Melvin Greer

Become a 21st century leader: A live Q&A with top leadership expert Melvin Greer on how to be an effective leader focused on innovation

Published September 29, 2014


What are the catalysts for great IT leadership in 2015, and how can this leadership result in a more innovative, agile IT team and overall organization? The modern leader needs to know how technology trends–cloud, mobile, social, and analytics—demand a reexamination of leadership and what it means in a commerce scenario. It’s critical to optimize the fundamental shifts in talent, operations, and workforce management spurred by these ascendant technologies to create a culture of innovation throughout your company.

On Oct. 22, Melvin Greer, Founder and Managing Director of the Greer Institute for Leadership and Innovation, took your questions on how to foster an environment where experimentation is the norm, and where learning is captured and spread across the organization. If you missed the conversation on Oct. 22 or just want to refresh your memory about what was asked and discussed, see below to read the full transcript.

Live Q&A with Melvin Greer transcript

Raman: What are the resources that you use to keep up with being on the cutting edge? Technology, especially, is moving so fast, so to be an innovator, I first need to keep up with the industry. What tools and resources are you using to aid you?

Melvin Greer: I read a lot of news; I talk with senior leadership and collaborate with customers daily.

Raman: When you say you read a lot of news, what sources do you use for the news? Magazines?

Melvin Greer: I start with local, and for me that’s Washington, D.C. I also read global news (BBC, TV5, etc.). I have agents that search the entire web and bring back the items I’m looking for. And I work with universities and industry consortiums to get the research and ‘what’s news’ information.

I participate in technical conferences (IEEE, OASIS, CIO, Executive Forum, etc.) where senior leaders, researchers, and technologists share ideas and keep current.

Ana Parra: Is there a specific process that you recommend to leverage innovation on a particular new technology at companies in the automotive industry?

Melvin Greer: Anna, we are seeing a convergence of technologies in automotive. They include cloud, mobile, social, and big data. Being able to develop a converged strategy will help accelerate innovation.

I’m from Detroit so I also track social media sites from automakers, and I’m of course following Tesla innovations in IT and high tech manufacturing.

Scott: Can you describe what is meant by the ‘development of an innovation engine’?

Melvin Greer: Today’s leaders create an innovation by serving as role models to encourage school students to develop the critical skills needed for the competitive workforce of tomorrow. There is the need to be more aggressive in highlighting stories of successful leaders in STEM professions. Leaders need to develop a strategy for building a flexible workforce that is based upon the deep technical skills that are rooted in STEM disciplines.

Development of an innovation engine requires leaders to prime the pump with STE(A)M investment and then develop an innovation pipeline by recruiting and hiring solid employees with the right technical and business skills.

Niles: How do technologies like cloud, mobile, social, and analytics change the skillset and focus to look for in an IT leader?

Melvin Greer: Yes, often we look for high-skilled folks in specific swim lanes. These new technologies require a cross-it capability. Additionally, we are putting a premium on leaders’ ability to develop business models that drive adoption. 21st Century leaders need both technical skills like a CIO and business skills like a CMO / CFO.

Traditionally IT knowledge has been confined to the IT department, but not anymore. In the same way any leader should be able to read a P&L or interpret and operate a balance sheet, they should be able to understand how technology will impact business strategy of the organization. Technology today is both affordable and available. This creates a new leadership and innovation model where leaders can incorporate cutting edge innovative technologies in their personal lives before businesses get a chance to adopt and implement those technologies.

Guest: Do you have any recommendation for reading on technology innovation topics?

Melvin Greer: You can start with my book (Ha Ha) ‘21st Century Leadership.’ I’m reading some great books /blogs from Marc Andressen, Elon Musk, and others focused on development of early stage companies that are moving the needle of innovative approaches.

I’d also suggest Megan McArdle’s book, ‘The Up Side of Down.’ It speaks to the failure fast model you may have heard about.

There is no substitute for direct conversations with senior technical leaders. Creating / attending forums where you can have an interchange of ideas will help you stay ahead of the innovation adoption curve.

Linda: Why is the technology-driven reexamination of leadership important right now?

Melvin Greer: Uncertainty is now the new normal, and leaders of all kinds are under intense, unbroken scrutiny, so we are at a critical time in the examination of modern today’s leaders and leadership. It is more important than ever for leaders to take a fresh look at their contribution to innovation.

Also there is a global leadership gap. Only 24 percent believe leaders overall are providing effective leadership, and that’s in great companies, governments, and organizations. So a new leadership model, a 21st Century model is required is close this gap.

Early in my career I focused on international expatriate assignments, with the goal of learning and developing multiple engineering, system development, and problem solving techniques. I spent four years as an executive in Europe, two years in Germany, and a year in Paris and London each. I was also CIO of Latin America for four years in Sao Paulo, Brazil. These global assignments helped me value and develop a new leadership style, which encourages diversity in all its forms, a rigor and discipline focused on results, and a stomach for risk taking and rapid failure.

Rajesh: How do leaders use technology to position workforce and talent management as a key strategic advantage?

Melvin Greer: Workforce and talent are critical issues—some say we are in a talent war. To prepare for the globally distributed, highly collaborative, always on-the-go 2020 workforce, you need to start building the kind of workplace that can harness all this new technology. It’s also important to influence the way your company plans for, hires, and engages its talent by understanding what is already possible with today’s cloud, mobile, and social technologies.

The new workforce will judge your organization by how you harness these new technologies (creation of telework options, collaboration tools, mobility in all its forms, customer experience / omni channel analytics, etc.).

I’d also include development of applied research projects at the high school, secondary, and post-secondary level. They develop new ideas for you and create an innovation talent pipeline.

Right now I’m focusing on projects in nanotechnology, SynBio, additive manufacturing, and cognitive and quantum computing. The ability to attract talent in these areas must start early

Leonard: How can leaders keep technical staff happy and motivated?

Melvin Greer: Technical staff, like most staff, needs to understand the business impact of their work. Great leaders provide coaching and mentoring that encourage technical staff to become more collaborative and create measures that relate to the business. Providing stretch goals that when achieved can be rewarded as a percentage of business contribution is a good starting point.

Betty: When interviewing potential new hires, are there specific questions we could ask to better identify IT employees that are innovative by nature? It seems like a really hard thing to identify in an interview.

Melvin Greer: It is hard in an interview, and the standard questions don't work. I look for key elements:

1) Systematic and intelligent curiosity

2) Ability to do a solid self-assessment

3) Ability to develop an entrepreneurial attitude

I also provide a set of scenarios and ask the candidate to evaluate the scenario and develop an action plan (i.e. How do you handle a difficult customer? A project is behind because of a partner...we need to innovate without additional budget, etc.

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About the speaker
Melvin Greer
is Founder and Managing Director of the Greer Institute for Leadership and Innovation, focused on research and deployment of a 21st Century Leadership Model™. With over 27 years of global leadership experience, he is a recognized expert in creating innovation culture, organizational change, and leading highly motivated teams. Greer has been awarded the BEYA 2012 Technologist of the Year Award and has been recognized for his outstanding leadership and technical contributions to cloud computing and service-oriented architecture. Greer also serves as Senior Fellow and Chief Strategist Lockheed Martin and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, College of Engineering. He is also a member of the International Monetary Fund / World Bank, Bretton Woods Committee. Greer is a frequent speaker at conferences and universities and is an accomplished author.