Does a ‘Mind Reading’ Management Strategy for CIOs work? | How Clear Are Your Expectations?

In this short segment of my longer interview with Rafael Maldonado, CIO of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), we have a great discussion around Leadership. CIOs are both asked to ‘keep the trains running’ for their organizations, and many of you are being asked to foresee the future as well.

Some of the leadership themes and ideas Rafael shared with me were:

  • Delegation is not abdication.
  • You must create a culture of accountability in tandem with trust.
  • Demonstrate that you have your team’s back.
  • Create clear expectations and eliminate ‘mind reading’ through delegation.
  • Develop excellent communications skills.

The full transcript of this conversation can be found below:

Rafael:    When I came here, I was brought in to transform the IT organization. And one of the things that I did from Day One, was to set up expectations for my team. “These are my expectations, these are my standards.” Once everybody had that clear, there’s a saying, I actually got this from my brother, Joey. He says, “Clear expectations, no excuses.” Right? Then, we used that set of expectations to drive the team. I also use the book, The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team: A Leadership Fable, by Patrick Lencioni.

I created a culture of accountability, but also trust. As a new leader, when I was coming in and the team knew that I was coming in to transform and change, and a lot of them were scared. They didn’t trust me, so I had to develop that layer of trust to enable them to understand that I wanted the best of them. Regardless of whether I agree with it or not, I want your best opinion, I want your best advice. Then let me make the final decision. Then my expectation is that once I make the decision, we’re all going to pull together  towards that goal.

I think that helped me because once you set up expectations, then you are able to tell your team, “These are the things that I expect for you to do that I shouldn’t be doing.” And once you do that, then you can delegate. It’s important to understand that delegation doesn’t mean abdication. So you’re still responsible.

Bill:          That’s right, you’re governing.

Rafael:    Yes, you’re governing. You don’t have to be hands-on on everything, right? I also learned a concept in the military, ‘Sometimes you have to show up’. Sometimes it’s good to mop the floor when you don’t have to. I used to do this in a big computer room that we had in Germany. I had about ten people that worked for me.

Bill:           I love that.

Rafael:    I would mop the floor. The reason I did that is because they knew I didn’t have to do it. But I did it because I wanted to lead by example. Because I wouldn’t ask of you something that I’m not willing to do myself.

Bill:          I agree with that. Over Labor Day, we had a call from a customer who literally just joined us – maybe a week or two earlier; and it was a complete rebuild of a 400 person network. It was an 18-month roadmap, completely. We were just going through the onboarding phase, nothing had even been done. They got hit with exactly the things that we were concerned about. Which was like 2008 systems that were tied to some big manufacturing systems that they just couldn’t sunset. They got hit with the Emotet virus. All completely down on Labor Day, Friday. Eighteen of our 40 guys are basically working between onsite there and offsite looking at all the monitoring tools trying to figure out who is going to inoculate this first? Microsoft, Symantec, Freeware 2, Freeware 3, who is going to find it?

I’ve done this frequently, but I just drove down there and I got a six pack and sat down with the CIO and I said,  “Man, you’ve just got to relax. I know this is completely like the worst rollercoaster of your life, but the guys just have to go out and touch the systems.” So, we just sat in the kitchen and had a beer while the guys were able to run around. Because he was nervous, obviously, he was like, “When is my system going to be back live?” We did get, for all you listeners, we did get everybody live on Tuesday when the doors opened. But just showing up… showing up, that’s the real moral of the story, just to support what you just said, Rafael.

Rafael:    I have a similar story. When I was in the military working at the Pentagon. I went in one night to do an upgrade to a system. Something very simple. It was supposed to be 30 minutes, no more. When I did the upgrade, the whole system went down. This was running pretty much the whole organization, not the whole Pentagon, but the organization that I worked with at the Pentagon. Needless to say, I worked over 36 hours to … actually 48 hours, no sleep. My Lieutenant Colonel came in and said, “Listen, I just want you to know that I’m here. That no one is going to come in. I’m going to keep all those Generals over there and I’m going to talk to them. Just tell me what are you doing. I just want to let you know that you have my full support.”

Bill:         That’s powerful.

Rafael:    I learned that from him. He was that curtain that allowed me to concentrate on the problem. I actually eventually solved it. It’s so important that as leaders, every now and again, we show up. Every now and again, we mop the floor.

Bill:         Absolutely. You know, it’s funny. I call it ‘clouds and dirt’. Because we’re talking about what’s in the metaphorical cloud, where you can put exponential technologies with all the capabilities and stuff, and then again, you have to show up and sweep the floor, the dirt.

It’s interesting. I think modern IT leaders need to know – you can’t just disappear – at least, in small to medium enterprises of 5,000 and below. Although, I don’t even think it matters what size. I just think you have to show up – period. In fact, I was talking to the CIO of Johnson & Johnson just last week. She’s on my board. She’s actually the ex-CIO, but she was the CIO of a hundred CIOs at a company with billions and billions of dollars in revenue.

Now she’s the CEO of a company based out of South Carolina. I was going through this problem I was having and she goes, “Bill, I had to do the same thing last week. I had to break out a spreadsheet, I had to write all the steps out of what I wanted my team to do. It was frustrating as hell, but I basically I had to get in the dirt and the weeds. I had to pull up my sleeves, write this whole process out, and then hand it to my team so they knew very clearly what I wanted.”

Which is what your point was, Rafael, clear expectations. Sometimes it gets frustrating as leaders to have to do it and at that deep of a level. But if it’s that important of a process to do, sometimes it can’t be delegated until you actually have mapped it out the way you want it.

Rafael:    I agree. I tell people, “I may have some talent, but mind reading is not one of them”. So that goes both ways, right? You have to actually tell people what your expectations are and make sure they understand because sometimes we don’t do a good job of communicating properly. I think that is key. Once you set up those expectations, they understand them. If you have the right team, they’re going to step up and get it done.

Bill:           Yes, I agree with that.