Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Leader of the Pack

Leadership is a funny thing at Intel. Ask most people about leadership and they'll give you fairly simple definitions, most having to do with others following willingly. But having followers doesn't seem to fit into the Intel definition of leadership. Over the last few years, Intel seems to be defining it as how well "leaders" can implement their management goals, tamp down dissent, and make projects look successful regardless of their actual state. To me, all of these seem to describe something other than true leadership.

There are clearly some management components to leadership, particularly in the corporate world. We need to work toward common goals. We all need to help make Intel successful. But just doing what you're told doesn't require much leadership. Being given positional power and authority does not make a leader. Any manager can order people to do something. It's how willingly they execute your orders and wishes that determines your leadership abilities. As does how you communicate, manage dissent, and allow people to develop and take risks. Leadership is about influencing people, winning trust, and gaining confidence, not giving orders. I see far to many managers (and some senior managers) managing only with their authority, rather than with leadership and influencing skills.

Intel managers sometimes hold "all hands" meetings where everyone in an organization is invited to attend. They are held to convey important messages, and to allow the group to engage in Q&A with their leadership. As Intel has been going through the recent efficiency efforts and lay-offs, these all-hands meetings have become more frequent. Over the past 8 months or so, the all-hands meetings in my group have been mandatory. Our general manager has decided that attending these meetings is not optional, and his assistant is tracking attendance. I wonder if it's ever occurred to him that if he's doing a good job, and is truly leading, that he wouldn't need to force people to attend. We should want to hear what our leaders have to say, and would welcome the opportunity to ask them direct questions.

I've noticed the same thing with our quarterly business update meetings. (These are meetings that Intel holds to review quarterly results and give business group updates.) These presentations are usually given by VPs, and some have made them mandatory. My first few years at Intel I looked forward to these and willingly attended. But then a few years ago they starting being uninteresting, and than they degraded to being difficult to sit through.

It took me a couple of quarters to realize the the problem was not the meeting or the materials, but the presenter. My group went from working for a dynamic, interesting, humorous VP to someone who was arrogant and seemed to go out of her way to alienate 1/2 the organization during these meetings. Quarter after quarter, at least 50% of the audience would leave feeling dejected, neglected, angry, and confused. And the worst part was that she seemed to be oblivious. She was only connected with specific people and projects, showed obvious favoritism, and simply wasn't a very good presenter. And in case you're wondering, I was usually in one of the groups that got her recognition. But it didn't feel any better to be falsely recognized than it did to be overlooked. After every meeting I wondered how this person could have been put in such a prominent leadership role, and how she could remain there.

When I spoke to one of her direct employees about this, someone tasked with trying to improve group morale, I was told "she doesn't always get the people aspect of her job." Then why the hell is she the one standing in front of 500 people giving a presentation? Why does my current general manager think it's necessary to force people to come hear him speak? Is he afraid to find out the if he doesn't make these meetings mandatory that we won't show up? If a leader calls a meeting and nobody attends, is he really a leader?

Intel clearly needs leaders who can deliver the work that needs to get done. But leaving a trail of disgruntled people in your wake should be a factor. If a large percentage of your organization doesn't want to follow you, or feels perpetually dejected, that's an indicator of poor leadership, regardless of your results. And if you look more carefully, you'll see that those with disgruntled people aren't getting nearly the results they could be getting with better leadership.

A couple of years ago I had a manager tell me during my annual review, for the only time, that my leadership abilities were in question. He had acknowledged that I was innovative, that my team willingly followed me, and that I focused on results over bureaucracy. And then he told me that all these things were irrelevant to leadership, and that true leadership was implementing his boss's visionahead of everything. More than anything else, I wanted to hand him a dictionary.

I don't know if this attitude about leadership at Intel is fostered anywhere - I've certainly never seen it documented. But it seems to be too easily tolerated. This kind of rigid "following" mentality, and a lack of consistent metrics to quantify leadership ability are allowing too many poor leaders to remain in sr. management positions. These people may add value to Intel, but they have no business leading us.


Anonymous said...

I used to be a manager in a manufacturing plant. People on my shift understood we had two goals "high efficiency" and "no defects". People that had issues understanding this quickly left my shift. My shift excelled at the goals and I allowed them to be fairly carefree in other regards. We got Work done. Other managers commented about how they wished their groups were as good as mine. The plant manager couldn't stand it, "You have a bunch of loose cannons listening to loud music." I told him, "Yeah, but they exceed our goals. All our work is done and then some and done right. I can tell them at the beginning of the day that these extra things need to happen and by the end of the day their done without me having to constantly check on them." He didn't seem to care. He seemed to care more about appearances then actual output. I cared about my people and they cared about me. I could ask them to do extraordinary things and they would, because they knew I would fight for them as well. It drove him bonkers and he constantly looked down on my shift. Eventually I tired of the game and got out of manufacturing all together.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with this analysis. I am also an Intel IT guy and once was considered "an up & comer in mgmt given my solid leadership style." However, over the last couple of years I've seen my effectiveness diminish as stale and burrecratic managers use land grab tactics to stifle any alternative approaches or non-traditional projects. After the changes of this last reorg I now know that yes-men will get ahead in our system and true leaders won't. I use to think that being right and good karma would correct these lack of leadership issues but now I'm convinced its an epidemic that the institution can not correct.
I would also add that sometimes our mgmt can mistake a dynamic personality alone as a leader even though they do not deliver results or build effective teams.

Anonymous said...

I have worked at Intel for over 10 years and I can say that it is not the same company it used to be. I have seen similar examples of the collapse of leadership within the company and didn't realize it was so widespread until I started running into a series of bad bosses.

A couple of years back, I, myself was a manager. I went to the fantastic managment training (MTP) and tried to apply what I had learned. I was technically knowledgeable and would share my knowledge with my staff, and at the same time I was a "people manager" and held regular 1:1s with my team to discuss not only their projects, but their long-term career goals. I had reached my position, I believe, by taking risks and questioning decisions, but when my old boss was booted out and a new guy was brought in to manage the group, things changed:I was not a yes-man and when downsizing happened within our group I was one of the managers to lose my whole team and get bumped down (like my old boss) to IC.

Since then, I have witnessed a snowball effect of bad managers mentoring employees which become bad teammates. I can see why the best and brightest are losing heart and leaving now. It's not Andy's Intel anymore.

Intel IT Guy said...

Thanks to the 3 anonymous posters above for their comments. All good stories with which I empathize. It's maddening that the people who want to do the best are getting pushed aside to allow dispassionate ladder climbers to take their places. It feels like the soul of the company is being eroded. When it's gone, Intel is going to feel, and start performing, like any other large company.

Anonymous said...

Wow, such a great Blog. Since you can't really share stories like this inside, it's good to know I'm not alone in how I feel about the company. What's sad is how maddening it really is because I can't make sense of it. It's just not in me to be a "yes" man. I had a poor review some years ago because I had a "yes" man for a manager and we completely butted heads during temporary assigment in which I worked in his group. It is truly disturbing and discouraging to work in such an evironment every day. What a shame it is to see what was once a great company allow for this attitude to grow and be encouraged.