Monday, December 16, 2013

Alphas, Betas, & Deltas

Each of us has a different personality type, and that's a good thing.  It takes all kinds of people to make the world work as well as it does today.  If everyone was the same we would never have athletes & actors to entertain us, soldiers to protect us, customer service agents to take our abuse over the phone, and politicians to...well... you get the point.  Having different personalities has given each of our societies the ability to create places for us all to live and thrive.  But at the same time, as our societies have become more complex it has become more important than ever to make sure that we create the proper match between each person and the function that they are to play.

For the sake of simplicity, let's define all possible personality types into three distinct categories.  As shown by our graphic, we'll call them Alphas, Betas, and Deltas.

A lot of the talk I've heard about personalities revolves around the Alpha type.  I suppose this is most likely true because of the terms "Alpha Dog", "Alpha Male", etc.  These terms describe people that are in charge, go-getters, and typically the ones that folks look to as leaders and winners.  However, in my experience, things are not always so simple.  More often than not, I see many CEOs and senior executives as Betas.  That may sound odd, but let's explore it further.

(In case you're wondering why we don't talk much about technology these days in a "CIO" blog, remember that the modern CIO succeeds through people)

Alphas -- These individuals attack problems head on.  They are typically very tenacious, results driven, intensely focused, and don't take "No" for an answer.  In my opinion, the best project managers are Alphas.  I've seen all sorts of project managers, but the ones that are most successful are those that are hard drivers.  Since the project manager rarely has direct authority, they have "break through walls" through force of will at times to accomplish the difficult tasks of bringing projects in on time/budget.  Another area where I see Alpha's flourish is in the area of the physical.  The more hands-on and physically active an environment is the more I see the workforce gravitate toward "Alpha" types of leaders. 

Of course you'll find Alphas everywhere.  In sports and the military, it's almost a given that Alpha personalities are rewarded for their specific behaviors.

Betas -- Just like Alphas tend to be lionized in many cultures, people may assume at first that Betas are destined to be followers.  In my experience, nothing is further from the truth.  What the person with the Beta personality recognizes is that it isn't always prudent to always go through the wall, as our graphic suggests.  The Beta personality is more circumspect, looking for ways to solve a problem that may not be immediately obvious.  While every company has Alphas in high positions, if you take a long look at corporations and politicians you will find that most of them likely have a Beta personality.  As a mentor said to me when describing corporate politics -- "You will see the Alphas coming from a mile away.  The Betas you won't see until the knife slides in."

Deltas -- The Delta personality is the hardest for me to describe.  Why, you might ask?  The answer is that Deltas almost always masquerade as either Alphas or Betas.  Not always, but quite often.  The Delta personality is where we find our innovators, great thinkers, and entrepreneurs.  Before you get too envious, though, it is from the Deltas that we also get our troublemakers and psychopaths!  The Delta personality is one that sees the world for what it is and refuses to accept it.  In essence, the Delta is the one that does not go through or around the wall.  The Delta either changes the landscape or goes another way altogether.  From an organizational perspective, many of your consultants today may be either partially or fully Delta.  These people both embrace and crave change.  If you want to shake things up, put a Delta in charge.  But if you want a discrete problem solved or to maintain a healthy status quo, look to the Alphas and Betas.

Putting together a winning team requires a careful and dynamic balancing of personality types.  This task can be especially hard in IT where the types of demands can be so varied.  Yet, if you can master the skill first of identifying who and what type of people you have and then put them in the right roles at the right time, the rewards will be tremendous.  Just ask Ronald Reagan and Alexander the Great...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Concept of Justice

Few would disagree that there are tremendous differences between people of different cultures.  Rarely do cultures or civilizations share the same outlook on anything, whether they have close proximity or not.  Obviously Americans do not share the same outlook on the world and life as do the Afghanis.  But then again, there may be even more differences between the Chinese and Japanese cultures and they are virtually next door neighbors.

So if it is a given that different sets of people do not usually share the same values, is there anything that everyone has in common, no matter where they originate or live?  I'm not a sociologist or anthropologist, but after spending time on six continents I think I have an answer.  If all people on Earth share one trait it would be the concept of Justice.  I'm not talking about justice in a legal sense.  Rather, I believe based on my experiences that all humans share an innate sense of when something is just and when it is not.  Some people may refer to this concept as people having a "conscience".  Yet I believe that description is too complex and is based at least in part on values (cultural).  I think that the sense of Justice people feel is almost instinctual.  Without any description, either written or verbal, humans from all over the world can view an event and develop a gut feeling as to whether it was "just" (virtuous) or "unjust" (tyrannical).

