Posts

leadership, education, business, transformationNo, this post is not about a 2015 version of the 80’s band, Flock of Seagulls. Nor, is it really about a flock of geese (lovingly referred to as Sky Carp by my friend Lance). This post is really about the lessons I learned while attending “Transforming Your Leadership Strategy” conducted by MIT Sloan Executive Education. I often joke that I feel smarter just by stepping on campus here in Cambridge. But, it really is no joke, I really do gain new insights each and every time I attend one of the classes here.

I believe what makes these courses unique and extremely valuable are the students themselves. The diversity of the participants is incredible. The countries and therefore the cultures represented included Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Greece, Spain, Ghana, France, Nigeria, Canada, Denmark, Brazil, and, of course, the United States. The industries represented ranged from NGO’s, government agencies, banking, retail, financial, Army, and education (and many others).  To be able to gather with these 60 professionals and discuss leadership was indeed a privilege.

Professor Deborah Ancona led the group through a series of interactive lectures and exercises over the course of two days. She use an unique approach by varying the sizes of the small group activities from two to five, with the stipulation that for each new exercise you had to group with different people. The goal was to meet and speak with everyone in the class. I lost track, but I think I came pretty close to achieving that goal (a pretty amazing feat for an introvert!).business, leadership, education, transformation

I don’t plan to recount all of the sessions from the last two days (to get that level of detail, you need to attend the class!). However, the goal of taking any course like this is to learn something (or be reminded of something) and to take action. After all, you can’t transform your leadership strategy if you don’t take action. Professor Ancona actually gave me a leg up on writing this blog with the last activity of the course. We were to review our notes and list three things we wanted to remember and three actions we wanted to take. Then, in groups of five, we were to share those things. Honestly, the hard part was keeping it to only three! But, here goes:

Lesson Number 1: Leadership is Personal – this was the first notation in my journal, but it probably struck me the most. You can take dozens of leadership classes, you can read thousands of books, you can spend hundreds of hours with mentors, but when it comes right down to it, Leadership is Personal…there are no best practices. Sure, there are techniques, but just as every person is unique, every leader is unique. You have your own strengths and your own weakness. Harness them to lead. Our CEO, Jim McClelland, often says “Accentuate your strengths and make your Weaknesses irrelevant”.

Lesson Number 2: The Bystander helps put things in context – Professor Ancona led us through the four roles of a team: The Mover – the person that suggests an action; The Follower – the person that supports the action; The Opposer – the person that pushes back on the idea for action; and The Bystander – the person that provides context, the big picture and perspective. (Li, I now know what you meant when I asked “Why do I need to be in every meeting” and you responded “You help put things in context and provide the big picture”).

Lesson Number 3: Don’t brick in your teams – teams that are internally focused on norms, team dynamics, and tasks are are only half right. X-Teams (if you don’t take the class, at least read the book) are teams that are networked to others within the organization and outside the organization. By reaching outside the team, the resulting product (whatever the product the team is tasked with producing) is better. Leveraging expertise outside the group when sensemaking (again…take THE CLASS) provides a richer context. Reaching up within the organization and engaging in the politics of the organization is essential for success, as is task coordination across all of the players in the project.

Now, for the actions:

Action Number 1: When in meetings, assess the dynamics of the conversation and make sure that all four roles are represented. If one or more of the roles are not equally represented, I will step in and assume that role, or encourage others to assume that role. For example, if no one is The Opposer, I will suggest to the team that we spend some time discussing why the idea for action WON’T work.

Action Number 2: Encourage everyone on our team to “get out”, go “be in the business”, walk a mile in our mission partners’ shoes (I hate the term end-user, I prefer business partner, or mission partner). Not only will that help with sensemaking, it will enable others in the group to play the Bystander role and set context and perspective.

Action Number 3: Review our previous and on-going projects and identify areas where we may have struggled. Map them against the 4 Capabilities of a Leader (Visioning, Relating, Inventing, and Sensemaking) to see the areas for improvement. Was the vision not clear? Did we not engage the stakeholders? Did the actions not match up with the goal? Did we not spend enough time sensemaking?

There you have it! As I mentioned in one of my LinkedIn posts, you are all now my accountability partners. Follow up! Make sure I am executing the actions!

Now, about those Sky Carp, er, uh, I mean geese. What leadership lessons CAN you learn from a flock of geese? Leadership is Distributed…to lead, sometimes you follow and let others lead. Watch a flock of geese fly over and you will see the goose out front, drop out of formation, a new goose take the lead, the former leader fall back into the formation. Distributed decision making means sometimes the leader becomes the follower.

