Tuesday, July 26, 2011

IT Leaders: Sharing The Secrets Of Their Success

I spent last fall teaching a senior-level class for the MIS Department at Cal State San Marcos.  This was not only an exceptional opportunity for me to learn about the next-generation of business technology leaders, but to attempt to shape their thought processes around what industry is looking for in today's technology-driven jobs.

Each week of class, I brought in a different technology leader from a variety of different industries, (including a few CIO's responsible for Fortune 1000 companies) to discuss the need for today's technology leader to not only understand the importance of technical skills, but the critical importance of interpersonal skills in the workplace.   Some of the common themes that came up:

Project Management

Today's IT leaders need to understand how to create a positive impact on projects.   The students were shocked to hear from a number of IT leaders that came in AFTER a project failed, and what they did to turn the initiative around and/or save a project from failure. The speakers often shared their perspective on "learning in the trenches" and the need to understand the goal, but also to define the "WHY" of the project and point everyone in the same direction, regardless of independent interests or goals.   The project manager is an important role for a corporation and these skills are needed by IT leaders today.

Conflict Resolution

Almost every leader that came in to speak for me brought up the importance of conflict resolution skills.    For a leader in today's workforce, the consistent challenge of business, the economy, and changing priorities all lead to a stressed out work environment.   The ability to understand the potential for conflict and/or the ability to quickly resolve issues between people or departments is critical for the success of the IT leader.   This was a common theme.

Cross-Functional Business Roles

Most IT leaders that spoke in my class had actually fulfilled different roles in their IT careers.   To be more specific, these individuals worked as IT leaders AND a secondary role, typically working both jobs because they were very capable people and they were asked to do this because they were trusted in the organization.   As an IT leader, this is not only a huge opportunity to grow, it provides another avenue for ongoing education into new territory in the organization.


If the IT leader can't be trusted, how do they function in an organization?   Each speaker brought this very important point to their presentations in class.  The trust that is built with continued success in the deployment of solutions will generate more opportunities for growth and develop the leader into a "trusted source" for business alignment and execution.   This became another important aspect of the presentation from each IT leader and something they all understood.

I've had a unique experience, bringing a number of IT leaders into the classroom to share their stories, and I am planning on teaching this course again for the upcoming school year at Cal State San Marcos.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


One of my personal heroes and favorite corporate leaders is Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell, Inc.. With a net worth of about $15 billion at age 46, this Houston businessman is undeniably on of the most successful people on the planet.

How did Michael Dell get to where he is now? Partly, of course, through strong leadership qualities such as vision, passion, excitement, curiosity, and the ability to inspire other people. But when all is said and done, Dell’s greatest asset has been his courage—specifically, the courage to be different.

Dell started out doing things differently at a very early age. Blessed with an insatiable curiosity aboutinformation technology, he bought his first calculator at age seven and programmed his first teletype machine when he was in his early teens. When he got his first computer, an Apple II, Dell ignored the instruction manual and took it apart piece by piece to see exactly how it worked.

While attending high school in Houston, he made house calls, selling subscriptions to the Houston Post  during the summer. Anyone who has done this, or even made cold calls over the phone, knows the courage it takes to face repeated rejection.

But Dell was fired by an enthusiasm that overcame all this. With a keen eye for opportunities and market needs, always looking for something different that nobody else was doing, he observed that newlyweds and new homeowners were the ones who most often bought new subscriptions. Targeting this demographic group, he earned $18,000 his first year in high school, more than the annual income of most of his teachers.

In his early twenties, while doing pre-med studies at the University of Texas, Dell started an informal business upgrading computers. Thinking outside the box, he applied for and got a vendor’s license to bid on contracts for the State of Texas. Much to his competition’s dismay, he won most of the contracts for one simple reason: he was operating out of a single room instead of having to deal with the expensive overhead of a computer store. None of his competitors had thought of that before.

Dell’s experience with the State of Texas and the money he saved by not being saddled with an expensive store eventually led to his registering a new company called PCs Limited. Continuing with his bare-bones operating budget and working out of a condominium, the business sold between $50,000 and $80,000 in upgraded PCs,kits, and add-on components. This success eventually led to the founding of the Dell Computer Corporation in North Austin, which employed a few order takers and fulfillment people and, as Dell himself put it, a manufacturing staff consisting of “three guys with screwdrivers sitting at six-foot tables.” His total capitalization cost? A mere $1,000.