Why is this concept so important to discuss in the SimpleCIO blogosphere?  It relates back to the effectiveness of managers and organizations to (a) attract good people, (b) gain the respect and trust of these people, and (c) have the esprit de corps to be a competitive and vigorous entity.

Something that I tell my staff and others that seek coaching in order to become better leaders is this:  When you are in a position of power there is no such thing as secrecy or privacy.  Even if you think nobody is watching you or knows what you're doing, the fact is that you are always being observed.  Often this observation is done asynchronously, which means not in real time.  But rest assured that everything you say, everything you do, everything you write - it's all being viewed by one person and thus everyone.  In many cases, the simplest facial expressions and body language will have all kinds of context read into it.  Does that sound a little bit weird and maybe creepy?  Yes, it just might.  But all the same, it's true.  Just like in the modern hit movies in the "Hunger Games" series you should consider that your every move, action, and conversation is being observed by a much bigger audience than you ever thought possible.

At the company level, the phenomena is a little different.  Since a company is not a person, body language is impossible to incorporate.  However, people are always parsing the moves that a company makes.  Organizational charts are scrutinized, press releases are read for hidden meaning, and people compare notes on how they view the treatment of themselves and others.

So what is the point of this post?  It is quite simple. 

Point 1 -- Once you become a manager you will forever more be viewed like Jim Carrey was in "The Truman Show".  Since your actions will always be known, you will always be judged.  And since every person on Earth shares a similar sense of Justice, there is no escaping the fact that a consensus will develop over time on just what kind of person you represent.  Your actions will create a reputation that will (or will not) allow you to develop the types of teams and eventually organizations upon which you will rely for success.  If you are a "just" manager, you will prosper.  If you are "unjust", there is simply no way and no place to hide.  You'll only get one chance in life unless you are truly, truly charmed.

Point 2 -- As a company, remember that you still, ultimately, a group of people.  The business strategies that you collectively develop, as a company, will be weighed by your staff, customers, and investors.  (If you don't believe that then why is Google's slogan "Don't Be Evil"?)  If you make just decisions you will most likely be successful, even if you go through hard times.  If you do things that are unjust, no amount of corporate spin or clever words will hide that fact.

Ultimately all of us who have the sacred charge of leadership must decide if we are to be just or not.  Whatever decision each of us makes, know that we will all be known for exactly who and what we are.  The sense of Justice for all humankind is a universal trait.  If you strive to be a good, benevolent, and successful leader, act as if everyone is watching you at all times.  Because they are...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

IT Virtualization & World War I Strategies

I have quite a bit to say about the coming tidal wave that is IT Virtualization.  But before you quit reading or think it's going to be boring, let me start off with some historical context.  Since we'll be discussing strategy, you can expect that we will use a little military history to set the scene.

In the early 1600s, the age of firearms started first in Europe and quickly across the world.  I use the word 'firearm' because projectile weapons didn't evolve into actual rifles until 200 years later.  Soldiers in armies would be equipped with a projectile weapon and then marched up to the enemy where both sides would drill away at each other until one or the other would run away.

You'd think that this would be a clumsy way to conduct warfare, and it was for about 100 years.  But with humans being the intelligent creatures that they are, the "art" of infantry tactics advanced quite a bit.  One of the most proficient countries in firearm warfare was Great Britain.  They got so good at it that they equipped their soldiers with red coats (Paul Revere, anyone?)  The purpose there being to present easily visible targets to their enemies in order to both mock and intimidate them.  It was like saying, "Here we are - we're coming for you - take your best shot!"  Napoleon Bonaparte took the art even further by developing tactics that massed men into a small area in order to deliver tremendous firepower against opposing troops.  He was so good at this type of warfare that he actually dominated all of Europe and western Russia for a short time.  His tactics were still very much the norm during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

So there was a basic idea of massing men with firearms together and using that formation to overwhelm the enemy.  HOWEVER, that entire set of tactics was completely based on the technological limits of the tools at hand.  It was understood by generals and countries alike that the best trained soldier could only fire 3-4 aimed rounds per minute.  And you can guess that after a few battles, well-trained soldiers might be in short supply.

