S3E2: Bob Russo's Guide To Managing IT People and Living Life Easier

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This is a podcast episode titled, S3E2: Bob Russo's Guide To Managing IT People and Living Life Easier. The summary for this episode is: <p>Bob Russo joins us to share some of the knowledge he picked up in the years he's spent as an executive coach and a life coach. His mission is to help everyone live life easier and we are ready to learn!</p>

Speaker 1: Go.

Angel Leon: Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of ASCII Anything, presented by Moser Consulting. I'm your host Angel Leon, Moser's director of personnel. We're on to episode two of season three, and this one is another special one. With us today is Bob Russo, who's an executive coach with Executive Game Changers. Bob is here today to talk to us about how managing IT professionals is different than any other type of people. I'm pretty sure Bob's mantra is all about living life easier. And to better introduce us to that topic, I'll let Bob do the honors. Bob, it's a pleasure to have you with us on ASCII Anything. Please tell us about yourself and about how we can all live life a little bit easier.

Bob Russo: Wow, that's a great introduction. And yes, I'm very pleased to be here. So, I'm glad that you combined both my executive experience as well as my coaching experience. And I now am a life and spiritual coach, and my executive experience led me to executive coaching. The elite years of experience that I've had led me to come up with Executive Game Changers, because I love to change the game for executives. But also I got an inspiration this year to do something called Practical Coaching Tips For Everyday People To Live Life A Little Easier. Because my mission now is to make this planet a little easier to live in, one person at a time, just a little bit at a time. And I've learned so many practical coaching tips over the past four years as an executive coach, I just wanted to share it with as many people as possible. That's turning into me developing a lifestyle brand, which is called Live Life Easier. Because if one thing I've learned over 68 years is how to live life easier, I want to share that with as many people as possible. And we all want to and can live our life just a little bit easier every single day. My job is to make this planet a little bit easier to live in once I leave and that's one person at a time, making their life easier.

Angel Leon: I'm sure we can all relate. Before this, I... For those of you who listen know that I just had a baby, and so my wife is here with me and so I was taking care of the baby prior to our call, so I had to hand them off and of course she looked at me like," Ahh," and I said," I'm sorry, I got to go record something real quick." But I mean a lot of ways, right, that we could all look at ways into living life easier. That, I think that interests all of us.

Bob Russo: First of all, congratulations on having a baby. I think that's wonderful, I think that's fantastic. I mean, thank you for bringing that in because one of the things that people do to live their life easier is just what you did. Integrate their life. Everyone talks about work- life balance, I talk about work- life integration. So you just had the baby just before we got on here talking about this podcast, but the baby is still part of you and you bring it into the podcast. It's an integration of your life as opposed to separating and balancing your life and I love that. It helps you live your life just a little bit easier because now we know a lot more about you. You share a lot more about you. You're feeling more authentic.

Angel Leon: Yes. I think the listeners have heard a lot about the baby over the last few episodes from this season and the season prior to this one. So they all know about-

Bob Russo: Listen, my baby just turned 36 and he's graduating from graduate school and we're all going to be celebrating over the weekend. So it is wonderful to be celebrating your babies anytime and integrating that into your life.

Angel Leon: Absolutely.

Bob Russo: Thank you for sharing that.

Angel Leon: Congratulations to him on that great achievement.

Bob Russo: It's a big one.

Angel Leon: Yeah, it is a big one. So, let's quickly move on to IT people because I want to know what type of people go into IT and you had basically very long careers, you mentioned earlier-

Bob Russo: I did.

Angel Leon: If you want to share a little bit about that. But let me finish the thought here because IT people, they seem to have different personalities. Of course I live in it, I work here at Moser and so I see them all the time, how they can be all different. Or different than say somebody in HR, in finance, accounting, any other type of role within an organization. So can you tell us a little bit about your history with managing IT people and then what makes that personality so special?

