A Kodak Alaris CIO's perspective on why leadership matters

Leadership is an important topic for every CIO. John Milazzo, CIO at Kodak Alaris, shares his insights on the important behaviors that helped him lead his IT team to success.

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I’m sure that every one of you who are CIOs recognizes that your role is more strategic than ever before. The digital revolution is driving every company to rethink how to leverage information and technology in new and innovative ways to create unique customer value. This places you in a unique leadership position to enable digital transformation. John Milazzo, CIO at Kodak-Alaris, is well aware of this challenge. Kodak-Alaris, a 2013 spinoff of the Eastman Kodak Company, is a global company that provides a host of products and services that unlock the power of images and information for businesses and consumers. John and his IT team had an enormous challenge. Tethered to Kodak for infrastructure and support services, John and his team had to develop a completely independent IT ecosystem within a three-year period.

Milazzo shared the good news that his IT team successfully achieved “Independence Day” on January 9 of this year and is now positioned to drive technology innovation for Kodak-Alaris that will enable the company to rapidly grow and succeed in the global marketplace. Milazzo shared how proud he is of his IT team and the success they had. He couldn’t have accomplished this without an IT leadership team that initially didn’t understand the complexity and challenges they would face to become untethered. Milazzo’s leadership style helped his IT team grow, stay focused, and accomplish tasks they never thought they could accomplish.

I recently caught up with Milazzo and asked him to share his view of leadership. Following are excerpts from our conversation.

john milazzo Kodak Alaris

John Milazzo, CIO at Kodak Alaris

Phil Weinzimer: John, tomorrows leaders are today’s millennials. How would you go about helping them understand how to learn from leaders?

John Milazzo: Recently, I spent time watching my grandchildren, in particular, the newest one. She’s learning to walk. She sees other people walking and she wants to do it. She’s taken quite a few tumbles, but I see this look of determination on her face; she keeps trying.  What is the best thing we can do for her, encourage her then get out of her way.

As we’ve gone through our careers, we’ve all seen someone doing something we want to do. I’m no different, particularly when it comes to leadership. Throughout my career, I’ve blended my personal style with attributes of leaders I’ve admired to create a toolkit comprising leadership practices that ultimately bring the most out of my teams.

John has a very strong commitment to both delegation and staff development. He helps us to stay focused and empowers us to make the necessary decisions, even when he isn’t at the meetings. This has helped each of us on the leadership team learn, grow, and recognize, that as a team, we can accomplish anything….Bob Steron – CISO

[Related Article: Kodak Alaris CIO’s IT strategy pays off big time]

PW: You talk a lot about “pretend to be me” as part of your mentoring and coaching style. What do you mean by this?

JM:  “Do you want to be me in four years?” I ask my team members this question on a regular basis.   Maybe it’s with our company. Maybe it’s at another company.   My goal: Show people I believe in their abilities and help get them on the career path that leads to that goal.

This also allows me to challenge my team in an extremely productive way (and I challenge my team all the time). When I say to them, “pretend you’re me. What would you do if you were me?” they know I truly want their input and ideas about what they would do.

Creating this atmosphere of openness plays a critical role in reaching the best possible results. In his book, Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration, Dr. R. Keith Sawyer (University of North Carolina) says that successful collaboration comes from, “improvisations that are guided and planned, but in a way that doesn’t kill the power of improvisation to generate unexpected insights.”

I don’t just want the team to bring new ideas and thinking; I need them to do so. Therefore, by providing this double vote of confidence, we boost the collective thinking and power of our team. 

John’s best leadership trait is the ability to maintain and communicate the need for an eye towards the future while being under constant pressure to deliver more for (a lot) less… Steve Braunschweiger- Chief Enterprise Architect

Kodak Alaris team picture Kodak Alaris

Kodak-Alaris IT Leadership Team
Front Row (L-R): Steve Braunschweiger, Gloria Trott, Dan Hurst
Back Row (L-R): Bob Steron, Darlene Ernstberger, John Milazzo, Brandy Waring
Missing from photo: Steve Juengst, Paul Irvine

PW: Leadership is more than just giving orders to the organization. It’s more about providing them the opportunity to learn about leadership in real time. How do you go about doing this?

JM: I’m fascinated by this story of David Marquet, a newly appointed captain of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine. He gave orders. People followed them. Yet, low morale, poor performance, and an abysmal retention rate dogged the boat. Marquet turned things on its ear and asked his team to assume leadership at every level, rather than look for leadership only at the top. The results were astounding.

As a leader, you need to create an environment of awareness, ownership and empowerment built on trust. Make sure people understand the goals of the project, make sure they have clarity on their responsibilities and deliverables, and then make sure to get out of the way. When they encounter a challenge, empower them to come to you with ideas. The difference between “I have a problem, what should I do,” and “Here’s the problem. This is what I plan to do,” is huge. It’s OK if the plan doesn’t completely work. If it doesn’t work, I’ll work with them to create something better.

Bottom line…John encourages a win-win environment where the individual feels valued with continued growth and the company realized the benefits of successful work execution…Darlene Enrstberger-IT Director, Enterprise & Supply Chain Applications

 PW; We hear a lot about using Agile methodology in developing IT solutions and failing is a key component to learning. Why do you say, “it’s OK to Fail…but We Better Mean It”?

JM: I think we’ve all heard variations of the power of failure.

  • “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” (Robert F. Kennedy);
  • “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” (Winston Churchill
  • “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” (Eloise Ristad)

Before we ask someone to take a risk, we need to create an environment that both fosters and supports failure.  Let’s go back to my granddaughter. If we had her try to walk in an environment full of sharp edges and endless obstacles, who’s to blame if she falls and hurts herself.  At the same time, if we continue to carry her everywhere, she never gets to learn.

We need to think this same way as leaders. We need to give our teams clear space to try new things, with the opportunity to fail, without hurting the group, the business or the company, and without reprimand. How we react is so important – every time we need to find a teaching/coaching moment.

In my experience as a CIO, I’ve seen the greatest results when I’ve combined these elements. In doing so, I’ve tapped the vast potential of my teams. In a day where things that used to take years or months now happen in weeks and days, creating this environment better positions us to take advantage of new opportunities. 

 John does a great job of engaging us and keeping us informed. He encourages an open communication style and strives to help us succeed. We learn from every failure as we grow our skills and develop a new confidence in our ability to succeed…Dan Hurst – CITO

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