Monday, December 29, 2008

Let There Be Light

Jerry Hogan was a different kind of leader than I had ever exerienced before. I could say that he was a "no-nonsense" type of guy, but that would be a cliche' that would not do him justice. A lot of "no-nonsense' leaders are egotistical control freaks who want things done their way and only their way. But Jerry was not that type of a leader. He was the kind of guy who set clear direction and expected you to find your way there.

I was now a part of the Network Engineering organization, but I didn't know anything about networks and certainly was not an engineer. Jerry had taken over as Vice President of Network Engineerng about a week before I joined the organization. I had no idea what to expect from Jerry and he had no idea what to expect from me. In my first weeks there, we had a few face to face meetings. In those meetings Jerry made his expectations of his organization very clear. Things were a mess and he knew it. He didn't expect an instant turnaround, but he did expect everyone to start moving decisively toward our new goals and objectives. The objectives could not have been clearer. They were short, concise and results focused. But Jerry left it up to his leadership team to translate his objectives into specific actions for our departments.

As I began working with my new peers I began to see how different we all were and how very different all of our departments were, yet how we were all focused on the same "prize". Never before had I seen an organization with such clarity of purpose and a clear definition of what was needed. Every meeting I went to focused on how to achieve our objectives. Every decision we made was made with the overall goals of the organization in mind. Confusion over how to proceed with a new project or product was quickly resolved as we focused on how each issue blended into our overall objectives.

Morale had been extremely low when I joined the organization, but quickly things began to change. The sense of purpose that each of the management team felt was quickly adopted by every member of the organization. Each person in the organization understood exactly why they were there and exactly what they needed to do to be successful. We've all heard the hype over the need for Mission and Vision statements, but this was working proof that clarity of Mission did indeed inspire confidence and buy in from the team members. Over the next few years I learned that this clarity was the hallmark of a Jerry Hogan organization. I had the privilege of working with Jerry in several organizations and watched him provide crystal clear direction in each one.

One of the side benefits of a well run organization is the feeling that anything can and will be accomplished. While MCI had some struggles in the marketplace we surged forward with total confidence in our organization. We knew that if we did our job well, it would have a positive imact on the company and that we would all benefit. Jerry's brand of leadership can best be described as "hire good people, set clear direction, and get out of their way." The direction he set could not have been any clearer, and although he continued to closely monitor our progress toward the goals, he never stepped in to tell us "how" to do things. His view was, "I hired smart people. Let them figure out what has to be done."

This view is espsoused by many, but few leaders actually have the confidence to let their people figure out what needs to be done. So many leaders want to "help" their organizations by providing too much detail in areas that they are not experts in. Jerry didn't have this problem.

Jerry and I engaged in numerous discussions about the importance of people. He firmly believed that good people could (and would) accomplish anything. He told me, "The two most important decisions you will make as a leader are who you hire and who you fire. If you can't hire the right people you will never be successful. If you don't fire the right people your success will be short lived."

This last statement was deeply profound and deeply troubling. On one level it might suggest that firing people was a good thing. That taking people who don't perform and just getting rid of them was the best solution to your problem. But that message wasn't at the heart of Jerry's statement. The heart of his statement was "Put the right people in the right place and doors will open. Put the wrong people in the wrong place and your pathway is blocked." What Jerry taught me was that some people are really in the wrong place. And the best thing that you can do for them is help get them in the right place. Even if that means that they need to leave your organization.

Till next time.....

Dave Meyer

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