Last month I asked Tony Scott, the CIO at Microsoft, for his opinion on the qualities required for leading innovation at a company that is globally respected for developing and marketing innovative products and services.
We had a wide-ranging conversation, but one of his answers really stuck with me. He said that if you want to be an effective senior-level executive at a global enterprise, you need to be “brutally honest.” He didn’t mean that you have to be rude or bully people. He meant that you have to speak the truth, even when it’s difficult.
“It’s easy to hide behind IT-speak,” says Tony. “But it’s a temptation you must avoid. You cannot build your own credibility unless you are brutally honest, even when being honest means acknowledging your own faults or shortcomings.”
Tony recalled a project in which all of the reporting indicated that work related to the project was moving ahead satisfactorily. When another senior executive warned that some users were dissatisfied with aspects of the project, it would have been easy for Tony to have referred to the positive reports and overridden the executive’s warning. Instead, the project was reviewed more carefully and the problems that had been identified by the users were addressed before they became major issues.
The ability and the willingness to acknowledge and fix problems quickly is a hallmark of innovative companies. Great executives like Tony know that it’s better to fail early and fail fast. That’s where “brutal honesty” becomes a competitive advantage.
Companies that identify and fix problems quickly will get high-quality products to market faster than companies that get slowed down by internal squabbles over who dropped the ball or who’s to blame. Winning in today’s markets requires genuine speed – being third or fourth makes you irrelevant.
I really like how Tony relates honesty to speed. It’s almost as if honesty serves as a lubricant or an accelerator. Honesty gets you to the right solution faster – it enables victory.
Dishonesty, especially the kind that is bred by fear of failure, acts like friction. Even when it’s unintentional, dishonesty weighs you down and makes it harder to cross the finish line ahead of the competition.
I’m delighted that Tony took the time to share his wisdom with us. Microsoft is a company that lives and breathes innovation. The IT team plays a vital role in supporting the culture of innovation that enables the company to remain a world leader in today’s ultra-competitive global economy.