The Leadership Lattice: Rob Meilen
The Leadership Lattice, an interview series designed to cultivate conversation on building strong leadership in the public and private sector, presents: Rob Meilen, Chief Information Officer, Hunter Douglas. You can view the video of this interview by going to YouTube and searching “Leadership Lattice.”
What’s your approach to leadership?
The role of a leader is about setting vision and communicating that vision relentlessly. Communicating not only what the vision is but also why it is important to the organization and the individual. People come to work for many reasons. Often they want to be part of something larger than themselves and the leader has to make that tangible for the individual.
What were some important leadership lessons for you early in your career?
Early in my career, I was working in consulting and got a lesson around dealing with ambiguity. I had a great boss who at the right time took the time to plan and at other times just rolled up his sleeves, sat down and got working – sometimes you can plan and be thoughtful but at other times we need to sit down and get rolling. He could generate momentum and creativity even when there were unknowns. As leaders, we need to create an atmosphere of momentum
What have you been doing differently in this economy as a leader?
In the past, when the economy was strong, we could look at projects that had a single driver (cost saving for example). In this economy, where capital is more constrained and we are operating with fewer resources, we have to look for opportunities that hit on several drivers: cost saving and revenue, process efficient and driving strategic growth initiatives. These are harder to find but they do exist.
How do you hire?
A key part of the hiring process is that I personally interview every finalist who will have supervisory responsibilities. I look not only for people who can win today but, can also consistently win in the future. I look for people who can collaborate and help to grow their own teams. Candidates have to be strong technically, functionally, interpersonally and managerially. I look for the complete package.
What other qualities are you trying to get at in the interview?
The two other qualities I look for are people who can deliver superior customer service and thought leadership. IT is a service to the business; it’s not the primary business. We need to bring solutions, ways to use IT that can advance the business. Technology skills are easy to train but thought leadership and the attention to the customer is not.
What was your first job and how old were you?
My first job was a paper route – at about age 11. What I learned was about customer service and building relationships although, I didn’t necessary know it at the time. My tips depended on it. You have to get up early on Sunday morning regardless of the weather or how tired you are.
What book are you reading right now?
I’m reading Cyber War by Richard A. Clarke. Clarke is a national security and counter-terrorism expert who worked in White House under Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Sadly, the threat to information in private and public sector is growing. As IT leaders, we own the responsibility to capitalize and to safeguard that information. I picked up the book because I was interested but it’s directly connected to what we do as IT leaders.