Fast forward to World War I.  The technology of warfare had changed dramatically but the tactical ideas had not.  At the outset of the war (1915-1916), estimates put the total number of soldiers killed in actual combat, just in Europe, at over a million men.  In just one year an entire generation had been almost completely wiped out.  Why, you might ask?  Well, the generals were still massing men and charging them at the enemy.  But rather than being able to shoot 3-4 rounds per second, the armies were equipped with a new technology called the machine gun.  These rifled guns could put out 200-800 rounds per minute!  Can you imagine the carnage??

Eventually the generals of WWI adapted, but much too slowly.  Never before in history has humankind paid such a steep price for trying to solve the problems of today with the solutions of yesterday.

In the IT, we are on the precipice of just such a moment.  No, I do not think personal lives are at risk but the futures of companies are definitely at stake.  If you are a doubter, let's take a look.

In 2010, just three years ago, as a CIO there was very little of my core infrastructure that I could virtualize, let alone applications.  What I mean is that at that specific point in time, there was no "Cloud" that I could harness.

Today I can utilize one of at least a dozen different cloud-based providers to service every part of my IT portfolio.  By no means am I running a completely virtualized shop.  I still have plenty of servers located in a data center.  But the fact remains that I could go completely virtual if I wanted to and if done right, my user community would never know the difference.

By now you might be asking how this all ties into the WWI story.  The first thing to know is that very few companies and their CIO/IT heads are fully embracing the cloud.  They are still making major investments in hardware, data center facilities, and application services that are physically present and available to them.  While not everything can fit into the virtual world, especially in the financial services sector, much of it can.  By failing to even consider the lower costs, higher availability, and scalability of vitualizing IT, these companies are spending money on commodities that should be spent on innovation and differentiation.

The penalty these companies pay can be illustrated by a simple example.  Imagine two companies, "Firm A" and "Firm B", each of which has $10 to spend on IT.  Both Firms are expanding globally and need new distributed IT services in a hurry.  Firm A decides to implement SAP and spends $6 on the necessary infrastructure to run it.  Firm B also goes with SAP but spends just $2 to implement it out of the cloud.  If everything goes perfectly, Firm A has $4 left over for other services and innovation.  Firm B, on the other hand, has $8 to spend.  Who is going to gain the competitive advantage over whom?

Yes, that example was slightly facetious but it truly does represent what is happening in business all over the world today, especially the 1st world.  It is not readily visible unless you know where to look, but companies willing to risk moving to the cloud for reasons of finance and agility are gaining a huge advantage over their competitors.  Don't think for a moment that ignoring new technology trends is a safe strategy.  Can you say "Blockbuster Video"?

To finish off on a strong note, do not let issues of information security deter you from moving to the cloud.  When asked, many company leaders state that a fear of data loss and theft are actively deterring them from moving information to cloud-based locations.  And yes, every so often you hear about Amazon (, Sony (, and TJ Maxx ( getting hacked.  But the fact is and remains, about 70-80% of all corporate information security issues are caused by internal employees.

If you are an IT leader or a business executive who depends on technology, don't ignore the cloud and virtualization.  If you do, keep your head down as you charge those machine gun nests.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ripples In A Pond

There are a number of different stories, metaphors, and analogies about the effects of actions a person takes on both their environment and the people around them.  I've read a number of them from eastern-based philosophy and poetry.  Some are quite beautiful and meaningful.  One of my favorite mental images on which I center is that of a beautiful, placid pond.  This pond, in my vision, has raindrops falling on it, each of them casting ripples that intersect with one another.

Every person who lives, every person who fosters a career, is continually making ripples.  This statement is especially true when you view the impact of a leader.  As a steward of people, not just resources, a leader is constantly having an effect on everyone around them.  Keeping this principle in mind, it is important to consider just what kind of ripples each of us makes.

There is an axiom about management that says people leave their leaders, not their companies. (

If this is true, and it surely is, the "ripples" created by these types of people are very inharmonious.  Therefore if you aspire to be a good leader and someone who makes a positive difference it is very important to understand that everything you do has an effect on someone.  If you have been a leader for a number of years, have you ever had someone tell you what an impression you made on their life and you never even knew it?  One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was very similar.  As a first-time manager, my supervisor said, "Welcome to the club."  From now on, consider that everything you say and do will be recorded.  Because you are now "the boss", people will look to you as inspiration for all that is noble or, conversely, without virtue." 