Bob Russo: Yeah, I'll answer both those questions. So my history, I was very fortunate to join IBM way back 1981. And I had a great career, 33 years there and I left there as an executive. So I got tremendous training, tremendous opportunity to put all those skills to work. One of the things that they did was they sent me to an MIT course up in Massachusetts managing the technical professional. And I also have a half a master's degree myself in managing technical professionals. And so why I tell you is what I've learned and is what I've applied. And so really, what makes managing technical professionals? I like to say technical professionals, because all of the people you just... Are technical people and technical professionals are different than almost anybody else, and we manage them differently. The first thing that I remember about them is they are professionals. They spent a lot of time, and they're very serious about their work. They spent a lot of time to train themselves, to gain the skills and to learn and to become the best that they are in whatever technical field that they're in. So to respect that professionalism is very, very important because it helps them be seen. They're not just a staff member or somebody to do a job. You actually treat them as a professional. The second thing that I learned very early on, when... At IBM, like 20 of us were in the beginning class and we all looked at each other and I was a psychologist, somebody else was a musician, somebody else was a mathematician, somebody else was something else. Somebody eventually came in through administrative work. And we all said, what do we have in common? We are having lunch and we could not figure out what is it that IBM saw in us. And then after lunch, they invited one of the executives to come in and welcome us. And one of the first things he said to us was," I bet you're all wondering why we hired you all. One reason. You're problems solvers." And I'll never forget that. They saw us as problem solvers. Not only were we professionals in every one of the professions that we were, but they saw something in us that we're able to solve problems. And I'll never forget that, because I felt like, wow. And not only I felt like wow, I'm really feeling seen. I'm not just a psychologist with an MA degree, but I really solve problems and I can solve IBM's problems. And they said business problems, but then when as I started to manage technical professionals, the thing that I found out about them is they are the most dedicated to solving problems. They are the ones, especially technical professionals, they love to solve problems. It's why they get up in the morning. Give them a challenge and they will not let go of it. So the second thing that's different about them is that they are problem solvers. And I want you to remember, everybody's a problem solver and they really come into work. But the thing about a technical professional is, they never give up on the problem if you give them a problem to solve. So, they love it. When the manager comes in and says," I've got a problem, I really don't know how to solve it myself. I need your help." Man, that gets them buy- in and that gets them to be motivated. Once you have their buy- in, you can't take that problem away from them. They will solve that problem, and they will work day and night until that problem is solved. The thing you can't do though, what you must do as a manager or as executive, is get status from them. Right? The first thing I did was," Here's the problem. Oh great, you're going to be fixing it." And then an hour later I go back," Is it done yet? Are you finished?"

Angel Leon: Oh, boy.

Bob Russo: Right? I mean, nobody likes that.

Angel Leon: No.

Bob Russo: Technical professionals for sure don't. Because again, they're the ones who uniquely are skilled to manage this problem, and technical professionals do not like to be managed. Many other people like to have accountability and have somebody over their shoulders, but what I've learned is technical professionals, and most professionals, just need the time and space once they hang onto it. But we know we need, as executives and as people who are running the business, we need status. So once you know that they've had buy- in and they're going to solve the problem and they're going to solve the problem for you, you have that trust. You know they're going to do it, you just don't know when and how long. I always had to have some negotiation at the very beginning, okay? I know you're going to take care of it and I'm going to leave you to do it. And as a matter of fact, my job is to make sure you have all the resources you need to solve that problem. So don't forget to come in here and ask me for more time, more money, more resources. I'm not going to give it to you perhaps, but I need to know, because that's my job. But I also need status, and the reason why is because I'm running a business. And you know how you run a business? You have to know where you're going. Just like you're in a car, you need to look at the dashboard every once in a while. And that dashboard indicator comes from you, not from me. I have no idea what you're doing. So, help me figure out how we can come up with a status that I can use to present to my bosses and let them know that we're on target. Getting their buy- in to the reason why you are asking for status, they love that. The one thing I've learned about technical professionals besides being seen... When they can help you do your job by solving the problem and then telling them that my job is to report back to my management, and what you are giving me goes directly to them, to the management team... They're in. So it's a little bit of negotiation. Now I know they hate when I come in there and ask them for status. But when I ask," Here's the reason why we need the status and when can you come up with the status?" It's almost like another problem they need to solve. I'm not telling them when they have to do it.

