Gravitas and Grit: How IT Leaders Inspire Peak Performance

Presenters

  • Dianna Sadlouskos, Strategic Alliance Partner, Next Generation Executive Search
  • Joanna Young, Principal, JCYCIO
  • Melissa Woo, Senior Vice President for IT & CIO, Stony  Brook University
  • Brendan Guenther, Director for Academic Technology, Michigan State University
  • Russell Beard, Vice President of Information Technology, Bellevue Colllege

NOTE: any errors, omissions or inadvertent misrepresentations are completely my fault. This conversation moved quickly and there was a lot of audience participation my fingers weren’t quite quick enough to catch – I beg your indulgence, dear reader. – Paul

DS: No powerpoint today (yay!), we’re focusing on conversation today. Provided definition of “Grit” by Angela Duckworth (too long to capture).

DS – Question 1: How would you translate grit into your own personal path to leadership?

MW: “stick-to-it-iveness” was the key for me. I went through so many search committees, it was crazy. I incorporated feedback from coaches. Ask for feedback!

JY: first CIO job I applied for was an abject failure. The search consultant’s feedback was really helpful…it was tough, but amazingly helpful advice. Over prepare!  Every meeting you have with your president is a new interview.

RB: you have to have the ability to be patient and learn to breathe.

DS – Any essential grit stories to share?

(Audience member) It’s not only about grit, it’s about the people surrounding you. So many people said “you were great!” which was not helpful as I needed. I interviewed for 13 jobs before I got the one I have now. Just keep going.

DS: just because you don’t get a job, it’s OK, you may still be a very good candidate…you’e not a failure!

DS – Do you think that Grit is something you can develop in people?

BG: I think so. Everyone hits bumps in the road, sometimes you don’t bring the right people onto your team, you have to be able to adapt.

MW: you have to consider tough love. I tend to force people into projects that they are not comfortable with so that they have the opportunity to grow.

JY: job for life is no longer the case. You have to be able to force yourself into a role you’ve never had before. I had no telecom in my background, but I ended up running the largest broadband project in my state (having “wicked smaht” people around me was a great help).

DS – Interest and Practice: is there a difference in how you guide development of these attributes in mid-level managers versus millenials?

BG: the things that you are (where and how you grew up, etc.) have a lot to do with how you think.

JY: I now work for a millenial, someone I hired as an intern. We are learning so much from one another…he is completely fearless. People earlier in their career tend to have a higher degree of confidence (let ’em fail fast and learn fast). However, I want to give them guide rails to keep them from crashing and burning.

MW: at a conference I was at last week, keynote was about “radical candor.” Millenials are not as delicate as you think! Treat them as they are early career.

DS – is there advice you can give the group about how you inspire practice in aspiring leaders?

(Audience member) I don’t give advice, I ask a lot of questions. People with good social IQ pick up on what you’re doing, and will work through things in their head. Set parameters “here’s where I don’t want you to go.”

(Audience member) Give the person permission to fail, but coach them back to success.

DS – How to inspire mid-level managers to engage and re-invigorate their interest?

JY: get a different job and/or a different team.

RB: you’re prepared and need to manifest the presence to perform.

How does talent versus effort impact leaders?

JY: effort is great, but you need to apply effort effectively. Don’t use a teaspoon when a backhoe is the tool you really need. Talent is like a big “T” – you may have depth in tech, but you need to have breadth in business, how your campus works and more.

BG: you have to have the ability to identify talent. For effort, being able to identify the right talent sets among different people to work together.

DS: Can you share examples of staff who were talented but struggled?

DS: Tiger Woods vs. John McEnroe

JY: some of those staff are people who run with scissors who are very talented but are a danger to themselves. Often these people think of themselves as the smartest people in the room.

(Audience member) the smartest people in the room biggest issue is the fact that many of them are unable to be coached.

(Audience member) Coaching those team members is really helpful. For my team, when hiring, the skillset comes second to the ability to work within a team.

JY: rhetorical question: what’s more important: technical skills, or ability to work with faculty? (scattered callouts of “faculty”).

MW: you need to be able to have the difficult conversations to people.

RB: Honest feedback is important and one of the most important things we do as leaders.

How do you encourage staff to take risks and grow?

JY: influence your environment to make failure acceptable, so long as learning occurs.

BG: our role as coach/mentor is to help our staff pull the layers of failure apart so as to teach lessons that they can grow from. You HAVE to be there when your people fail.

RB: questions like “you should think about” were great, not prescribing solutions was important for me.