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Let Go Of The Details July 8, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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5 comments

IT leaders tend to manage a detail-oriented bunch of people.  Technology only works because someone pays attention to the details, and those who ignore the details are not long for our business.  We actively seek those who can absorb and deal with vast detail on a regular basis.

As qualified individuals rise through the ranks of IT, they face a troublesome trend: more and more of their job involves letting go of the details.  This can be a terrifying proposition for many of us.  If letting go of the details has been a proven recipe for disaster in the past, how can letting go of the details be crucial to my success going forward?

Leadership involves owning responsibility for more stuff than any one person can handle.  To manage all that stuff, we build teams that can collectively address the problems at hand.  Within that team, we divide and conquer, assigning different details to different people to get the job done.  Once assigned, we need to let go of those details and trust our team to handle it.

This is agonizing, especially for new managers.  I can remember when I made the transition from being a Unix systems administrator to managing the team of Unix admins.  As I relinquished my direct responsibility for our storage systems to another admin, I could feel my fingers shaking as they were pried off the keyboard of the console.  I was like a mother advising her newly-minted teenage driver as they took the car keys for the first time, blurting out bits of advice in an effort to forestall what I was sure would be an unmitigated disaster.

It wasn’t a disaster, of course, and that team of admins did a great job managing the servers that were once mine.  But the desire to stay engaged at every level, to track every detail, was overwhelming and almost fatal.  It took a lot of effort and focus to let my team do their jobs.

Failing to let go creates disaster in several directions.  At the very least, it tells your team that you do not trust them, and that you must stay engaged in order for them to do a good job.  Your lack of faith in their abilities will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating a team that lives up to your expectation of inadequacy.

Your constant meddling will also drive your team crazy.  What you see as helpful interaction is really micromanaging, and nothing is more frustrating to a competent employee than a micromanager.  You’ll lose your team’s respect and with it, any ability to actually manage them when it really matters.

Finally, all the time you’ll spend doing their job will keep you from doing yours.  Your boss is not expecting you to continue in your old role; he or she expects you to take on new responsibilities and deal with issues at a more abstract level.  Given that time is finite, every moment you spend mired in detail is a moment you could have been dedicating to your new job duties.  This incremental neglect of your new role will ultimately destroy your career.  If you really want to deal with all that detail, your boss will be happy to return you to a position that provides that opportunity.

Let go of the details.  Let your team do their job, so you can get on with doing yours.

Honesty And Sales December 1, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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2 comments

Selling is hard. The uncertainty and day-to-day stress are more than I could handle on a regular basis.  Yet I have friends in sales who love every minute of it, from the first cold call to closing the big deal.

I once had a chance to be in sales, sort of, when I spent about 18 months as a consultant.  Since I was a C-level consultant, I got pulled in to help close the sale and provide some pre-sales services in an effort to win the business.  I was working with some great people who taught me a lot about selling, but they could never eliminate my insecurity about each and every pitch.

That experience further cemented my deep respect for salespeople and deepened my desire to treat them accordingly.  I view vendor relationships as long-term commitments that build over the years as a mutually beneficial arrangement.  I don’t ping-pong between vendors, and I’ll work hard to stick with a vendor when times get tough or the situation starts to deteriorate.  In return, I expect the same level of commitment in return, including good advice, solid support, and reasonable pricing.

I don’t like to waste salespeople’s time.  As you can imagine, I get dozens of sales calls a week.  Most get screened; a few get through.  When I do take a call with a new salesperson, I always begin the conversation the same way: I describe my vision of the perfect sales relationship and immediately set expectations with the new person.

For many initial sales calls, I am still learning about a company or a product.  In some cases, I don’t foresee an actual need for a product for a year or more, but I want to learn about it now so I can factor it into my planning.  If that’s the case, I’ll state that up front.  The bottom line is that I don’t want to waste time, either mine or the salesperson’s.

Salespeople waste a lot of time working with potential accounts who misrepresent their short- and long-term buying intent.  It is frustrating to work hard to win some business only to discover that the customer had no intent of buying all along.  That time would have been better spent with a more qualified account that would have yielded a real deal.

Conversely, I waste a lot of time dealing with salespeople who do not have a prayer of closing a deal with me but insist on not giving up.  Trust me: if I tell you there is no deal in the works for a certain time frame, I am telling you the truth for your own good.  Go pursue more promising accounts and come back later when we might be able to do business.

My best sales relationships last for years and result in success on both sides of the table. My company gets good products with great support at a fair price.  The vendor gets my continued business and a customer who will turn to them first when a need arises.  What more could you want?