A few years ago I took a leadership position at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Not in so many words I was told, “You have no money, no people, and no resources, but congratulations, you are in charge.” When I speak to leaders at all levels, I get the impression they have the same problem. Recently I was speaking to a group of school system CIOs who are all working with limited resources having to lead with what they have got. If you find yourself in that situation, here are three things I have learned about getting control and leading with limited resources.
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1. Get Perspective
As a leader, you have to step back and see the landscape of what you are doing and how you are doing it. Some of the best tools I have found to do this are:
- Networking – When I have a problem to solve, I tend to start searching google and try to figure it out on my own. But that rarely works. Instead, I have learned to find the person who has already solved it and learn from them. This learning most likely starts by contacting them and asking for advice. But, it could also be by learning what they write and speak about – especially if they do teaching on the subject of your problem.
- Thinking Time – Take some regular time out to think. Daily or weeekly time periods is best. Allow yourself to process information and organize it. Those who depend on you to lead need you to think.
2. Create Community
Leadership is lonely. Often I find leaders (even those who do not think of themselves as leaders) trying to do it all and supporting others on their team as a one-man expert. When you feel like you are the only one with your responsibility, you need to find others who are doing what you do. They could be other people in your same company at other locations, or people in other companies. Either way, you need connections. Best way to do this is through a mastermind group.
A mastermind group is a powerful way to grow your network and get constant feedback and advice. A good group will force you to challenge your assumptions, think bigger about alternatives, and provide needed encouragement.
3. Develop and share a vision
Everyone needs a vision. Where are you going in your role. Even if you have no employees and you are the proverbial “cog-in-the-wheel”, someone is going to ask you what the future looks like. Might come as one of these questions:
- Where do you see yourself in a few years?
- What is going to happen to the software you support in the future?
- What trends do you see with the customers you support?
- How could we do this better?
- How can we cut the budget and provide the same service?
When you get these kind of questions, they are asking you about vision. Unfortunately, these questions rarely come with warning. So you need to be prepared.
How do you create a vision?
- Define your customers? Who are the people you serve? Are they a mixed group with different needs? When I asked this of the CIOs of school systems, they explained how they served teachers, administrators, school boards, parents, and of course students. All had different needs and different views.
- Learn about their pains and desires. This steps just takes time, but you have to ask and listen a lot to learn about what they expect or would like to see happen.
- Define the vision. Knowing your customer’s pains and using your expertise, you can define the future to serve their needs. Sometimes their big needs are things the customer is not aware of having. For instance, consider problems many school board CIOs find. Teachers, parents, and others have a pain or desire to get user devices (IPADS, etc) into the hands of all students. That is the customer pain. But, the CIO expertise knows these devices mean more bandwidth, and infrastructure issue. Students and teachers do not think much about bandwidth, they only see their need. It is the CIOs job to connect the perceived need and the real need.
- Share the vision. Tell a story. When you have defined the vision, share it without the technical details. Keep it simple. Remember when Steve Jobs shared about the IPOD? He could have easily said “30 GigaBytes of data storage, but instead he said “1000 songs in your pocket”. Same thing, said in different ways.
- Find Champions. Now you need champions to help you share your vision. Find the influential people in each circle. A project manager might need to find a person of influence in finance, operations, their superiors, and their coworkers. It is much easier to win over one person at a time and then let them help you win over others.
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