What is the takeaway from what I've just said?  It should be easy to understand.  Try to be the best you can be, even when you think nobody is watching.  Every action you take is spreading out across all of the people around you.

From the perspective of your career the same is also true.  People I know who are experts in the Talent, Coaching, and Recruiting businesses all tell me the same thing.  Your future success, in part, depends on the people you've known and know currently.  In fact, the opportunities in life that come your way will also come from these same people.  The funny thing is that you can never predict just "who" in your circle of influence will generate the "what" in terms of opportunity.  So whether you think someone is below you in life, at your level, or a superior - how you act towards them, the ripples you send, will always help determine the direction in which your life will go.

It makes no difference if you're a "placid pond" or a "turbulent ocean", pay attention to the ripples you create (and you're always creating them).  The splashes you make today will resonate to the most unlikely of places.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cassandra's Curse

While this is a post about, ultimately, managing morale within an IT organization, let's start with a little history.  Forgive me if I throw in a little mysticism, magic, and lore.

Almost everyone in the world that has a high school (or equivalent) education knows at least a little about the Trojan War.  After 3000 years it still holds enough interest and popularity that Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Diane Kruger, and a whole other bunch of stars made a movie called "Troy" about 10 years ago.  Even Kobe Bryant knows a little about the subject, having torn his Achilles' heel ligament in the 2013 NBA playoffs. 

King Priam was the monarch of Troy and had many children.  We know about Hector, Paris (he stole Helen), and even Aeneas, who the Roman author Virgil credits with being the founder of Rome.  What many people don't know or have just vague details about was his daughter Cassandra (  As a princess of Troy, she was famed for many things including being almost as beautiful as Helen herself.  (Move over Scarlett Johansson)  But perhaps the most interesting and famous attribute of Cassandra was her prescience.  She was a prophet, imbued by Apollo, who could see the future with absolute clarity.  Sounds great, right?  The problem was that absolutely no-one would believe her.  She predicted the theft of Helen, the death of Hector and Priam, the purpose of the Trojan Horse, and her own capture/enslavement/death at the hands of Agamemnon.  Cassandra was the one person who could see everything and could have prevented the fall and destruction of the Trojan empire.  But absolutely nobody would ever take a single word she said seriously.  Is it any wonder that she always bordered on the edge of insanity?

So how does this relate to the world of IT?  Let's take a broad look at the whole function.  As a function, an IT group can and does see what happens in every single part of a company.  This is true from the smallest to the largest of entities.  As a matter of fact, it is required that IT has this purview because in this century all company/corporate functions are facilitated by technology.  Since IT is a service provider it is involved, intricately, in each business unit because the technology used by each area must continually function in order for business continuity.  That doesn't mean that IT knows the "secrets" of these areas but it doesn't need that information to be aware of what is happening at any given moment.  Additionally, unlike other parts of a company/corporation, IT can see the interrelations of each business unit, one upon another.  That is because people in IT can see how business processes move through the company's unit from start to finish.

Given what I've said, one should (or could) assume that IT staff and leaders are called up to collaborate deeply on strategic issues.  Right?  After all, that makes perfect sense because IT personnel are uniquely positioned to comment on the strategic ramifications of a given action plan.  From the purview of IT, these people will see the whole-company effects of a strategy. Yet, despite all of that, most IT leaders and talented staffers, if asked, would say that they are rarely (if ever) consulted on strategy.  The default approach to involving IT in strategic discussions, with a few exceptions, is treat them like a homeowner would treat a plumber.  When there is a leak, bring 'em in fast to fix the problem.  After the issue is resolved, put them back from where they came.

I am not exactly sure why things have developed this way in business.  But I see the ramifications.  Recently my friends at Computerworld shared the results of a survey they conducted on IT employees across a range of businesses.  One salient question that they asked:  "Do you aspire to be the CIO someday?"  The answer range came back - 32% Yes; 55% No; 13% Not Sure.  More and more IT people, especially younger managers, are beginning to see that IT careers do not lead to the top of companies.  The payoff, more and more, is that IT people are in demand, but as practitioners, not strategists.  Practitioners can make a lot of money but tend to be quite transient.  Several months back I wrote a blog about this called "Why IT Will Outsource Itself in 20 Years".  Practitioners of IT will always find work but, like law firms, their roles will be to deal with discrete problems, not ones in the abstract.

