Gratitude (Professional)

As March begins I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on professional gratitude. I’ve been quite open about my gratitude personally. There’s an intersection there, a year ago my baby daughter Winter was in the NICU (Many of these posts are protected due to sensitivity if you’re a friend just ask me for the password.). I was still enjoying some extra emergency family care leave approved by my managers at the time Alex, Patti and Anshul. We had some big unknowns ahead of us: Covid was beginning to kick off, soon I wouldn’t be able to visit winter in the Hospital, and I would need to return to work. Then Winter would grow strong enough to return home in April. We would need to pull my 5 year old out of Kindergarten for safety and sanity in the fall. My wife Abby would be safe from her delivery that threatened her life and that of our daughter. But she would be unable to keep teaching Yoga in Pandemic. We would all be isolated from our friends and family. The intersection with this is that Professionally, the salary I’m paid would cover all of our needs. The healthcare coverage we are offered would cover nearly all of our costs (over .75 Million dollars – with sufficient time allocated to running down customer service orgs and making them pay what they owe.) Further, I would continue to be employed despite a substantial round of layoffs at the company. There was lots to be thankful for. Though friends of mine were not so fortunate and were laid off, they did find jobs again fairly quickly. An additional professional connection is that in the winter season of 2020 Alex and I and Oen and his Employee Experience Design team would join a newly constituted IBMer Experience organization chartered under the new SVP of Transformation and Culture Obed Louissaint headed by Chris Foltz as our VP. Change is constant and more significant change can represent a risk of worsening. This has not happened. 

I am now more professionally fulfilled than I have been at any other time at IBM. I am working on important, meaningful work that has the real potential to transform the culture at IBM. A calling that has been nagging at me since I joined the company. I am surrounded by very talented and passionate people on the team. A group constituted of more diverse people with reliably impressive observable skills than I have had the pleasure of working with at IBM before. We have a massive buffet of opportunity and challenge before us and as the team self-organizes and heaps helpings on their plates it is clear we are going to get something important done here. We will encounter difficulty. This team has largely been privileged to encounter mostly the forming and norming phases with only small hints of storming and the beginnings of performing. It is natural that we will encounter tradeoffs and storms will happen. We will not succeed at all of our ambitious goals, if we did they would not be sufficiently ambitious. We will have disagreements with one another about the best use of our time or that of others with the myriad opportunities we have to make improvements. We struggle to shift a big ship with strong inertia. We exist under the often unacknowledged threats of setbacks from pandemic reversals, reductions in funding or authorized scope, and voluntary and involuntary attrition. 

We may not all make it on this team because of these challenges. We may not achieve the goals we are currently setting in front of ourselves, we may need to adjust their scope or scale. 

But we will do something worth doing. 

That’s the most realistic aspiration any of us can have in life. Advancing a mission worth doing, as a part of a team worth doing it with. And we get the intense privilege of that here. 

In the past, I’ve been frustrated that IBM’s culture led managers to insufficiently ask for input or help from people they lead, and to discount those who have led in other circumstances. This has resulted in such humorous outcomes as Program Directors and VPs telling me (who has led teams of ~25 in extremely complex combat conditions) and another peer who has led teams of up to ~200 in the same – that “someday when you learn about leadership you will understand…” 

But I’ll accept that I need to take more ownership in sharing lessons without being asked specifically for it (and my new leadership chain has been much more welcoming of input than others have in the past.) Here are what I think are some very relevant lessons we can apply (prefer video?):

  • Leaders (everyone intending to lead but especially those with more positional power must do more) must:
  • Set the example. Do what you want those you lead to do. 
  • Outline the mission – show us why we’re here, tie it to the higher level goals and objectives, demonstrate how it will make the world better, make it explicit how you will measure success in terms of the effects on our own team, the business environment, the wider population, the competition. 
    • Recognize we may need to adjust scope and scale, we cant do everything, but lets find those limits and then adjust in the correct direction
    • Accept feedback, adjustments and iterations on the mission, on the goals, you cant know everything, but you must take a shot at it and then listen to the feedback.
  • Take care of your team, employ them in accordance with their capabilities, strengths, passions, competencies. Develop and grow them, care about them, love them. 
    • Speak the truth with courage and compassion – untruths usually come out to protect ourselves more than others. Make clear you care personally for a person, then be candid with them in service of the mission and their own development. The most important things to say are often the ones that are the least comfortable. BUT
    • Build the relationship first. We are all humans, our relationships outlast our teams and our goals. A Company cant love you, nor can a mission or a goal. A person can. 

A wise Colonel once told me about a revelation he had: “I was standing in a minefield. And I looked around and realized, I don’t like being in minefields, but I like being in the company of people who will go there with you.”

We may not be going into literal minefields, but we are undertaking ambitious, important and challenging work. And it is my pleasure to be doing so in your company. 

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