Don’t Be an “Accidental” Leader

Leadership Matters

I was a new manager at Oracle when I found out I had been selected as part of a group to get to meet face-to-face with Ray Lane, Oracle’s COO and #2 to Larry Ellison at the time. He gave a short presentation and took questions from the audience and I was amazed at his ability to thoroughly address any question ranging from detailed issues in specific geographies to strategic matters like Microsoft’s intentions in the enterprise database market. A few years later, Oracle announced that he was leaving the company. Oracle lost $8B in market-cap the next day. As a young manager, the headline for me was that “Leadership Matters.” Leaders like that are hard to find, and they aren’t developed overnight.

Hot Topic in Silicon Valley

Last Wednesday evening,ExecCatalyst hosted a high-tech Executive Leadership forum at the Four Seasons in Palo Alto. It was “standing room only” full of Directors, VPs and C-level execs from market leaders like Salesforce, Oracle, Cisco, National Semiconductor, SAP, Informatica, VMware  as well as hot startups like Gluster, Host Analytics, Kapow, KXEN, Intacct, Milyoni, Turnitin, and others. The event topic “Succeeding in the Era of the High-Tech Leadership Paradox” even drew leaders across many industries – from the pharmaceutical industry, health care, manufacturing, renewable energy and also from major leadership organizations including Monte Jade and Ascend. As new software delivery models including SaaS, cloud computing, and open source fuel the frenetic pace of business, these leaders came to explore new approaches to “make room for strategy” while managing time spent on operational and tactical delivery.

“Leadership Development is Deliberate”

Heidi Melin, EVP and CMO at Taleo was one of 4 high-profile executive panelists. Check out this video as she responds to the question “How do you manage strategy vs. execution in a fast moving SaaS company?”

Her point that leadership development is deliberate really struck me. High-tech certainly does moves fast and the pace even seems to be accelerating. I’ve seen many managers and even organizations ignore the need for deliberate development of high potential leaders. But leadership development won’t happen by accident while you and your team are busy executing against your task list. It takes prioritization, commitment, and investment – deliberateactivity.

I was very fortunate early in my career when Oracle invested in my leadership development. It only happened because my EVP, Randy Baker, had the vision and commitment to invest in developing every manager in his 5,000+ organization. He made it his priority, committing time and dollars to leadership development programs. Over the course of 1 year, I spent 2 weeks out of the office and away from the business while attending leadership training. Huddled up with 40 other managers, I thought, “Wow, Oracle is investing quite a lot of money and time into us!” Years later, I reconnected with Randy, and he shared with me The realization that in order to be successful as an organization we needed to develop a ‘culture’ of teamwork and that once operational, it would be obvious to other organizations in Oracle and more importantly our customers.”

Leaders are patient and intentional to set up and measure the hard, fast ROI. Randy continued, “Were the results measurable? Absolutely! We had all the measurements in place that demonstrated positive results on all fronts, most importantly customer and employee satisfaction- the drivers of everything. I could pull up, in my office, the customer and employee satisfaction for any manager in support worldwide! All this data was updated quarterly.”

Intuitively, every good manager has an internal compass that justifies investment in developing talent and building leaders. However, great managers act on the obvious and make investments today that will pay big dividends in the future.

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The ExecCatalyst blog covers topics related to leadership, career advancement, hiring, finding the right job, company cultures and office politics, and general management. The authors have extensive experience in high-tech in Silicon Valley and elsewhere and have gained experience at small, fast-moving startups as well as large, global technology firms.

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