This brings us to the final point of this post.  From what I've said, how do you keep up morale within an IT organization when you're trying to grow strategic capabilities within people who are valued for their tactical execution?  First, contrary to the "institutionalized" model of management that calls for hierarchy, become an "organic" manager.  Especially as a CIO, spend a great deal of time on a personal basis with your staff.  That means inside of work, not outside.  Be prepared to over communicate and show emotion so that you can be viewed as a real person, more than just a title that resides higher on the org chart. 

The benefit to getting closer to your staff is that they will respond with greater loyalty, performance, and commitment.  The last quality is incredibly important in these days where IT tenure can be measured in months rather than years.  When the company/corporation does not nurture the strategic side of your team, that role falls to you.  With the right care and attention, you can still put the strategic capabilities of your team to use for your firm.  And by listening, unlike poor Cassandra you can help them keep their sanity.  When your team is "sane", you get the chance to build long-term, high performing teams.  We can all see the benefit in that.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why Being Wrong Has Never Been So Right

When people think about being right, they often make a comparison to perfection.  Being right does not mean being perfect.  It just means...not wrong.  This is kind of an odd way to begin a post so let me talk about a couple of examples.

Example 1: Before this week my beloved NFL team, the Denver Broncos, had a perfect 6-0 record.  Was their approach to their previous contests and game plans "right"?  Although the record would say so, the fact that they had the worst pass defense in the league told a different story.  They were perfect, but not right.  Put another way, since they had won six games in a row, their strategy was not...wrong...but was it right?

Example 2:  I have noticed this phenomena three times in my life.  As a traffic light turns, a pedestrian starts to cross the street with a "go" signal from the other side of the street.  But failing to be aware of their situation the person does not look around.  Hence, they do not see the car barreling down the street with no intention of stopping at the red light.  Sometimes they do see the car coming and still go forward because they "have the right".  The pedestrian ends up getting hit, in some of the cases injured quite badly.  They were not "wrong" according to the traffic rules but got to spend time in the hospital and years recovering.  I bet that each of them had wished that they could do it all over again, being "wrong" according to the traffic rules but "right" in terms of an intact body.

Example 3:  I see this quite a bit in business, almost always from managers, executives, and people in charge.  Faced with a tough decision that requires decisiveness, the people opt to make no decision at all.  Hence, even though they might not technically be right, they sure as heck aren't "wrong".  In some organizations with long-tenured workforces this behavior is rewarded, or at least seems to be.  But if you look at the anecdotes about what causes most senior leaders to lose their positions, it is the fear of being wrong.  Thus when they can't be right, they do nothing at all.  Michael Heath has a good quote on his site (, "Your staff love a good decision; your staff can forgive a bad decision; your staff will never forgive no decision."

It is a fact that the entire human species has built a civilization that dominates the Earth through the product of one mistake after another.  Because of the way that we are all constructed, advancement can only come from failure.  If you look at the human body as a machine, what I've just said is true even down to the cellular level.  A person who wants to get bigger muscles must exercise.  It is through that exercise that muscles are torn at the microscopic level.  From those tears, the human body rebuilds muscles on a larger scale to "correct" the failings of the previous condition.  So, after a period of recovery what was, in essence wrong, now becomes right.

So many people and hence companies are afraid of being wrong that they have equated the absence of failure as being "right" and desirable.  What we as leaders must do is embrace the need for being wrong in lives and work habits.  Yes, being wrong is not always comfortable but it is the fastest way to get to the most correct, or right, condition.

I mentioned the Denver Broncos above.  If they had been able to go through the regular season beating everyone while giving up 30+ points, would that have served them well in the playoffs?  The answer comes from recent history and it's a resounding NO.  The failure that they encountered in Indianapolis will be the catalyst that lets them see how to move from "not wrong" to "right", well in time for January.

In business, leaders are almost always rewarded for risk taking.  Not always, but look at the heads of the firms in the Fortune 500.  Did their top leaders get to their positions by always trying to be right?  If you'll look, most likely the evidence will point to how their lives and success were influenced most often and profoundly by failure (being wrong) rather than a string of perfect achievements.  Even in the military, our greatest leaders were forged out of the mistakes that they and others made.  The American Civil Way is rife with those stories.

Perhaps the most interesting, and final, illustration of my point comes from the history of Robert the Bruce.  Most of you that do know of him remember the young Scottish Lord who ultimately betrays the hero William Wallace (played by Academy Award Winner Mel Gibson) only to gain final redemption.