Angel Leon: That's an interesting take. I want to go back to something you mentioned that I think it's actually part of my next question, because I'm interested in getting to know... You mentioned motivation. I can tell you, prior to joining Moser a couple years ago, I used to work for a federal law enforcement organization. And we had a motivator, right? Which was to protect the people of the United States, uphold The Constitution, et cetera. But what motivates somebody in an IT professional role? What drives them to do what they're supposed to do? Because I think you mentioned status and giving them those tasks and how they become problem solvers, and they want to make sure that they get that done right away. I think that motivates them, but there's got to be something behind it all. What drives them?

Bob Russo: Yeah, you're really getting deep. And I love that, because again, as a coach, I'm going to give you some of the answers that I got from coaching people too. First thing, people of course they need the money, but money is not the biggest motivator. Title, status second, not the biggest. Time off, not the biggest. Benefits, not the... You know, we're going a little bit deeper. What really gets them is to have buy- in, right? To know that this is a win- win. I'm looking for them to win just as much as I'm looking to win myself, and that it's a buy- in. How do I get that buy- in? The first thing I said, I said it before, make sure... And this goes with anybody, but for sure technical professionals because technical professionals are known for solving the problem by themselves, in the room, by themselves. They don't connect with people. You can tell I connect very well with people because I really want to get to know who they are. It's being seen. It's being heard. Remembering the little things about them. Coming back and remembering that they are a person as well as a person who can solve my problems, if you will. Getting them to be seen. They are not just a programmer, a coder, a tester, a technical professor. They're a person, also. That really helps to be seen. What that does for people is builds trust. Immediately, when I go a little bit further and I see who they are as a person, that's when they start to trust me. And when they trust me, that's when we can start to have collaboration. I have a job that needs to get done, you can get the job done. We're going to work together to get this done. At the end it's teamwork, it's collaboration, but it's a win- win. I'm not going to be the only one who's going to win here. You are. When I go to present to my bosses, I'm going to tell them I got all this information from you and you are the best people in the world. As a leader, I don't lead people. I create other leaders and you are going to be another leader that I create, even though you're,"I'm a technical professional. I'm not interested in leadership." But not in the traditional sense, in that you lead yourself and you're leading this business to profit. You are part of leading this business to success. I think all of that motivates them. The money does, the benefits does, the title does, the vacation does. But being seen, being recognized, and being part of a collaborative team where we all are going to reap from the rewards, right? It's a win- win. I think that's where we really get into deep motivation.

Angel Leon: Yeah, I think it's sort of like a silent recognition.

Bob Russo: Yes.

Angel Leon: Because I think... I mean, in general I think everybody likes to be recognized. IT professionals in general, I've seen are, as you mentioned, they like to do their work alone. They like to go somewhere where they can think, where they can problem solve. But then a lot of them I've seen, do not necessarily... Are looking for that limelight. That attention that, you know... They're looking for that silent recognition where, as you were mentioning, you are their manager and you go to them and you congratulate them on a job well done. You tell them that the leadership team received that work and they were very happy about it. And that makes their day, their project worth it.

Bob Russo: That's right. I love that, the silent recognition. And recognizing that they are people, people who need silent recognition and to give that to them and it comes from that. And they don't need, you're absolutely right, they don't need me to be the person in front. Everybody knows who's everybody throwing bricks at and saying," You're doing a terrible job." I'm there to protect you from all that. But I could not do my job without you, and they know that. And they know that I know, and that's all they need. You're absolutely right, they don't come in for the same things that motivate me, right?

Angel Leon: Yeah. They don't come in for the certificate, they don't come in for the employee of the month award. They don't come in for that big certificate at the end of the month with a check attached to it. They might like the check, but they don't necessarily want to stand in front of everybody and just take that.

