These are my reflections on my most recent interim Director of IT role. I found the role and experience to be a challenge worth facing. It made me uncomfortable and forced me to adapt and learn. I would absolutely do it again.
My day job at OST is to be a Senior Security Consultant and Ethical Hacker. That doesn’t exactly scream “interim leader of our parent company” yet that is exactly what happened. It is public knowledge that OST is a subsidary of Koniag which is based in Alaska - specifically Kodiak Island - with offices in both Kodiak and Anchorage.
Due to this relationship I was asked to serve as an interim Director of IT when the existing Director decided to take a different opportunity. I don’t say No to a challenge so I gladly accepted and booked a flight and hotel room just as soon as my COVID vaccine schedule was complete.
Oh - did I mention this role would be in addition to the rest of my normal duties?
I’m a goal-oriented person, especially when it comes to my career. Having a goal - however small, or large, or simple or complex - helps to keep me motivated so that I can move forward and tackle the work without getting overwhelmed.
For this role I gave myself a few goals:
- Keep the organization calm and steady
- Assess the current state of IT and provide recommendations for the next Director
- Don’t make organization-wide decisions that a future Director would have to implement
- Visit the Bear Camp
- Build new relationships and strengthen existing ones
As I entered the role new daily/weekly/monthly goals would be added and removed as they were accomplished. The five above are the overarching goals that I kept in mind for the duration of my service.
I am proud to report that I was able to meet my stated goals. It may not have always been pretty - mistakes may have been made - yet the overall goals were met and from those accomplishments I believe I grew as a person, as a husband, and as a consultant.
Keep the Organization Calm and Steady
This was the most important goal. Leaders lead and a big part of that is showing a calm and cool exterior. Leaders have to reassure their organizations that things are going to be OK. Losing a loved member of the team is a shock to any organization - the interim person has to respect this, show empathy, and honor it - and a good leader must navigate this with poise.
Pro-tip: Don’t speak ill of former team members. In fact don’t speak ill of people in general.
Assess the Current State
I would argue that all organizations would benefit from a fresh set of eyes looking at the current state. My day job is to be a fresh set of (neutral and unbiased) eyes that can assess an organization and provide a formal report of my findings and recommendations. I decided that I would treat this role the same way.
I decided that I would focus my assessment efforts on the following areas: (1) IT Security; (2) Projects in flight; (3) Planned projects; and (4) Organizational alignment.
My assessment process identified serious issues that needed to be rectified. For example there was a planned project that, after discovery and discussion, was completely at odds with the vision of leadership. Moving forward on that project would have cost a tidy sum and would have been detrimental to the business and IT relationship. This identified a lack of organizational alignment between IT and the business. I made it my goal to reset that relationship, formally define the alignment, get executive buy in for this new strategy, and implemented said alignment.
Don’t Make Huge Decisions
An interim leader is there to serve the organization and hold the line. I decided early on that I did not want to commit someone else to a decision that they didn’t make. Of course I still made day to day decisions such as what laptops to order or what a policy should include. I resisted the urge to make and leave a mark that would be felt beyond my tenure. In this way I honored the next Director and empowered them to take full ownership of their role.
Visit the Bear Camp
Koniag owns and operates a remote bear camp. It is isolated on an inland lake and is so remote you have to take a seaplane to and from the camp. It may be a silly goal but the outdoorsman in me had an urge to go there and get close to a Brown Bear. As luck would have it the wireless network at the camp was not well documented or configured so I was able to fly out for a night to hopefully resolve the issues.
I was able to document the system, reconfigure it so it would function, and enjoy the camp. Goal met and over-achieved.
Build and Grow Relationships
Relationships are important. Who we know and who knows us can open doors and enable conversations that otherwise wouldn’t occur. While I had some prior relationships I found it important to seek out new ones while growing the existing ones. I’m glad to say that I did forge new connections that I hope to continue building well into the future.
I sincerely believe that you can learn new lessons through every new experience. Learning is a lifelong process that we should all strive to do. Of course this role is no exception to this rule. In no certain order, and certainly not all the lessons, here are a few of my favorites. These aren’t all your traditional business or leadership lessons.
- Don’t underestimate the power of being in-person. The pandemic taught us that a lot of what we do can be done at home, I truly believe that, yet there is still power in sitting down one-on-one.
- If you have the chance to fly on a seaplane then do it.
- Everyone can be a leader when given the opportunity.
- Understand that there are cultural differences all across our states, country, and world. Lean in and learn about new cultures and broaden your own understanding.
- Timezones are terrible. Be aware of your nerves and practice self-care.
- Sometimes travel plans get disrupted. Be kind to those around you.
- A stranger is just a friend you haven’t made yet.
- Take copious notes. Overcommunicate.
- Say what you’ll do an do what you say. You don’t need to complicate things.
- Sometimes you just have to pull off to the side of the road and take in the beauty of this world.
“Kodiak is the ancestral land of the Sugpiaq, an Alutiiq nation of Native Americans. The original inhabitants subsisted by hunting marine mammals, fishing, and gathering. Kodiak Island was explored in 1763 by Russian fur trader Stepan Glotov.” 1
I was fortunate to be able to spend a week on the island. I spent the first half of the week getting the board room ready for meetings, spent a night at the Bear Camp, joined the Board for dinner after the meetings, explored some of the touristy spots, learned more about Alutiiq history and culture, and experienced a cancelled flight. It was a trip and experience that I will never forget. If you ever have the chance then I highly recommend swinging in.
The true gem of my time on Kodiak Island was the Brown Bear Center. There is a large family style lodge for relaxing and taking meals, gorgeous guest cabins, and BEARS! I felt blessed to be given a private walkabout tour with Mike where I was able to see Kodiak Brown Bears in the wild. They are magestic and terrifying beasts. Also Amy made a killer prime rib dinner.
My first closing thought is that I hoped I wrote down everything that I needed to write down. I’m sure there is so much more in my mind that I could share. Some of those memories are for me alone.
I want to close with a discussion on values. I’m so proud to work with two organizations that have powerful values that they hold near and dear.
- Planning for the Long Term
- Honoring our Heritage & Culture
- Embracing Diversity
- Being Open and Honest
- Having Pride in our Work
- Sharing the Catch
- Honor our employees and their families
- Delight our clients
- Serve with humility
- Embrace entrepreneurship and innovation
- Learn through curiosity and empathy
It is hard to find positive values and princples in modern American culture. I’m glad that I was able to find and remain at an organization with such strong principles. Why do I want to close on these thoughts? Because we all need to know what we believe in - what our values and principles are - as they can help ground us, motivate us, and give us purpose. Have you identified your values?