What a difference a year makes

Last year at this time I was at the beginning of a new stage of my career.  After an unexpected layoff and the first time not being employeed in nearly a quarter-century, I found myself in an unfamiliar place. 

I had spent my entire career working in IT shops of large corporations.  Three Fortune 500 companies had been my place of employment over 24 years.  Now I found myself in a company that was smaller than the departments I had been in.  Everything about this job was different.  The type of work, the type of company, the type of boss, the type of people, the type of office…. you name it, it was new to me.

I decided that I was going to go into it full bore, roll the dice, and just see what happened.  What I found was a job that has given me more fulfilment, more fun, and more excitement than anything I experienced in the corporate world. 

What has made this so much fun?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • The ability to trace my actions straight to the bottom line of the company.
  • The ability to make decisions without multiple levels of review, oversight and second-guessing.
  • The ability to get out of the box and be creative, harnassing the entrepreneur in each of us.
  • The ability to step out of your comfort zone and lead in various capacities (my role has expanded beyond IT into almost every aspect of the business).

Bottom line, I believe the fundamental thing that has made this job enjoyable is the ability to make a difference!  I’ve heard before that the number one thing employees want from their employers is appreciation.  No greater apprecation can be found than to believe you make a difference in an organization.

My encouragement for anyone going through an unexpected job change is to keep your eyes open.  You never know where your next opportunity will come from.  And no matter how different it may feel to you, it may end up leading to the most fun you’ve had (on the job) in a long time!   Good luck and God Bless!

Assess then Act

Some leaders take action on very little direction, while others seem to never have enough to make a decision.

Over the years I’ve noticed that one area that many leaders (including myself) can often improve on, is the ability to take action at the right time, based upon the right amount of information.  Leadership is often about setting a direction.  That direction comes from making a decision about what needs to be done.  Some leaders take action on very little direction, while others seem to never have enough to make a decision.

The problem with taking action on too little information is that you often make the wrong decision because you are not fully informed of the details.  Take for instance this one time when an executive I worked with wanted one of my team members to go on-site to address a customer’s problem.  The only issue was, no one had researched yet what the source of the problem was.  And since my guy could only address about 25% of the potential issues, I saw it as a 75% chance of a wasted trip.  (Note, this wasn’t a trip across town, but one that would involve airfare, overnight travel and at least two days of lost productivity at the office).  I put the brakes on sending the person out, and instead had a trained technician call and walk through the issues.  As it turned out, a local technician was able to swing by the customer’s location and fix the problem in a couple of hours.  The customer was much happier than if they had waited two days only to have the wrong person show up.   My company was better off because we saved thousands of dollars in travel expenses and lost productivity.

On the other hand, some people take entirely too long to make a decision.  This is often called “analysis paralysis”.  Over the years, I’ve often found myself involved with decisions that could never be made, because there was always that “one more” piece of information.   A similar issue is “next year’s version” of the software or product will be better.  These decisions (or the lack thereof) also cost the company money.  They cause lost productivity, lost opportunity costs and overall frustration among team members.  I’ve also noticed that the likelihood of these problems increase exponentially with the number of people involved in making the decision.  That’s one reason I love working in a smaller company.

Every leader must become comfortable with making decisions at the right time.  The time is not a measure of days, but a measure of knowing when you know enough.  Rudy Giuliani, in his book “Leadership” talks about the principle of “Reflect, Then Decide”.  He says that he never makes up his mind until he has to.   Recognizing when you “have to” is the key to good leadership.  One of the principles Mr. Giuliani illustrates is relentless preparation.  The more data you have, the more communications you have with your team, the quality of the people giving you advice, all impact your ability to come to a decision quickly. 

The bottom line is that no one can tell you exactly when to make any particular decision.  It’s a skill gained over time.  By learning what works and what doesn’t, it’s something that’s inside the gut of a good leader.  But it takes preparation, confidence and good information to make the right decision at the right time.