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Leading with Music presents: Jazz

renewing Powerfully

renewing Powerfully

As we were standing in the small conference room off of the Vice-Chairman’s office, we were surveying some of the memorabilia that he had collected over his Powerful career. One of the few engineers to actually ascend to this stratospheric level, he had been my idol when I started. If he could make it as an engineer, I had a chance also. Our President was playing with a ball-bearing race, with the silver rolling balls exposed that he was gently nudging around the circle. He turned to my boss and said, “… at least one of these is mine”

Power execution

Power execution

Our dinner out that night in Manhattan was lovely and relaxed. Mostly because we were killing time… until an overnight flight would deliver a replacement card for a demo scheduled the next morning. In setting up our demo at THE seat of Power of IBM at that point, 590 Madison Avenue, in the boardroom no less, I had discovered the hardware was dead. And, there was something called DeltaDash that at that point was slightly more common than FedEx, and would bring us a new one at 3 am. No problem, we would drive back and have a few hours before our 10 am demo.

The wonder of Power

The wonder of Power

As we deplaned in Atlanta, we were looking for directions to the private jets section of the Airport. Catching a taxi across the tarmac, we arrived where the Powerful people fly, and waited for our Division President to arrive. We were due for an important update on the project he was the Executive Sponsor for, and the only time we could find was to fly back with him from Atlanta to DC… So if you are wondering, we flew down from DC to fly back with him … to DC.

observe the Power of Power

observe the Power of Power

“Who the ___ are you anyway?” was the exasperated shout from the senior Engineer and IBM Fellow from our Austin facility. With the precision of my national debating days, I had just reduced his arguments against what our small (but growing team) was doing into shreds and now I had him calling me names. Perfect. Victory. The facility manager who had brought all of his Power to this meeting had to step in and calm the waters. “I will take your ideas back for consideration and we will be back in touch.” And with that, we observed his team gather their things and leave…

Power partners

Power partners

As I finished talking about our project, there was a pause in the conversation while the Senior VPs were considering what I had shared. My boss, now my partner, was leaning back as he always did, even though he knew most of these very Powerful men well. By now he had confidence in my ability to communicate difficult concepts quickly and convincingly, which freed him up to study and read what was really happening and not being said…

managing Power

managing Power

With the prospect of working for a person I did not respect, it also became clear to me that people who win proposals are often not the right people to perform the work. In fact, the Power had quickly shifted from those who were Clever to those who were… well… more predictable to manage. The combination had resulted in my friend, the AA, setting me up with a new opportunity to work on another important division project that “needed some help”…

Power engagement

Power engagement

A warm handshake and “Thank You” from my exec was worth the long hours it took to win the Space Station contract. What he said next, was not “… and I would like you to work for ____ now to help integrate the teams.” A few of my peers had had the “opportunity” to work for him already, and we had heard about his use of Power in not complimentary terms over weekend beers. Luckily, my own network had offered me a path forward that would give me a front-row seat to what Power really is … and isn’t…

Effecting Right renewal

Effecting Right renewal

We were wrapping up one of our last tests at Berkeley, up the hill further, into the Bevatron – a device that is a football field in diameter – such that it can generate Billions of electron Volts per particle. As such, you don’t need a vacuum, and simply set up your target in an open room. Surrounded by thick concrete, we were just taking down our computer when an ambulance arrived. A young 14-year-old was wheeled into the same spot, and a large metal mask put over most of his head – a small hole where the beam would go into his brain…

Effectively executing Right

Effectively executing Right

Sitting in the conference room waiting, I was nervous about what was about to happen. The experiment had been a success, and we should be celebrating as a group, an Effective use of all of the talents of the team. Sadly, I had jumped the gun and helped get attention through my friends in communications, and now they wanted to feature the team in an upcoming publication. Sadly, it was not the Right thing to do, and the rest of the team was furious with me, particularly the group that was supposed to be “in charge”. And, my boss had accompanied me up to be confronted and what I thought would be an execution by the other members of the team…

