The Skill That Trumps All Others

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief, hsCIO.com

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief, hsCIO.com

“So you’ve got the kids for a few days?” I asked a friend whose wife had gone away for a girls’ weekend.

“Yeah, but I actually have to go into work tonight,” he said. “My parents are going to come over and watch the kids until I get back.”

“Why do you have to go in?” I asked.

“Well, we’re having a little trouble with one of the restaurant managers,” he said (my friend is partner in a company that owns and operates several restaurants).

“Do tell,” I requested.

“She’s got lots of experience in the industry and I hired her at top dollar, but she’s micromanaging the staff and killing morale,” he said.

“Give me an example,” I asked.

“She’s got a great support staff that I pay good money for. I want them doing the things they are supposed to be doing, the things they do well. But she’s taken those things over. For example, she’s not just approving the liquor inventory order for the bar, but she’s doing the inventory. So the bar manager is just sitting there watching her and feeling like she doesn’t trust him.”

“And I assume she’s therefore not doing things she is supposed to be doing,” I said.

“Exactly. The restaurant has been over on its payroll because she’s not paying attention to scheduling and overtime. Instead she’s counting bottles behind the bar,” he said in exasperation.

“I assume you talked to her about this already. How did that go?” I asked.

“Not good, and that’s the biggest problem. When I hired her, I specifically asked if she’d be open to learning a new way of doing things — our way of doing things, but she’s not receptive to what I’m trying to tell her, and that’s a problem.”

“I hear you,” I said. “I’ve talked to a lot of CIOs in my line of work and most say that if someone is willing to learn, to be mentored, they will work with that person, but if the willingness isn’t there, that’s no good.”

“Right,” he said. “I’ve embraced the leadership idea that there are four types of employees: willing and able; willing and unable; unwilling and able; and unwilling and unable. I have no tolerance in our company for the last two. But I can work with someone who is willing and unable. Unfortunately, she is unwilling to do things the way I want them done.”

And once again we learn that, when responsible for the performance of others — namely, when leading or managing — we cannot just look at whether the person is “good at what they do.” We must also look at whether they are skilled in the art of leadership and, make no mistake, it is an art. It is something that must be respected and studied in its own right. You may know infrastructure, applications and vendor contracting, but if you don’t know how to lead human beings, you cannot be a CIO.

So if you’ve got some really talented folks you are considering for promotion, take a close look at whether they also have the leadership skills necessary for the position.

As we know, if you’ve got the right people in the right seats on the bus, you can work wonders (and do it with a reasonable level of stress). But if you’ve got the wrong people on there, especially if their seats are near the driver (higher up in the org chart), you’ve got lots of trouble that flows downhill, sapping morale and making your life miserable.

The cause of it all? A bad hire, of course. But then you must do what my friend is going to do; you must stop throwing good money after bad, you must cut your losses and cut the individual from the team. And then, after trying to discern what went wrong in the hiring process, you must hit the market for new talent, and really, really try to get it right.

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