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Backpack Essentials for your Leadership Journey

| January 5, 2021

by Vijay Menta

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Vijay Menta, CIO of Middlebury College.  Vijay may be reached at [email protected].]
We all hear about how hindsight is 20/20 and how when we reflect on things that have happened in the past, we start analyzing and continue to think about what we could’ve done or what we should’ve done, etc.  I am sure we’ve all experienced it one time or the other and continue to beat ourselves on how we could have improved the outcome.  Well, my friends, here is a newsflash for you, we are not perfect and we do not have the ability to predict the future.  What we instead have is the innate ability to plan for the future and influence the future so that we can minimize the chaos.  In my 25 plus years of professional career, one thing was clear to me: one should plan for the best outcome and prepare for the worst
Over the years in my leadership journey, I have come to rely on the following seven habits (a poor man’s tribute to the late Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) to help me plan and prepare for my professional and personal journey in life.  None of these are Earth-shattering ideas, but I am hoping they will be useful to keep in your backpack as you continue on this journey and as we look forward to a better New Year.
1. Be All In – Whatever you do, whatever your role is – Be All in and work like you belong and own it.  I have often noticed there is a lot of hesitation or trepidation to jump in and be behind an initiative.  Be confident and move forward.  Don’t be afraid to fail.  If you do fail, fail fast.

2. Control the Controllables – You probably are wondering what does this mean.  If you are a sports fan and especially if you are a tennis fan you probably have heard of Roger Federer, one of the all-time greatest tennis players.  This is not about him.  It is about John Millman, an Australian tennis player who is ranked 135th in the world.  He got a chance to play against Roger Federer.  No one expected him to win.  When a reporter asked him how he was preparing against Roger Federer, his reply was “I am going to control the controllables”.  Somehow that stuck with me.  The guy played his heart out and was very close to winning.  He gave it his best shot.  We spend so much time worrying about what is not in our control that we forget about what we can control.  We all know change is inevitable and constant but yet we continue to fight it.  Our energy is well spent when we understand what we can control and do the best we can.

3. Focus on Continuous Improvement – Don’t boil the ocean when all you need is water for a good cup of tea.  Focus on the big picture but don’t be disappointed when the end goal cannot be achieved in a short time frame.  Connect the dots, and start building it in stages.  Don’t forget, if we all waited for a perfect Operating System, we would still be waiting.

4. Focus on the Why and the What – Why are we doing it, what value does it add to the business.  That is very rewarding to know how our work assists the mission of the institution.

5. Be a Three-dimensional Leader – Managing up, across, and down.  It is important to make sure you understand your sponsors, your peers, and your staff well.  Relationships are the most important in higher ed.  The other thing you need to gain is trust.  You will gain that by walking the walk and talking the talk.  Under promise and over deliver.  The rest becomes easy.

6. Don’t wait for the opportunities to knock on your door – But rather take your door where the opportunities are.  Sometimes a lateral move is not a bad thing for career progression and in fact, helps you experience various facets of IT and network with business leaders that you wouldn’t have had a chance to otherwise.  The pandemic has presented many opportunities for many in IT and outside to rise to the challenge.  Seize the opportunity and lead from wherever you are.

7. Exhibit Empathy – Finally, don’t forget to be an empathetic leader.  At the end of the day, empathy is what matters the most.  We all work in a team environment and we continue to balance work life.  Personal situations change on a dime and you want to be a leader that exhibits empathy, is able to understand, and can support your colleagues and staff.
Keep the above “trail mix”  in your backpack and please continue to think about some of the great leadership techniques that MOR has taught you, whether it is viewing through the three lenses, building your bank of relationship currency, managing vs. leading, and many others when you are in a predicament.  Reach out to your coaches, your fellow cohorts, to brainstorm and network.  It is very helpful.  Be intentional.  Remember you are always on the stage. Be the leader you expect of others.  Leadership is about Listening, Learning, and Leading.  Happy trails!!