Bob Russo: And you just reminded me of something else, too. Not only do they not do... But it's okay that we both have these differences. I don't see that recognition or their lack of recognition as anything less than me."Oh, I'm better than you because I do..." No. No, it's just a different motivator and I know your motivator. There's no one is better than the other. Let's know what it is that motivates each one of us. And your recognition is perfect. I mean, and the fact that I know what it is and so many times I can see technical professionals feeling inadequate because their management team wants to make them leaders, right? Wants to take them out of this technical role and put them into management. And they can't, they don't like it. And you want to do that because they're the ones who solve the problems, they're the ones who know how to do it. So you want to replicate it, but not in a management or executive role because it's a different motivator.

Angel Leon: Yeah, I think that's a very peculiar instant because when we have IT professionals, I think we want to make sure that they feel safe and secure in their role. That they are actually enjoying what they're doing, and when we push them towards something that might not necessarily be their cup of tea, that could derail that safety net, that secureness that they feel in their role. Whether that's a coder, a tester, you name it. That takes them away.

Bob Russo: Yeah. And that safety is what I talked about before. I know that they like to be in the room by themselves doing what they need to do. And I'm the one there to provide them the space, the education, the resources, the time to do that and I respect that. That's why I don't go in there every five minutes, even though I want to, and ask" What's happening?" I trust that it's getting done, and they know that, and they know that I come in every day and that office is going to be there for them to go into and I respect that. I give them their space to do their job. Very, very important.

Angel Leon: Absolutely. So, I want to ask you about any stories that you might have from managing IT professionals. I know you have a very stoic career, but is there anything that comes to mind, any... It doesn't have to be funny or bad, but maybe something, a good achievement, something that you are very proud of in a situation where you helped lead somebody and take that leap of faith, maybe? As we were talking about on a leadership standpoint or maybe just a change of pace in something different.

Bob Russo: I kind of would... Now you're narrowing it down, there's two things I really would like to share. Because it's the one that I always like to share, it's what changed me as a manager and made me go from manager to executive... Was the day, and I think I talked about a little bit before, but it's this concept of I turn the org chart upside down. You know, the org chart always had me on top and everybody else underneath it. I turned it upside down. And I literally created the PowerPoint with it upside down and me at the bottom because I'm here to work for every one of you. You do not work for me. The concept is, I work for you. My job is to provide you with all of the resources that's necessary for get... I need to know what the job is that needs to get done. I need to know who can get it done and create that team and create all the resources for you to do it. So I come to work every day to give you all the resources to do your job. So one of the things in terms of leadership is turning the org chart upside down. I became the servant leader. Connected with that is developing other leaders. Good leaders lead people, great leaders create other leaders. And so that was probably one of the best things out of my entire career, was when I was able to promote somebody.

Angel Leon: Great feeling.

Bob Russo: When that becomes like your gold standard, like that's why I go to work, is to promote somebody. And when I promote somebody and then they get promoted above me, and they come back and thank me because I saw something in them that nobody else saw and I was able to propel them, that's fantastic. That's fantastic. I can't think of one thing specific, but those are the things that really made me different from most other managers. One is I turned the org chart upside down, or executives different from others, and I always saw myself as serving everybody. And the other one was creating leaders. So people who worked with me... Number one, my reputation was, I get things done. If you give a job to Bob Russo, it's going to get done. So everybody wants to be on my team because they always like to be on a winning team of getting things done. But they also knew that they were going to be recognized, and that I created leaders. That I was going to take each one of them and recognize their talent and amplify it. And they loved that.

Angel Leon: And that's a great characteristic to have as a leader. You mentioned the servant leader. Basically you put yourself at the feet, at the mercy of the employees that you're supposed to be leading, and I hate the term supervising, but basically managing. That's a great way to do that.