Want to exchange ideas on Twitter (@jtongici)?
Expanding your circles on Google+?
Read more of my musings on LinkedIn.
Interested in IT and it’s role in business? Check out my posts on Intel’s IT Peer Network.

 

I could have just as easily titled this post “An Old Dog Learns ANOTHER New Trick” (“An Old Dog Goes Back to High School“), but I really have quit taking notes at conferences. Instead I have crowdsourced this task. How, you ask, did I do that? With Twitter, of course (right now everyone reading this who is under 30 something is saying “Duh”)! Hey, keep in mind, I am a former COBOL programmer that once declared, “Real programmers don’t need mice!”, these lessons are a big deal!

In the past, I would dutifully scribble notes, sometimes pages and pages of notes. Later, I would go back and transcribe them (assuming I could actually readBusiness, connectivity, technology them!). About a year ago, I got really technologically advanced and used my iPad to type notes, thus saving the transcription step. I still found that I would miss things because I was busy typing the previous nugget. (on this subject, don’t those people that use laptops with noisy keyboards to take notes incessantly throughout a conference just drive you nuts?).

Several weeks ago, I attend MIT’s CIO conference (#MITCIO) and decided I was going to try to use Twitter to take my notes. I set up a stream on Hootsuite to monitor the hashtag (jeez, three years ago I didn’t even know what a hashtag was, now I am using it in a sentence!). When one of the speakers or panelist said something that struck a chord with me, I tweeted it. Of course, there was a room of several hundred other people also tweeting. By monitoring the stream, I could see what others thought were important points, or see what comments someone might disagree with, or what thoughts were amplified through additional ideas. Since there were multiple tracks, I was even able to follow the comments from sessions I could not attend. Weeks later attendees are still adding thoughts to the dialogue. When I returned from the conference, I merely archived the stream and have my notes (and hundreds of others’ notes) to review for as long as I like.

As I write this, I am attending the Connected World Conference (#CWConf13) in Santa Clara. I have used the same crowdsourcing techniques to take notes at this conference. Talk about being connected! This morning I attended my first Tweet Chat. Peggy Smedley (@ConneectedWMag) of Connected World Magazine and the Peggy Smedley Show (www.PeggySmedleyShow.com) interviewed Mike Tinskey from Ford (@Ford) about their connected and electric cars. People could join live at the conference, on the web, or by following the conversation and posting questions on Twitter (#FordCW) or on the Tweetwall hosted on Tweetwally (http://fordtweetchatcw.tweetwally.com/) and presented to the live audience. It sure beat the old way of Q&A…of writing down your question to be handed to the speaker, or stepping up to the microphone to ask questions. Again, by archiving the stream, I have a permanent record to review later.

So what of the random thoughts, ideas, or actions that I didn’t want to share with the Twitter universe? Since I live in my in-box anyway, I just jumped over to Gmail and shot myself a quick email. All the follow up items are now sitting safely in my in-box and I don’t have to remember to go back and read my scribbles.

Business, connectivity, technologyI think over time as more and more event planners adopt these strategies the process will improve even more. For example, I would love to see separate hashtags for each session. This would enable you to further organize your “notes”. Also, it would be great if events included the speaker’s Twitter handle and LinkedIn link in their bios to facilitate learning more of their thoughts and potentially continuing the dialogue. I would also like to see more events put their guides online, in e-book format or even in app format, that would enable clickable links.

Will I ever take notes again? Sure, most meetings aren’t appropriate to Tweet publicly and some conferences or events may not support the technology to make it possible or some sessions may not have the critical mass of  attendees that tweet, but you can bet, when I can…I will.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

With no apologies whatsoever to the Material Girl, I just spent two days this week living in a virtual world. It was an incredible experience! In a first for the MIT Executive Education Program, one of their classes was offered in a virtual environment. No, this was not your father’s webinar using WebEx, this was a virtual classroom, complete with personalized avatars.

Let me try to explain. I started attending MIT’s Sloan School of Management Executive Education Program last year. Typically, classes are held in Cambridge, either on campus or at a nearby hotel. However, the class “Big Data: Making Complex Things Simpler” was different. It was offered in two venues, one in Cambridge and one virtually using AvayaLive Engage. The kicker? The classes were run simultaneously as one class. There were 100+ students in Cambridge and about 70 of us from around the world that joined virtually.

