Rivers of Thought

Life, Leadership, Business & Technology

The hustle and bustle of business travelers grabbing the hotel breakfast before they headed out to this meeting or that meeting barely registered in my consciousness as I mentally prepared for my fourth talk in four days. After finishing my oatmeal, I googled Top Golf, the location of my talk later that morning, and checked the drive time…nine minutes. “Still plenty of time to rehearse a couple more times before heading out”, I thought to myself. 

After rehearsing in front of the hotel room mirror (timing myself with the clock app), I checked-out on my phone (I love technology!), and headed to the parking garage to jump in the rental car. Having spent some time in the area, I had driven past the Top Golf many times. Their giant nets jutting up into the sky are hard to miss. Being unfamiliar with the highway system and traffic patterns however, I pulled up my calendar app, opened the meeting invitation and clicked on the address of the event to navigate by GPS. Still about nine minutes drive time. I fired up the podcast I’d been listening to last night when I’d arrived and headed out.

Expecting to turn left at the first traffic light, I was a little confused when Google said to go straight at the intersection. Hmmm, must be routing me around some heavy traffic. I’d gotten into trouble before when I thought I knew better the Google. In a few minutes when it directed me to merge onto the interstate heading east, it seemed odd. I knew the Top Golf was west of the hotel…or I thought I knew. Surely, Google knew how to get me there, besides, it now said six minutes to destination. I kept driving. Maybe there is more than one Top Golf in the area?

The map showed my exit approaching. Exit right, turn left and go over the Interstate, turn left again on the frontage road and I’ll be at Top Golf. I glanced to my left, expecting to see the familiar netting stanchions, but only saw blue skies above an office building. More confused than ever, I dutifully followed the route guidance. A few minutes later, I arrived at my destination. Not only wasn’t it a Top Golf, it was a residential neighborhood. I pulled into one of the side streets and stopped. 

Now What?

I googled Top Golf and it said I was 14 minutes away. What is going on? At least now my technology was telling me to drive west, which made far more sense to me than heading east. Within a few minutes I passed my hotel and several minutes after that, I saw the familiar netting of my destination.

I’d been listening to a podcast about the various ways great speakers mentally prepare themselves on the way to deliver their message. Some want silence, some want a playlist, none listed getting lost by blindly following a GPS as a way to prepare. I was thankful, I had left plenty of time to navigate here from the hotel. The thought, “must have been a bug in the interface between the Calendar app and the Maps app that took me the wrong way”, crossed my mind as I walked into the venue.

Ironically, my talk that morning was to a group of Information Technology leaders and the theme was driving your value in this amazing time of technology evolution. As way of an example, one of the questions I ask is “how many of you used your GPS to come to the event today?” As I got to that part of my talk, I had to chuckle to myself about my morning.

That afternoon, still curious about what went wrong, I discovered the issue. The address on the meeting invitation was missing the first digit of the address. It was a mere coincidence that the error resulted in the exact same nine minutes of drive time, in the opposite direction. Somehow, the fact that it was human error made me feel better about blindly following directions that I knew in my gut to be wrong.

Later, as I drove home (heading east correctly this time), I had time to think. There had to be a lesson in this experience.  A lesson beyond, “Ton you are a dumbass for relying solely on technology and not your gut instinct!”

Leaders and Followers

Leaders need followers and followers need leaders. Sometimes leaders are followers and sometimes followers are leaders. As a follower, we have the responsibility to use our brains (and our guts). We don’t just follow blindly. Verify the facts. Reach our own conclusions. If our conclusion differs from that of the leader, respectfully ask why. It is our choice to follow. If the why rings true, or the consequences of not following outweigh the discord in our guts then follow. However, when the facts don’t align, and we have asked our “why”, we know our truth, we have the right not to follow, and, in fact, become a leader ourselves.

As a leader, we have a responsibility as well. In this data driven world, we have to acknowledge data can be wrong. When our gut is telling us one thing and the data is telling us something entirely different, we must pause and ask why, we must verify the facts. If we still reach the same decision, then so be it. We will not always be right, but we will know we used the data available to us and we will know our “why”. We then have the obligation to explain our “why” to those who follow us, so that they too, understand the decision, even if they disagree with it. Those that share our belief in the “why” will follow. Those that don’t, won’t…and that’s OK.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a class of college students at IUPUI. We discussed a wide variety of topics including: globalization, outsourcing, culture, career choices and professional networking. It was the latter topic that got me in trouble. You see, I mentioned Twitter. My comment was met with some laughter, some eye rolls and almost in unison, “no one uses Twitter any more. It’s for Olds.”

Olds, now there’s a new one. Olds. I needed no explanation for what it meant. One need to look no further than the gray highlights in my hair and beard to know I fit squarely in the definition of Olds. UGH! Somehow this stung a bit more than being introduced last year as one of the “elder statesmen” of the Information Technology community. THAT came from one of my peers. This came from a group of students young enough to be my grandkids. OK, so yes I am an Olds.