Bob Russo: The other distinction is, for anybody out there listening is, servant does not mean less than. Servant does not mean without power. Servant does not mean I give it over to you. Oh no, I retain all the power. If anybody knows about Bob Russo, he retains all the power, all the responsibility. There's no problem with that at all. But I also know I can't do it without you. Right? And you don't want that power, believe me. And if you do, then come and take it, and I want to work for you one day. But if you don't, that's okay. But because even though I'm a servant doesn't mean I give up power or control or, yeah. Power or control. What's the other word I'm thinking of? I don't know. But you know, it doesn't mean less than. And being able to say" I don't know." Oh my gosh, that was the toughest thing I ever had to learn. I think I learned it when I was in my thirties." I don't know." I could say that? I'm supposed to be in charge here. Oh, wait a second. Being in charge is different than knowing everything. I can still be in charge and not know everything. That was a revelation to me. And as a matter of fact, I mean again it goes back to, I never gave up my authority. But I gave up that," Hey, I'm human. I don't know everything. Help me." And they love to do that. And they love to know that I still retain the authority, right? And also the risk, right? So I don't know this, and I know that if it goes wrong, I'll be the one that's going to get in trouble. Don't worry inaudible the person. I can do it. But I need your help. So I don't give up the authority, I don't give up the responsibility, I don't give up the risk. All of those things that I own, but I can't do it alone. I need help.

Angel Leon: Yeah. When it comes to leadership, teamwork is key. I mean, you have to put the team first rather than sometimes even your own ambitions, because as you mentioned, servant doesn't mean that you're giving anything up. It just means that you're willing to work with the team. Share, be open with everybody, be transparent. And as you were mentioning, saying" I don't know." I'm fortunate enough that I had a very good leader early in my career in my late twenties and that leader actually showed me what it was to be able to say," I don't know. And I have no problem learning what I don't know from you." And that just made me view leadership from such a different perspective because it was okay for me to think that my manager at the time, my leader, did not know everything that I was doing or did not know every process that I was working on. But the fact that he actually wanted to learn from me, what I was doing, just gave me goosebumps. Because I've never had a leader do that and that to me, I mean and I'm sure to him too, but that was sort of like a... It gave me just a different feeling about managing and leading people and that just kind of opened my eyes.

Bob Russo: That's a beautiful story. I love the... And the way that it's accented with the goosebumps, as in that's what gave you goosebumps. I mean, that is wonderful. And for your leader to be that vulnerable, to be able to say," I don't know." But then also as the leader, because you don't know... When you're finding out and you are learning and you're growing, right? I'm still at" Whatever I don't know, but you're going to teach me." And having people who are on your team teach you, and it gives them goosebumps, builds that trust, builds that connective, that ability to connect. But this also reminds me of... You know, vulnerability is the thing that connects us the most as human beings. When you show vulnerability, it's you connecting the most. And I think when a leader says," I don't know, but I want to learn. I'm not giving it up, I want to learn. I don't know, teach me, help me." You're being very vulnerable, and that other person is connecting with you and gets goosebumps. I love that.

Angel Leon: Yeah. I'll never forget that. That's actually what brought me into leadership and led me to be a leader myself eventually within that organization. And now at Moser, as the director of personnel, that's the way I see things. I've had great experiences in the past connecting with employees, just because... Well, first of all, I did a lot of the positions that I was managing and so I could connect with their role and what they were doing, so I understood exactly where they were. And when things evolved that I had left behind, processes that were now different, then I would go to them and say," Okay, teach me. What's this new step that we have to do? Because one day, if you're not here, somebody needs to take over." And if that somebody's me, I'm fine. I can roll my sleeves and let's go.

Bob Russo: Yeah. I heard a couple of good things there too. When you had a great role model as a manager or as a leader, and that's what you wanted to become, that person to give other people goosebumps.

Angel Leon: Yeah. So, I want to end this asking you three questions that we usually ask our special guests. And so you can answer these from either a career front from your days at IBM or from your days as a career coach now. So, first question is going to be, what's a commonly held belief about your expertise that you passionately disagree with?

