June 10, 2019
Last week I severed my final tie to the Tulsa Area United Way, my wonderful employer for 8+ years. I maintain the highest respect for their mission and the great folks who work there, doing so much for our 5-county service area. My first volunteer activity for them was the very first Day of Caring event back when I was with the University of Tulsa — 26 years ago.
I’d been getting surly and unhappy. I didn’t know why, and upon careful introspection, there were reasons both personal (renters breaking things at our house! the house not selling! a mortgage *and* a rent check!) and professional. I was not being the best version of myself. I was even not treating my family well — my profession and supporting the organization always came first. When I discovered this, it was quite a blow to my mental image. The self-reflection and mindfulness that’d been a part of me for so long had gotten buried so deep it was hard to begin to pull it back out.
In the spring of 2018, I took part in the Schnake Turnbo Frank Leadership & Reputation Academy. The program highlighted the skills necessary to be a good leader. If you have an opportunity to take part in this program (I’ve written about it earlier here), I heartily recommend it. It caused me to think differently about my career path and unbeknownst to me, made me think more about pulling up the veil of my day-to-day activities and explore new possibilities, both inside and outside TAUW.
Among the many parts that spoke to me was how different it is to be a professional in your field (IT diagnostician, network architect, security, trainer, etc.) and being a true leader. The two can overlap, and much depends on how one’s organization is structured — I submit that it’s tougher at a small shop and especially tough for IT leaders at small shops who feel incredible ownership and responsibility for everything. Not a healthy way to work, or live. A great deal also depends on one’s organizational culture — frequent readers/visitors know about my org behavior background, so I won’t harp on it again…
Reading the business cases in the LRA program shot a bolt of lightning into me: it brought back the excitement of reading similar things back in the Business College at TU, and looking at organizations holistically. It also made me realize the peril of fading away like my predecessor did when he retired. In the same way that I re-imagined IT, I wanted to do the same thing for an entire organization. I got back to reading more business publications and well as tech.
By mid-to-late 2018 I began thinking about doing more. More responsibility. More control. More opportunities to explore my interests beyond pure technology, such as the ways in which tech tools and Big Data have reinvented marketing and awareness. Or the possibilities where the Internet of Things and Green Building Technologies merge. I had put some resumes out there discreetly and talked to peers and mentors. In short, there were lots of good discussions, but you know how hard it is to put that Genie back in the bottle.
I’ve been thinking about (1) what to do when I grow up and (2) recalibrating my head. My career has allowed me to be an IT leader for large universities, a small college, and a statewide HMO. I’ve been given the freedom to explore some of those green building technology/energy saving solutions, design, and to evangelize and develop new innovative technology solutions — battle-tested for our partner nonprofits, but repackaged for some of the private-sector clients I’ve retained.
I’ve provided complete IT services to foundations, design firms, museums, an insurance agency, a public radio station, oil and gas exploration firms, natural gas marketers, and various nonprofits both large and small. Cloud technologies, coupled with the collateral offerings of the FANG companies (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) have been an incredible leveler for businesses of all sizes. Technologies that previously were limited to the biggest of the big in Silicon Valley are now being democratized. Even the United Way family is starting to utilize them in ways that will both revolutionize how fundraising will be done and strengthen a system that is presently a loose affiliation of over 1,800 mainly small shops.
I’m considering whether to remain an IT Leader or whether to continue to build on my skills in nonprofit management as an Executive Director somewhere. Or whether to work for someone else or re-hang my shingle and reactivate my LLC. Or I could capitalize on my gift of gab and tech and be a great salesperson for a tech firm. I’m not opposed to relocating — time for a new adventure. One life lesson is that one’s career path is usually not linear. The bends and turns in one’s way prove to be the path to greater and more interesting things. I’d love also to connect with other folks who are in this process (there are a fair number this Spring) or have come out of the other side of their own reinvention — feel free to comment.
So: if you have or know of any interesting positions in need of a leader who is ready to give his hard-earned wisdom, give me a shout! Or if you have any ideas, give me a shout: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rest assured I’ll be documenting these changes here….thanks for reading!