In 1992, at the age of 27, Dell became the youngest CEO to have his company ranked in Fortune magazine’s list of top 500 corporations. Four years later, in 1996, Dell started selling computers on the internet and was soon reporting more than $1 million in sales per day. In the first quarter of 2001, Dell Inc. reached a world market share of 12.8 percent, surpassing Compaq to become the largest PC maker in the world.

Dell not only had vision and passion; he also had the courage to take bold and unprecedented action. Throughout his career, Dell has been faced with naysayers both inside and outside his company, people who scoffed at him as a dreamer and dismissed his idea as foolish or unrealistic. Dell didn’t care. He knew he would succeed. Again and again at the decisive moment, he had the courage to be different.Many of his actions were so different and unexpected, they blew his competition out of the water.

If you’d like to read more about Dell’s unusual rise, I strongly suggest his book, Direct From Dell: Strategies That Revolutionized an Industry. It recounts not only his early life and the founding of his company but also the mistakes he made and the lessons he learned along the way.

Dell knew he couldn’t succeed without taking risks, and neither can you. So here are a few questions for you to ponder: Do you have the courage to be different? What are the assumptions in your industry? What’s missing? Who are your customers and what are their needs? What niches existthat aren’t being filled? What could you do that your competitors aren't doing? How can you reduce costs? What one small change could you make right now that could vastly shift your business for the better? What changes might even revolutionize your industry?

If you take a few minutes to ponder these questions, the answers can catapult you and your business to an entirely new level of success—especially if you have the courage to be different.

Most of this blog was taken from my book, The New Technology Paradigm: Transforming IT With Passion, Courage, and Collaboration. If you’d like to learn more about transforming your business, click on the following link to order a discounted copy of the book from Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/New-Technology-Paradigm-Steve-Romeo/dp/0982831501/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1290026980&sr=8-1 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Collaboration and The Business Of Technology

Following is an excerpt from my new book, The New Technology Paradigm, http://www.amazon.com/New-Technology-Paradigm-Steve-Romeo/dp/0982831501/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1290026980&sr=8-1 intended to spark thought and discussion on the all-important subject of collaboration in business.


We’re all familiar with examples of successful collaboration, from business, military and sports arenas to politics and personal life. It is absolutely awe-inspiring what can be done, sometimes on a massive scale, when everyone is “bought in” and working for the same goal. We also are familiar with many of the elements that are necessary for completing a group project successfully—including strong leadership, clear communication, inspiration, respect, resiliency, and hard work. I would just like to take a moment here to highlight a few of the more important elements of successful collaboration.

The Importance of Leadership. Of course, strong leadership is always critical to project success. Successful projects are led by someone who has a clear vision, is passionately convinced that the project will work, and is able to transmit that passion to his or her team. This gives individual members the enthusiasm and focus they need to achieve the goal together. The leader is also able to transmit the courage to get started, to take risks, and to persevere when the going gets rough. He or she is able to keep the team focused on the goal.

Open Communication. Above all, the leader creates an atmosphere of open communication. Leaders who give their teams a say can often create a buy-in beyond the deliverable. On the other hand, teams without a say will typically say nothing. How do you get your team bought in? How do you create the kind of commitment that gets results? By asking for honest feedback. By being humble enough to say, “This is what we’ve come up with so far, but we’re open to suggestions.” If you want to make this even more personal, you can ask each member of the team for his or her feedback: “What do you think, Bob?” or “What’s your take on this, Sally?”

The leader is also open and flexible but able to bring the group back to the task at hand. As a result of strong leadership, everyone has clear expectations about their part in the project and a clear vision of the final goal.

Questions for Leaders. Remember, everyone is a potential leader in his or her own sphere of influence. Regardless of your level of leadership, here are some important questions to ask yourself: Do you inspire your team? Do you believe in the project? Do you involve others in the challenges and direction of the project? Do you command respect? Are you really committed? Do you have ownership of the project beyond the completion date? If you have all these qualities, more than likely you will be able to transmit the energy and enthusiasm that will lead to effective collaboration and successful completion of the project.

Next time I will discuss some of the most critical factors in the art of clear communication. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about these and other subjects related to business success, just click here to order my book, The New Technology Paradigm: Transforming IT With Passion, Courage, and Collaboration. http://www.amazon.com/New-Technology-Paradigm-Steve-Romeo/dp/0982831501/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1290026980&sr=8-1