The wonder of Effectively Right

The wonder of Effectively Right

The sun wasn’t up as we rose for the 3 am bus ride. We were up early because the time of the launch was 7 am, and with traffic near the Cape, we didn’t want to be late. I had been invited to come down for the launch of our experiment which, through no small set of wonders, we had Effectively completed on time and within the Right budget. It was now stowed in the back of the Space Shuttle and was about to blast off with STS Mission 41-G, the 17th flight.

observing Right Effectively

observing Right Effectively

As we were chatting before dinner in the large ballroom, I was surrounded by the “royalty” of the Radiation Effect community. Admittedly a little off the main road of the IEEE, it was nonetheless THE place to meet, greet, and talk with everyone who knew anything about Radiation effects. The decor had some eggs on the buffet bar as a garnish – and you would assume they would be hard-boiled. Our Principal Investigator, a jokester, picked one up and cracked it on the man standing next to me… where it exploded all over his bald head…

Effectively partnering Right

Effectively partnering Right

As I watched the fog roll across the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge was the first to disappear. Then San Francisco became just a soft glow. Now the fog was over Berkeley and coming up the hills where it was 3 am. Completely covered now, the moon was just a glow, and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I stepped back inside just in time to help my partners change out the current device for the next one in our testing. I was standing inside of one of the world’s most powerful devices – yes – inside…

managing Right Effectively

managing Right Effectively

“Don’t be ridiculous. I have just invested $15 Million dollars in your development. Now get back to work”. With that, the young executive exited the CEO’s office with his letter of resignation torn in half and handed to him. He had gone from one of the top executives in the company to losing the current equivalent of $200 Million dollars. Thankfully not me, but that investment Rightly paid off as he was our Executive… and an outstanding and Effective manager 25 years later when I joined his team in Houston.

Do you engage Right or Effective?

Do you engage Right or Effective?

While we didn’t realize it, we were all engaged in an over 10-year plan to keep IBM as the provider for the onboard computers and software for the Space Station. The Shuttle was designed and built in the ’70s as a “Space Truck” – you could fit a School Bus in the Payload Bay. Its mission was to build the Space Station – the next element in a chain that started with the first space experiment Explorer in the 1950s. My work would be pulling those pieces together – using the truck to put up a basic science experiment that could allow modern computers to be used. Would I be Right, or Effective, or neither??

renewing Diversely

renewing Diversely

My real job for this season was to design a memory card for the Display System of the Space Shuttle. Our funding was to prototype what a newer computer and color display could do to help automate the very manual ways the Space Shuttle actually worked. If you have ever used an HP calculator, their Reverse Polish Notation approach to math was very similar to what the astronauts did to command the vehicle to fly. It was very labor-intensive, and our mission was to renew that technology from a mid 60’s torpedo computer into the 80’s…

Diverse execution

Diverse execution

So, no problem. I had to get the facility that thought they were the center of ALL radiation knowledge in our division to work with the other facility that manufactured ALL the equipment we could build. And both thought they were the pre-eminent facility in our Division… And did I mention by this point, I had executed repeated railings about how behind the times both organizations were? And not in small ways – in a couple of cases taking on older and wiser leaders with both memos and in-person indictments of the lackluster execution from both…

wonderful Diversity

wonderful Diversity

The lack of cooperation and coordination in business shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Today it was very clear as I was talking with the lead investigator of an experiment that had already flown in space. Sponsored by the part of NASA that was dedicated to non-manned flight, they literally hated those of us working on Manned Space. They had, in fact, put the first United States satellite in space, but since the Astronaut crew was announced, their budgets and centrality to the NASA mission was dwarfed. It was no wonder that he was very hesitant to even talk with me…

Diverse observation

Diverse observation

From my days in Debate, I observed that you could follow links between documents. Remember this is LONG before hypertext and the web, but at the end of papers are the references. You start to see the same papers referenced many times, and you find there are typically only 10 real papers you need to understand. Here I found a couple on a model of what happens in space, a couple about measuring devices in a cyclotron, and a couple about an experiment that actually flew in space. And I observed that none of them had worked together…

partnering Diversely

partnering Diversely

“You have learned how to learn. It is not about the topics or the subject matter. With these tools, anything can be understood”. This framing of Diversity is one that my parents had enforced with all of the IBM swag around the house. I thought it was sorta corny, and also sorta redundant – why do you need a sign that says “THINK”. Isn’t that the thing that differentiates us from the animals – another phrase that rang out often. As I started to work with new partners, it was clear this may actually be needed…

managing Diversely

managing Diversely

As I was standing in the shower, where most of my clearest thinking comes from, suddenly it hit me. I yelled out to no one in particular – “DPAT – Data Processing Aptitude Test!!!” I had driven down to Clear Lake, Texas for an interview with IBM’s group that was working on the Space Shuttle. A lovely dinner with a person my age had managed to calm my nerves, but now, I realized the very first thing this morning was a test…

