Speaking of Leadership – David DeLuna (part 2)

David DeLuna has 25 years of full business and technology solution implementation experience. In his current role as director of account management at ProspX, he and his team serve as the primary point-of-contact for all customers and leads day-to-day account management and customer satisfaction. Prior to joining ProspX, David managed high visibility, highly complex strategic projects for Doculabs, a leader in strategic consulting and market research. Prior to that, David served as CIO at Allied Worldwide, a $2+ Billion leading global relocation, moving services and logistics company. In this capacity, he managed a $14 million budget and 90 professionals and was responsible for implementing a claims management system that saved the company $1 million annually. David has held management level positions at leading organizations such as BSG, Trident, PerSe Technologies and Moveline. David is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and holds a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications.

I sat down with David recently to talk with him about his time as CIO at Allied Van Lines, technology, and leadership. Part one of this interview was posted here.

JS: What would you say is the most important quality a leader at the C level needs?

DD: I think any leader needs the same key qualities. I think certainly you have to understand where the business is going. But within that, you have to understand your principles and how you’ll make decisions in light of these business objectives. So once you understand these business objectives and align to them, it becomes about thinking through the principles, and how you’re going to make the daily decisions, the decisions you make when you’re not thinking – you’re just reacting. Here’s how I’m going to make a decision because I’ve internalized these general principles of operation…whether those principles are we’re a quality minded organization so every decision we make is going to be based on quality or every decision is based on speed to market or whatever it’s going to be.

To me, the most critical element for a leader is how do you incorporate or internalize those basic principles of operation into the decisions you’re making every day. Now certainly they have to be the right principles and the right methods to employ, but I think for me this is the most important thing.

And as a leader, this is what I try to communicate to my staff, because I’m not the kind of manager that micromanages. I want them to understand what needs to be done, I want them to make their own decisions, and I want them to do their jobs. So what’s critical to me is that they understand what our principles are and how I want them to operate in terms of their environment and their decisions. It’s all about principles for me.

JS: So I’ll ask you to tell a story that you told me a long time ago over coffee. I had been working at my position for a year or so and was getting restless to move up in the organization, do more challenging work, and of course make more money. And being the great mentor you are, you managed to strongly encourage me in a particular direction without actually telling me what to do by relating a time that you made the wrong decision in a similar situation. It’s a great story – I think about it every time I get ready for my annual review (laughs)!

DD: It was a critical learning for me very early in my career, because you think that this job that you’re in is the only job for you at this company, whether that’s because you’re watching your fellow employees or watching how management operates…or you’re just naïve. Sure, you might see the job postings of what other jobs are available, but I think a lot of us get in a rut and have this sort of woe-is-me, this is my plight attitude. You feel like you can’t really resolve this, you fear talking to your boss in a way that allows you to get past whatever hurdle it is, whether it’s that your skills aren’t being leveraged, you’re not making enough money, you’re not impacting the business the way you want to – whatever it might be.

I had accepted a new job and I mentioned it to my boss and he was disappointed. And because I had a strong relationship with his boss, I wanted to make sure that he heard it from me personally and not from my boss. So I went into his office and I said, Hugh, I’m really sorry to say I’m leaving the company. Then I started into my spiel of why I made my decision, because of course I was brash. I thought I was a smart individual and thought I should highlight for him what my objectives were and why they weren’t being met, and so on. And he almost cut me off mid sentence and said, Why is this the first time I’m hearing all this? Why didn’t you let me know that you were disappointed in what was going on here or that you had needs that we’re not meeting?

This was the first time that it really made sense to me that employment is a partnership, that your employer is a partner with you (if it’s a good management team) in a different way than you might imagine. It’s not just a job because there’s a teamwork there – so talk to your manager, talk to your manager’s manager if you are not getting satisfaction. Employee churn can be so expensive – for both sides.

JS: Well, and didn’t he also say something about how he could have made it right?

DD: He said all of the objectives and concerns that you’ve identified, had I known about them earlier, we could have worked them out. But you know, at the time, this particular company had a small IT group and there wasn’t a lot of room for growth. So there were a lot of reasons why I, as a naïve and somewhat short-sighted individual, would have thought that there was no way out. But he was confident there would have been something he could do.

I think as manager and leaders now, we look at our organization and we look at who we’ve got as chess pieces. We know that we can move one person into another role without a whole lot of work. Certainly the work has to get done, but there are lots of different ways to get work done.

So in the end, I was disappointed in myself with what happened. I told you “I will never make this mistake again” and I didn’t want you to make the same mistake, thinking you have to leave your current environment because you weren’t getting what you needed, or because it was getting stale, or you needed more money, or whatever. And I think at that time you also went to your boss and said “I need to do something different” and it worked out for you.

JS: It did: he didn’t have an opportunity for me, but he supported my move to IT, which was absolutely the right decision at the time and set me up for lots of things I could have never predicted in my career.

The funny thing is, even though you know it’s the right thing to do, at the time you’re almost too nervous to say anything about it to your boss. But I’ve found with every boss I’ve ever had, it kind of clears the air. As soon as I asked the question or raised the topic, we both breathed a sigh of relief, because all of a sudden everything’s transparent. She knows what’s on the table for me, and she can be frank with me about it all, whether she does or doesn’t have the money, whether there are any positions, or whatever. It stops being this thing where we’re both guessing what the other person is thinking, which is not nearly as effective.

