No self-respecting IT professional would attempt an IT project without a detailed plan, yet relatively few have any sort of plan for a project that should be top of mind: their own leadership development.
Bob Kantor is an author and leadership coach who is out to change that dynamic. At the CIO 100 Symposium & Awards Ceremony, Kantor talked about his Leadership Lifecycle Method, a six-step process for improving leadership skills and helping IT professionals get better results in less time. In other words, to help them become better leaders.
To demonstrate his point, Kantor asked the standing room only crowd of well over 100 IT pros to write down three changes they wanted to make in their personal or professional lives. Then he asked them to write down any steps they’d taken towards each goal. A show of hands revealed only one person had taken as many as 3 steps towards each.
IT is all about change and in order for change to be effective, we need to engage people in the change or we won’t get the results we want. Think of any enterprise application deployment that doesn’t work as expected, from an ERP system to a new email app. If you don’t engage the users in the change, it’s not likely to work. “If anything we create operational disruption,” Kantor said.
Here, then, is a thumbnail sketch of his six-step leadership lifecycle method.
- Set and clarify your strategic intent. Help people understand the intent and why it’s important to the organization.
- Prioritize and manage your focus. Every single one of Kantor’s coaching clients has problems with time management, which he says is a reflection of a lack of clarity on what priorities are. If you clarify your priorities, time management ceases to be an issue. List the tasks you need to get done, and make sure they’re things that will make a real difference in your company. Limit the list to 20 items maximum, then rank them in order of priority each day – not high, medium and low, but an actual number ranking from top to bottom. Then spend a dedicated amount of time early in the day on the first item. Once you make progress on that, go to number 2, and so on. You won’t likely get beyond 3 in any given day. “If you start the day by putting time into your most important task you will see your effectiveness double or triple,” Kantor says.
- Delegate. Just about everybody under-delegates, he contends. When he pressures clients to delegate 10% more, they have little problem. When he asks for another 10%, it’s still no big deal. In fact, few clients max out prior to a 30% increase in delegation. “They’re now focused more on leading and developing than doing the work,” he says. “And their people enjoy work more because they get more attention from leadership, they’re being challenged and they deliver more value. It’s a win-win.”
- Create conditions of accountability. It’s not enough to delegate; you also have to ensure the work gets done. That’s a 3-step process of articulating clear expectations, making sure the expectation is viable in a reasonable timeframe and creating compelling consequences – and use a carrot, not a stick. “We miss too many opportunities to create ‘carrot wins’ for people, things as simple as a thank you from the boss,” he said.
- Manage performance and professional development. Don’t just provide feedback – make sure the behavior changes. And don’t just save up feedback for the bad stuff.
- Communicate. Understand the outcome you want from any communication. What do you want people to walk away and do? This requires some reverse engineering. Start with what you want them to do, then examine what they believe and anything that might prevent the outcome you seek. Then craft a message that addresses any concerns or stumbling blocks.
Kantor also advises executives to come up with a quarterly objective for themselves, then schedule at least 30 minutes per month of time to assess how you’re doing against the objective. “By the end of month two, you should be making progress and be well on the way to your goal,” he says. “If not, have a serious conversation with yourself about what’s getting in the way.”
It may sound odd to have a conversation with yourself, but Kantor says the technique almost guarantees that change will occur. So go ahead: talk to yourself. He says if you have a clear plan of action, you’re much more likely to achieve results.