Diversity engaged

Diversity engaged

This evening, as I was working my way through the records, I stumbled across a double album of Jazz. It was my daily visit to Peaches – a huge grocery store remodeled to house huge stacks of records, including those that had been sentenced to the trash heap of music. “Cutouts” were just that – albums that had the corner clipped, along with their price. To keep me engaged in my major goal of graduating in only 12 weeks, I would buy 5 records, come home, listen for 3 hours until they were finished, and hopefully, I had finished enough homework to repeat it the next day…

renewing your Values

renewing your Values

Of all of the Values that most teams and leaders list, renewal is rarely on the list.  Particularly the leaders who really “care” and talk about “servant leadership” and are those people you want to follow. They find it very hard to carve out time for the most important resource – themselves.  As I start working with leaders, I realize that most of my real value is forcing them to spend an hour or so on… themselves.  Sure I can bring some Value with my clever questions, listening, some observations, even some much-requested “advice”… but realistically… just getting them to focus on themselves is what I am paid to do now…

The Value of execution

The Value of execution

For as long as I can remember, I have been working – and not in a negative way.  I love doing things, solving problems, creating things, particularly when they are complicated.  As an executive I had to realize that making things EASY was actually WAY more important… and also, WAY more difficult.  The way I would explain this to you in-person would be to draw a Venn diagram – which most of you won’t even remember from Geometry or Algebra.  The idea is you have a circle, I have a circle.  Where they overlap, we share… objectives, deliverables, targets, mission, etc.  Easy with 2… but when organizations are large, the execution overlap becomes smaller and smaller… sometimes the Null Set… 

The no wonder Values..

The no wonder Values..

Like most weeks, Friday’s wonder post is the easiest to figure out with both what I am going to say, and the musician that embodies that quality for the band.  It is a rare treat that the story also aligns with the song title.  And if you read these enough, you might guess the player I focus on the most is the Bass player – and this week you would be right.  But I am already ahead of myself – one of my Values that is less helpful is being “Restless” – racing ahead and never being happy with where I am.  It is what made me a great Youth worker at church, and an even better recruiter… 

Are partners Valuable?

Are partners Valuable?

There is a point in every career where it is clear that alone, not only can the work not be accomplished, it will not be nearly as Valuable and rewarding.  For me, it was always that way.  In High School Debate I had a partner.  My first job at Texas Instruments was shared with a partner who handled “business” software while I handled the technical programs.  The remainder of my time there and well into IBM, I shared offices and roles with peers, some easier than others.  Not everyone makes that shift, and there are many singular leaders who give the impression that it is all about “them”, and occasionally their Values of “the cult of personality” can survive and persist… but at what cost? 

management Values

management Values

I guess I actually DO have a nickel for every time I stood up in front of a new team, as the “New Guy” and said, “Hi, I am Mark House, and here is what I am about.”  Actually compounded over the years, it’s what allows me the freedom to do this crazy new career, helping others have THEIR speech ready for that opportunity when it comes.  And I actually stole most of mine from other great leaders along the way, who I suspect stole theirs from others.  Because managing with Values actually works… because people can normally tell what your Values are (or aren’t)… before you can.

The Value to engage

The Value to engage

As the New Year is now entering the end of the 1st Quarter, the pace of work is picking up – both as the crisis appears to be receding, but also a normal part of each year.  Budget’s being finalized, and most of the year-end Performance Reviews completed, businesses and leaders are now making decisions on where to focus.  What projects need to be accelerated, those that may need to be slowed, and staffing that needs to shift.  Simultaneously, employees are engaged in the same decisions – is this really the place for them now… or?  And key to both is … Values.