DD: I think as any employee, one of the lessons you need to learn is how do I make a decision easy for my boss. We think we can’t have the conversation or we may be very nebulous about what we’re trying to achieve, but it’s really not that hard to make it very easy to your boss. You just need to tell them, I’ve got these three issues that I’d like to work with you resolving. Like you said, they could be very easy and as an employee, especially a young one, you just don’t understand the resources management has. Learn those if you can. As a manager, if I’m approached with a problem, great, now I know what the problem is, and I can probably come up with a solution. Even better would be if my employee comes to me with not just what the problem is, but here’s the three ways I see of solving this problem.

And if you’re looking for a new job: it shouldn’t just be I’m looking for a job as a CIO, but I’m looking for a job as a CIO in this sort of company, divisional CIO is fine, in this industry, I’m willing to travel, I’m not willing to travel, here’s about where my comp needs to be. Now all of a sudden you’ve got some parameters within which to think through your role, and I think those are the kind of things that you learn as an employee over many, many years: how can I make this easy for my boss? And so again, a lot of times they’re able to make it happen, but they just need some parameters to work within.

JS: So you’ve had a lot of different careers over the last 10-12 years, and you’ve made some interesting changes. You’ve been a CIO at a big corporation, you’ve been at a mom and pop boutique strategy consulting firm, and now moved to a startup – that range of experiences is pretty interesting to have in one career. What’s your approach been to being successful across all of those, to owning those and making them part of your larger career trajectory.

DD: That’s an interesting question because you are portraying  them as different. I’ve been a consultant for both small and large technology companies for 20 years of my 27-year career; the balance I’ve worked in a “real job” for 5 years as CIO, and then a couple of years as an internal IT person. But the same foundation went all the way through.

What I think is consistent across all IT people is they are consultants. Just like if you work in HR, you’re in the business of human relations, you don’t just man the compensation system. Any IT person is just a consultant. Given that, I feel like I’ve had the same job for 27 years – it’s just a slightly different perspective across different operating models: I worked for a logistics company, in pharmaceuticals, insurance companies, and now I work for a software product company. It’s just like in consulting: you have to understand what the business model and processes are, and what the objectives are, and then decide whether your value system and the methods you tend to use match up with this particular business.

In the end, I think it’s just a matter of understanding the business model and asking yourself, is this something that I’ve either found interesting or had some past experience where I can bring something to the table? Certainly if you’ve never worked in that business model before, then you might be a little bit nervous. For me, I had never worked in a software products company before but I had some experience in a startup. Startups are certainly not for the faint of heart. That’s been the biggest learning curve of them all. But there are many methods I’ve been able to leverage in a software product company that I picked up elsewhere. And our objectives at ProspX are similar to many consulting engagements I’ve been in, where you‘re supporting multiple business units and you’re balancing their objectives towards their collective end goal. And certainly as an internal IT person or a CIO, you’re constantly balancing one set of objectives and decisions against another.

So in the end, I look at all of it as very similar. Sure you’ll find in any company that cultures are different, styles are different, and so you have to figure out what you need to pull out of your bag of tricks. But it’s often the same – keep your eyes open all the time, ask lots of questions, keep an open mind about problems and possible solutions, and, of course, work damn hard.

JS: Okay, I’ll end with this: you’ve got a lot of years left to keep working – unless things go fabulously in the next two years and you wind up sailing the world on your yacht, which very well might happen (laughs). Until then, is there anything you haven’t done in a business context that you still hope to do one day?

DD: Well back to this idea that every job is the same, it seems like in technology, we’re constantly trying to do the same thing: how can I use technology in an innovative, effective, cost effective way to enable change in a business?

There’s a couple of areas where I haven’t crossed a hurdle, and it’s been the same hurdle since my early Allied days. At the time, we wanted to take advantage of buried, valuable data with things like presence, understanding that somebody was online at this moment, knowing their skills and responsibilities, and understanding business triggers to say, This is what just happened in the business: who needs to know about it? Can we enable the team to fix this problem or take advantage of this opportunity, whatever it might be?

Looking at it from this perspective, I’ve actually been in the same job now for 20 years. In my current job, we’re doing it in the commercial insurance space, trying to match up insured (end client) needs with broker expertise and carrier risk management; at Allied we were doing it with customer service, dispatchers and drivers, etc. But in both: when you need to get something done, how can you enable a team of people to respond? I recognize that what I’m saying sounds like a hammer looking for a nail, but there’s something valuable in the hammer of social networking, presence and email and chat which I think has such huge potential to contribute to the “nail” areas of business: process transitions which are often team or departmental handoffs, and getting data to the right person at the right time. I just think there’s some tremendous opportunity there in terms of how to connect individuals better in a business context.

So I’m still thinking about how this all works and how to take advantage of some of the things that are out there and ubiquitous on the internet for private individuals, but we haven’t figured out how to capitalize on them in the business space. I enjoy working on that.

JS: Given the steep adoption curve for social media and the huge momentum it’s gained at organizations over the last 18 months, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding opportunities to do so!

Anyway, thanks for spending an hour sharing your experiences and thoughts – I appreciate it!

DD: No problem – my pleasure.

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