Leading Out, Up and Fast in the '00 Decade

Leaders have followers. Leading is bringing those who work for you along with you. Or at least that's how we have traditionally conceived what leadership is all about.

But getting the job done now also means leading out and up -- and doing everything with speed. This is especially the case for technology managers, where the fast alignment of people around and above them is essential for getting the job done before competitors do it first.

Leading out: As companies carry out more outsourcing and joint ventures in information services and other areas, they require new methods of execution.

The skill of delegating work downward to subordinates is being supplemented by a talent for arranging work outward with partners. Lateral leadership -- leveraging your partners' strengths instead of directing subordinates' actions -- is required for achieving results when you have no authority to guarantee them.

Consider a senior manager at a leading U.S. telecommunications company who was responsible for developing the firm's outsourcing agenda -- a daunting assignment that involved more than US$1 billion in hotly contested sourcing contracts for information services. Senior managers told him that cutting service costs and reducing management distraction were essential. With minimal guidance from above, he had to identify which services weren't core to the business and could thus be outsourced. Once he determined what should go, he then had to contract the right partners to provide the services less expensively and more consistently than his own staff would. And he had to convince the powerful managers of the firm's operating units -- his internal customers -- that the outsourcing deals would deliver just that.

Leading up: As companies have delegated responsibility downward, they've also been increasingly demanding that managers be able to lead their own bosses. If your boss lacks data, ensure he receives what's needed; if he's missing the boat, help him get aboard before it's too late.

Consider a senior manager at a retail stockbroker whose Internet strategy was virtually nonexistent. The obstacle was both his boss and the board. Neither saw the Internet as a "killer" application if competitors applied it first, but he did. He labored to persuade his chief executive and directors that the future resided in online trading, even if it meant cannibalizing their existing franchise. Despite inside resistance and investor skepticism, he ultimately prevailed, and his company has become one of the industry's preeminent players.

Leading fast: As companies streamline processes and steamroll layers, they're moving at a breakneck rate never before conceived. They expect their managers to lead with speed in an era when new technologies enable it and first movers take competitive advantage of it.

Consider the telecommunications and brokerage managers I mentioned. If they hadn't led out and up immediately, managers at rival companies would have beaten them to it, leaving the managers' companies with less focus, higher costs and older technologies.

Leadership of information technology never demanded such diverse talents before. These capacities are becoming indispensable now.

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