Now, back to Twitter. Ok, class. You may be off using one of the myriad of applications that have replaced Twitter in the thumbs of your generation. But I am not talking about connecting with your peers. I’m talking about connecting with us Olds. Those of us who are in leadership and management positions, those of us who will be hiring you in May when you graduate. Why is connecting with us on Twitter (and LinkedIn) important? To learn. For all of us to learn. Here’s what I mean.

Leveraging the information shared on Twitter is an excellent way to keep up with today’s business news. Much of the tech news I read is a result of a link being shared on Twitter. If Isaac, or Charlie, or Paul or one of the other few thousand people I follow wrote new content, I want to read it. But it is also not about what they wrote, but what the read and found important enough to share it with me (as a member of their network). It’s up to the minute, fresh, it gives you a glimpse into what they are thinking.

I follow a Twitter list. The 100 Most Social CIOs. Imagine that. I can get a peek inside the mind of 100 CIOs in an instant. Just today, here are some of the topics:

It is a way to keep track of an industry (technology) that is changing at an exponential pace!

Some of my most trusted mentors, I “met” on Twitter. I started following them, reading what they shared. Re-Tweeted them, adding my own thoughts. Direct messaged them with questions. Slowing built relationships. Some of them I have now met in person during my travels, some I have interviewed for blog series, others I have interviewed on our podcast.

I also follow our company. I want to see what others are saying about us. Are our products meeting their needs or not? Are we living up to their standards? Who is interacting with our company posts? What things are on their minds? I follow our major competitors for much of the same reasons.

Need another reason to hang out with us Olds on Twitter? When you are interviewing for that dream job, how about following the company. What are they Tweeting about? Who is interacting with their Tweets? Are people generally reacting in a positive manor, or is the Twittersphere full of bad customer services Tweets? Find out the names of the people who are interviewing you. Follow them on Twitter, what things are they thinking about? How do those things apply to the position you are seeking? You can work those topics into your answers during the interview.

Follow people that are in similar roles and other companies. What things are on their mind? Reach to them directly. Find out what’s a “day in the life” of that position. It can be valuable information and it will set you apart from the hundreds, if not the thousands of candidates vying for that same position. You will be amazed how willing they will be to help.

Keeping up with your peers is important. I am not suggesting you abandon the channels you use to stay in touch, I am suggesting you give Twitter another chance as you enter the workforce. It will be a valuable tool for your career.

Now, I’m going to go back to my Rolling Stones music and reminisce about the forty years that have passed since I sat where you are sitting. (btw HOW old is Jagger?)

(Image courtesy of www.ClassicCarCatalogue.com) 

#AmplifyYourLeadership

Many of you are also subscribers to my newsletter (“What? You have a newsletter”, you ask? Why yes, I do. You can sign up here), let me start again. Those of you who read my January newsletter saw the 2019 goal I have set for myself to write my next book. The book will be Amplify Your Leadership, in it I will explore ten traits of a leader and the actions you can take to grow as a leader.

Some of you have heard my keynote address “Everything I Learned About Leadership…I Learned from Lewis and Clark”. This book will build upon those themes and ideas to serve as a guide as you explore what it means to be a leader in your own life (professional and personal).

This is where you come in! I need your stories. Have a story of a great (or not-so-great) leader? I would love to hear from you. No, you don’t need to write like Ernest Hemingway. Just tell me the story. If it is one I select to be included in the book, we can set up a time to talk live, I will take furious notes, and then wordsmith for the manuscript. Of course, I will give you full acknowledgement in the book (how cool is that?!!?).

Here’s how I envision this working. Periodically, I will post here and in my newsletter (you do remember I have a newsletter, right?) asking for stories related to a specific trait of a leader. If you have an example of a leader in your life (or you yourself) exhibiting that trait (or not exhibiting that trait) just jot a few sentences (or paragraphs, if you like) and either leave it in the comments or send me an email at Jeff@JeffreySTon.com.

Our journey will delve into these ten traits of a leader:

A Leader:

is Transparent
is Honest and Truthful
is Accountable
is Patient
Seeks Input
is Committed
has Integrity and Character
Admits Mistakes (aka vulnerable)
is Flexible
Takes Risks

If one or more of these sparks an idea in your mind, you don’t have to wait until I post about that specific trait…send me your story today!

Are you ready? Let’s start with: Transparency.

BusinessDictionary.com defines transparency as:

  1. See-through, clear piece of acetate used for projecting data, diagrams, and text onto a screen with an overhead projector.
    2. Lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.
    3. Minimum degree of disclosure to which agreements, dealings, practices, and transactions are open to all for verification.
    4. Essential condition for a free and open exchange whereby the rules and reasons behind regulatory measures are fair and clear to all participants.

    Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/transparency.html 

OK, we can probably throw out the first one for our purposes. But, does anyone remember using those crazy overhead projectors and transparencies? As I think about leaders and transparency, I tend to focus (like how I did that, overhead projectors…focus…) on the second definition, but, the third can really come into play as well.

Who, in your experience, has exhibited transparency and what did that help drive in your business or life? Have you worked for someone who was not transparent? What did that cause in your organization?

Send me your stories!

“Bueller. Bueller.”

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