When you're recognizing talent, silliness sticks

Craig Williams, CIO of Ciena, explains how a silly tradition became an important leadership lesson
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soft skills: relationship-building

[Editor's note: As part of our ongoing series in which IT leaders share the best advice they've ever been given, Craig Williams, CIO of Ciena, explains how a silly tradition became an important lesson in leadership.]

A leader I reported to once told me that no matter what you do in life, professionally or personally, it's always about the people.  You can be the smartest person in the room but if you can't understand, reason, work with, negotiate or communicate with people, then you're useless. Literally useless.

I learned this from David Bishop - a principal I worked for many years ago at Booz-Allen & Hamilton. People are all David talked about and he had fun ways to recognize us, too.  He drove the point home to me by recognizing his team in a unique way – he created this "club" of frog people.

Yes – frog people.  

If you worked hard and embodied the spirit of what he wanted from you (collaboration, grit, etc.), you earned a frog tie or something with a frog in it.  Don't ask me why a frog, but he would present you the widget and it made you feel like you were in the club, so to speak.  It became an honor, funny as it sounds.

Taking the advice to heart

The way I took this to heart is I invested in people and put talent as my No. 1 operating priority. I have stuck to that as being the secret sauce to building successful IT teams.  

While I don't do frog ties, I like to recognize PHDs (Passion, Heart, Drive) and have been known to hand out funny widgets like gaudy wrestling belts or action hero figures that align to the recognition or values we're focused on.

[ Want to learn about leading truly collaborative teams? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst. ]

Craig Williams is Chief Information Officer for Ciena, a network strategy and technology company. He joined Ciena from LinkedIn where he was head of IT. In total, he has more than 25 years of experience spanning multiple diverse industries including high-tech, government/DoD and commercial environments.

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