure to assign their roles to match their skills with the teams they will be overseeing. If you have a highly technical, self-motivated team, don’t have them managed by someone whose style is to micro-manage activities. In this case, you’ll do best to have a manager who’s not so highly technical and has a hands-off style.  Highly motivated,  technical teams need only a manager who can serve as a facilitator; someone who will remove obstacles and then get out of the way rather than someone who will try to direct them on a day-to-day basis.
Alternatively, some teams may benefit from a more technical-style manager rather than an administrative manager. If you have the kind of team whose genetic makeup requires they be more closely directed (traditionally, teams involved in the day-to-day operations tend to fit this profile), you will want to chose a manager whose style is more hands-on and more procedurally oriented.  Teams formed by junior programmers who are competent and yet inexperienced (these teams are usually put in charge of maintenance, but should not be), can benefit significantly from a manager who provides technology direction and mentoring.
Think of building your team in terms similar to a sports team coach focused on bringing in the right player and using him or her in the right context. In the end, most successful working teams, like most successful sport teams, become so primarily by the way they become unified under a shared culture.