Leadership, Education, Business

The Transporter

The platform leverages video gaming technology to create a near-real virtual environment. Each student had their own avatar they controlled from their mouse and keyboard. In a scene straight out of Star Trek, my avatar was transported and materialized outside an auditorium .  In this auditorium, the students could great each other with a handshake and speak in our own voices. I met and spoke with people from the U.S., Saudia Arabia, Egypt, London and Brazil. Our avatars could wave, raise our hands, clap, point, shrug, and fist pump with excitement.

The Engage platform uses the concept of proximity, so only those students, er avatars, in range of your voice could hear you. You could whisper to have a private conversation or shout to be heard by more.

Leadership, Education, Business

The view from Virtual to Live

The auditorium had a stage area. Anyone standing on the stage and speaking could be heard by all the students. Above the stage where three large screens. On one screen there was a live video feed from the classroom in Cambridge. The center screen was used to project the slides of the material (the third screen was not used) In the rear of the auditorium was a microphone. Avatars that spoke into the microphone could be heard throughout the auditorium and in the class room in Cambridge.

Leadership, Business, Education

The view from Live to Virtual

Professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Alex “Sandy” Pentland taught from the live classroom, but on several occasions joined us in the the virtual world.

Hopefully, I’ve painted an adequate picture of the environment. The course itself was outstanding, but rather than recount the material (heck, you can take the class yourself!) I want to share some of my observations.

In a recent article on the Financial Times blog “Online learning “no substitute” for classroom”, Peter Hirst, executive director of executive education at Sloan stated “The competitive comparison is not between on-line and in-person, it is between on-line or not-at-all.” While I agree with Dr. Hirst, I will say this virtual environment beat traditional webinar environments hands down. Combining it with the live classroom took it even a notch higher. I think some tweaks could make it almost like being there.

So some observations in no particular order:

  • All of the avatars were good looking and about the same age. There were not any “less attractive”, nor “overweight”. There was diversity in color and nationality, however.
  • In this environment, it is even more important that participants mute their microphones when not speaking. Not muting caused an annoying echo, not to mention the crying babies, traffic noise, and the occasional dog.  This was easily managed by our hostess Christine Mansella, however.
  • On day one, there was a significant lag of the audio feed from the virtual world to the live world. The Avaya and MIT engineers resolved that over night and it behaved flawlessly the the second day.
  • Running this environment on my Mac caused it to run blazing hot. I had to use my lap desk fan to keep it cool (thanks Holly and Brad!).

By the time the class was over, I was so immersed in the virtual class that I would forget that Christine was actually in the live classroom. Seeing her handout certificates was a bit surreal.

Leadership, Education, Business

Breakout Room C

So, some tweaks on how to improve IMHO (in my humble opinion)…

  • Because we were virtual, there was really no way to grab one of the professors for an offline question or to take a deeper dive with them on break. 
  • The breakout rooms worked adequately, but they were not like sitting at a table with your classmates. There could have been more structure around “room assignments”. The first room I was in only had three of us and while the conversation was good, it could have been better. In a later room, it seemed like there was 20 of us, which was probably too big.
  • While on the breakout sessions, the final exercise required the teams to complete a Matrix of Change. This was not possible in the virtual breakout rooms. An collaborative editing function, like Google Docs, or something would have been helpful.
  • It was not possible to “break bread” together. The live class had lunch, the virtual world was left to our own devices. Though I was quite jealous when one of the participant’s house boy brought him a grilled cheese sandwich. Related to this, the live class had a cocktail reception after the first day. I am not sure how to solve either one of these, but perhaps having a live feed from the lunch and reception, and allowing the live students to create avatars and join us in the virtual world would have worked. I know several times in my career when I managed staff around the globe, I had donuts delivered in Indy and Deptford, croissants in Paris and gulab jaban in Mumbai while on a conference call with each other.
  • It would have been helpful if my avatar status bar stayed visible. It was hard to tell if I was muted or not.
  • Asking questions was a little cumbersome because the avatar would have to move to the microphone at the rear of the auditorium.
  • Because we were virtual, we missed out on one of the traditions of business…exchanging business cards. It would have been cool to be able to do that in the virtual world somehow.

In the end, I guess the answer to the questions “Would you attend another class virtually”, or “Would you recommend this to a colleague” is the ultimate test. The answer to both is a resounding YES! Though after listening to Erik and Sandy talk about all the data being collected by all the devices in this connected world, I have to wonder…what data did they just collect on all of us? LOL