Bill O’Brien on the challenges of his sophomore season as coach of the Nittany Lions

“I know the players a lot better, I learned a lot about organization and how important it is to just basically state your philosophy, your goals, just about every day or every time you have a staff meeting. I’ve learned to communicate better, too.”

Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, August 25, 2013, page E11

“Attitude is Everything”

Did you know that you can “choose” your attitude each and every morning? Now, I’m a morning person, so perhaps it is a bit easier for me; and I’m generally a positive individual, which also works in my favor, but it wasn’t until I met Keith Harrell that I became a believer in the Attitude is Everything philosophy.

Each year, IBM hosts the COMMON Users Group Conference, which attracts thousands. As a manager, I typically sent people to this conference, but had never attended myself – and then I had the opportunity. I attended technical sessions all day long and into the evening during the 4-day affair. On the last morning of the conference, more than 20 years ago, I attended a non-tech session led by Keith Harrell, Dr. Attitude.

Starting at 7am, we were all funneled into a moderately sized lecture hall, where this 6’7″ skinny guy with a huge smile personally greeted each attendee with a firm handshake and a “how are you doing?”. That’s not unusual, but with that big smile, still holding my hand firmly and eyes focused on mine, he actually wanted an answer! He was genuinely interested in how I was doing at 7 o’clock in the morning.

Mr. Harrell had my riveted attention through the rest of his presentation. Using real life examples growing up, a 14 year career with IBM as a sales trainer, and a then-fledgling motivational speaking career as a source of material he shared his life-lessons with the audience with lots of humor.

In all my years as a professional, I was hooked. This session was an epiphany for me and I became a true believer in Attitude is Everything. Every morning when I wake up, I have a little one-on-one with myself to set my Attitude on the right track – my choice. When I greet people in the morning, I try to do so with a smile, a big “good morning, how are you today?” and with a genuine interest in their reply. When someone beats me to it, I generally say “I’m Super-Fantastic! Thank you for asking.” And when we part, or when I sign off on my e-mails, I generally say, “Have a Super-Fantastic Day!” – and I mean it.

Life is short, and full of choice. Frankly, I have found that it’s a lot easier to “choose” to be positive. While preparing to write this blog entry, I looked up Mr. Keith Harrell, a few years younger than myself, I was saddened to learn that he died of cancer in October, 2010. In a tribute written by his family, they said that when he was asked how he felt during his cancer treatment, he would reply, not surprisingly, “Super-Fantastic!”

There is a downside to this philosophy. Not everyone is a morning person and appreciative of someone as energetic and “happy” first thing in the morning. But I’ll take it! That one meeting more than 20 years ago, where I felt like the only one he was talking to, had a very special meaning to my life. Thank you, Mr. Keith Harrell. You have made a Super-Fantastic difference in my life.

Five Whys

“Five Whys” is a technique of asking why, what, where, when, who, how many, etc., as a means to discover the root cause of a problem. The technique has its critics, but it has been successful, all told.

I have a pair of 2 year old grandchildren who must be natural born problem solvers because they will ask “Why” anywhere from two to seven (yes, I counted) times before they accept your answer.

While there are many effective methods of learning, asking questions is obviously one of the more popular methods, and is used by people from age two and up.

So, ask away – in any new or different situation, and, if you are in a position to do so, respond to other’s questions and help them learn.

Why? “Because I said so!”

Father’s Day Extrapolation

I love Father’s Day! For one, it almost guarantees me a touch point with all those I care about, and, for another, it usually provides good points to ponder.

My Mother’s card said, “Being a good father starts with being a good person.” I agree. Being a good person also contributes to wider success as a husband, son, nephew, neighbor, and employee or business partner.

I was a Boy Scout – Troop 2 – Bridgeton, NJ for a few years. The words Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent still roll off my tongue, and I still thank my Parents and relatives, friends, teammates, classmates, and co-workers in helping make me who I am today —- a good person. And I’m also confident and proud that I have contributed to future generations of good people.

From my youngest: The Greatest Gifts a Father can Give His Daughter — smiles, self-confidence, advice, pride, affection, memories, and, most of all, it’s just knowing that whenever I need you, you’re there – and thanks for always being there.

A good person is always there for those he cares about. Thanks for Father’s Day!

The Most Important “tool” in your IT Leadership Arsenal? People, of course…

The participants in a recent blog came to this conclusion very quickly, which pleased me, although the subsequent discussion wasn’t as focused as I would have liked. An IT Leader’s goal is to work effectively with The Business leadership to help shape and understand Business Strategy, and rally the IT organization to deliver quality products and services that are aligned with that strategy.

I believe that it is the “People Skills” of the IT Leadership that drive the success of IT within an organization. An effective leader must have the ability to interact effectively at all levels, from the Board Room to the Mail Room, and externally, with both Customers and suppliers/partners.

In my view, the IT Leadership must possess the following key people skills:

Be a Listener – you must have strong listening skills – and listen to everyone; both concerns and great ideas can come from many different sources

Be a good Communicator –

  • constantly communicate the mission, vision and direction of the IT organization to not only the IT Team, but Business Leadership, Key Stakeholders and Business Partners
  • situational awareness – communicate not only organization successes (constantly), but keep people in the loop and manage expectations throughout projects and operational hiccups

Be Empathetic

Be a Relationship Builder (up, down and across the organization and externally) – based on trust, respect and productive interactions

Be a good Mentor and Coach – mentoring is personally satisfying and rewarding; coaching underperforming team members up-or-out is challenging, but best for the overall health of the organization and the individual

While “people skills” are important in any organization, I believe they are most important to the success and growth of SMB organizations, where the existence of stellar performers or poor performers is magnified; thus, making the people skills of the IT Leader even more important.