Two Dozen Basic Management Principles (Pt. 9)

The time in New York can be captured by looking at five snapshots. The first involved Jim Paccia and the cross-country team.


“I coach the cross-country team at Tully High School.” Lopez looked at Jim Paccia with a blank expression. “That’s a running team,” Rob added. “The cross-country team runs five-kilometer footraces against teams from other schools.”


“I am a soccer player,” Lopez said.


“Lopez,” Coach Paccia said, “after what I saw yesterday, you need to be on the cross-country team. You have a real gift. It would be a shame to waste it.”


Lopez hated to disappoint anyone. “Perhaps one race for you,” he said.


“I had something more in mind,” Coach said. He reached into his bag. “Lopez, I had this made for you. It’s yours if you come out for the cross-country team and commit to run the entire season.” Coach Paccia held up a Tully High School team jersey and jacket. The white letters popped off of the all-black background. Lopez was impressed. Then Coach Paccia turned the jacket around and Lopez’ jaw dropped. There, across the back, were the letters L-O-M-O-N-G! For a boy who grew up wearing hand-me-down clothes courtesy of Goodwill, this was the most beautiful piece of clothing Lopez had ever seen.


“Okay,” Lopez said, “I will run cross-country.”


Less than two months later Lopez ran his first race. Rob and Barbara were there cheering for Lopez. Lopez was surprised. The sight of them convinced Lopez that he had to win this race, not for himself, but for them. This race was his chance to validate his place in America.


However, he had a problem. Although his English had improved somewhat, he did not fully grasp all the nuances of high school cross-country. In this particular race, a golf cart led the runners around the course. Everyone seemed to understand this little detail except Lopez. Lopez thought he was supposed to beat the golf cart to the finish line.


The moment the gun sounded, Lopez took off after the cart like his life depended upon it. Within a few hundred meters he zipped right by it. Once he passed it, he did not think it could catch him. He was right. However, the golf cart cheated. It took a shortcut and pulled around back in front of him.


That just made Lopez run even harder. He passed the cart a second time only to see the golf cart cheat again. Over the course of the first four kilometers of the race, Lopez passed the golf cart several times. Lopez passed him so often that he completely ran out of gas stumbling across the finish line in third place.


Coach Paccia ran over to Lopez. Lopez was fuming. He believed that he would have won the race if the golf cart had not cheated so many times. Coach Paccia grabbed Lopez and said: “Lopez, you ran a great race, but you don’t have to run against the cart. You only race the other runners.”


“Great,” Lopez thought. “Now you tell me!”


Management Lesson # 12 – Know the Rules

Lopez suffered needlessly. Knowing the rules is an important aspect of being a successful senior IT leader. I am not speaking of the obvious – laws, ethics, and budgets. I am speaking about the “rules” – who is the real decision-maker, who has real influence, who can be trusted, how much credibility do you have?, etc. Knowing the “rules” provides you with a clear understanding of the environment in which you are managing a department.

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