Bob Russo: That coaches... Because now I'm going to answer it as a coach. Coaches are there to tell you what to do.

Angel Leon: Oh.

Bob Russo: People will come into coaching and say," Okay, well tell me what to do." No, that's a consultant. That's an advisor.

Angel Leon: We have those.

Bob Russo: I am a consultant and advisor and I am a good consultant and advisor. And I got paid a lot of money to be a consultant, but I'm not going to tell you what to do. I'm going to coach you. I am the person who can watch you on the sidelines, see how you're performing, know what your strengths are and know how to capitalize on them. I know how to let you do what you do best and energize you. I don't know the answers, and I have a deep seated belief you know the answers. All I have to do is create the environment for you to realize those answers. So I really am vehemently against" Coaches tell me what to do." No. I will help you discover how you're going to do it yourself. Because again, as a coach, my job is to put myself out of business.

Angel Leon: Oh.

Bob Russo: You learn-

Angel Leon: That's an interesting take.

Bob Russo: Well, of course, but then you learn you can never live without Bob Russo.

Angel Leon: That's a great, that's a good one.

Bob Russo: But you get what I mean, I want you to be independent. It's like being a parent. I want you to learn how to do things on your own, and I can do that by helping you discover how. Not by telling you how.

Angel Leon: I like that, I like that. So next question. What's something that everyone in your industry space should start or stop doing?

Bob Russo: Comparing yourself to other people. Coaches do it all the time, because really the only way we can get out there is through social media and what we're doing and everybody's looking at everybody else. I've got my latest book, I was on this podcast, I was doing this." I'm not doing that." Stop comparing yourself. When you're a coach, you know you're a coach and you know you're good when you're one one- on- one. And as long as you are serving your clients as powerfully as possible in the 45 minutes or an hour that you're together, that's all you should be comparing yourself to. And so coaches, it's a tough profession to be in. We have to promote ourselves, and so everybody's promoting themself, and stop comparing yourself to other people. I mean, that's true of anybody. But especially of coaches, is the first thing I think of.

Angel Leon: Hmm. Interesting. But last one, when you first started and were going to be in the coaching team... When you first started in coaching, what was harder than you expected?

Bob Russo: Won't be a surprise. To be quiet. To not say anything, right? I mean, I knew that that was the key to being a great coach, was to be able to listen and listen in the three levels of understanding and then even observing things that are not there. But for 33 years, I was paid to give opinions. I was paid to give advice. I was paid to consult and now I'm not as a coach. And the hardest thing was to listen and be comfortable with silence. And crosstalk I conquered both of those things and you not conquer listening without conquering silence, because you have to be silent. Once I did, it transformed my coaching and now my coaching is more powerful. I'm also... It's hard for me to say that, but it is. I've learned it and you can even ask my clients, the ones who dealt with me the first year, the ones who are dealing with me now. Some people have stayed with me that long and they know that there's this difference. I listen now, deeply listen, and I'm quiet.

Angel Leon: And on that note, Bob, it's been a pleasure having you here on ASCII Anything today. Thank you very much for your time.

Bob Russo: Thank you, my pleasure. It's been all my pleasure and congratulations again on the baby. inaudible.

Angel Leon: Thank you.

Bob Russo: Many blessings.

Angel Leon: Thank you. Take care.

Bob Russo: Welcome, you too.

Angel Leon: Thank you for listening in to this week's edition of ASCII Anything presented by Moser Consulting. We hope you enjoyed listening to our guest Bob Russo speak about managing IT professionals. Join us next week when we continue to dive deeper with our resident experts and what they're currently working on. And remember, if you have an idea or a topic you'd like us to explore, please reach out to us through our social media channels. In the meantime, please remember to give us a rating and subscribe to our feed wherever you get your podcasts. Until then, find a way to live life a little bit easier. So long, everybody.

Speaker 1: Go.


Bob Russo joins us to share some of the knowledge he picked up in the years he's spent as an executive coach and a life coach. His mission is to help everyone live life easier and we are ready to learn!