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In this episode of Hitchhiker’s Guide to IT presented by Device42, host Michelle Dawn Mooney explores the crucial role of leadership in the IT industry. As organizations increasingly rely on technology, the need for effective IT leadership has become paramount. Michelle is joined by Don Welch, Vice President for IT and Global University CIO at NYU Information Technology, who shares his insights and experiences in the field.

Setting the stage for the discussion, Michelle emphasizes the timeliness of the topic and the need for IT leaders to prioritize leadership skills. A notable stat reveals that organizations with strong IT leadership are 2.5 times more likely to outperform their competitors.

The core question addressed in this episode is: How can IT leaders effectively inspire and empower their teams to achieve business goals?



Welcome to another episode of Hitchhiker’s Guide to IT podcast, brought to you by Device 42.

On this show, we explore the ins and outs of modern IT management and the infinite expanse of

its universe. Whether you’re an expert in the data center or Cloud, or just someone interested in

the latest trends in IT technology, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to IT is your go-to source for all things

IT. Buckle up and get ready to explore the ever- changing landscape of modern IT management.

(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

Hello and welcome to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to IT podcast series, brought to you by Device 42.

I’m your host, Michelle Dawn Mooney. Today, we’re setting the stage for how important it is for

IT leaders to think about leadership. We are going to develop a lot of solutions. We’ll talk about

some challenges. We’ll also get some great advice from a wonderful guest. I cannot wait to

bring him on because he has quite the resume. It is my pleasure to bring on Don Welch, who is

a mover and shaker. He is the Vice President for Information Technology and Global University

Chief Information Officer for New York University. Don, thank you so much for joining me today.

(Guest: Don Welch)

Thank you, Michelle. I really appreciate the opportunity to be on the podcast.

(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

Really excited to have you. As I said, you have quite the resume. If we had more time, I could

tell everybody about what you’ve accomplished in your professional career. But I’d like to have

you give a brief bio if you can. I want to thank you right off the bat for your service because I

know the military is a big part of that. Can you give us a brief bio before we get into the Q&A?

(Guest: Don Welch)

Sure. As you mentioned, I started off my career, I spent 25 years in the Army, did normal

infantry things, but also got into IT and the information warfare aspect of the military. When I

became the CEO of a company, it was in an area that didn’t have a lot of experience with people

in the military. There’s a lot of concern from people in the company, what it would be like to have

a retired colonel come in. Was I going to make them have haircuts or anything like that? My HR

person came to me and said, well, leadership in the Army is easy, right? I mean, you just tell

them what to do and you’ve got a gun. My response was, yeah, but you have to remember, they

have guns too and there’s more of them. I think the idea that leadership relies on authority is

really a problem. It was the same thing in the military. You can’t get people to go into harm’s way

unless they trust you. You have to build that trust and you have to build that leadership

relationship. In IT, I think it’s the same thing. You’ve got professionals, they know their jobs, they

know what they’re doing, they have to trust you if they are going to follow you. That aspect of

trust is the same thing that I have found in my career in the military. When I transitioned to the

civilian world in my various roles, mostly in higher ed, but some in private industry, it’s really the

same thing, leading people, people are people. That, I think, is the key.

(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

You hit on so many important points there. I feel like we already did the task of getting great

information out there for this podcast, but we’re just beginning. I want to touch on a lot of what

you said and dive deeper, especially with the trust aspect, which we will talk about more deeply

in just a minute or two. But let’s start off with some basic questions. We’re talking about, of

course, leadership and the importance of IT leadership. How do you get the most out of your IT

team to support your business? You talked about the military aspect, getting people to trust you

and to take those commands. In a much different space, but where do you start?

(Guest: Don Welch)

Yeah, so usually IT is not life or death. And usually people, when they get upset with you, aren’t

armed. So that’s good. But still, we want very much to bring out the maximum value that people

can contribute to the organization. Everybody comes in, they’ve got talents, they’ve got

experiences, they have motivation, values, and so forth. And you want to merge those into a

team so that the team is producing more than just a group of individuals, that they are actually a

team, there’s that synergy. And so to do that, I think as leaders, we have to understand how

those various people can contribute and would like to contribute. And in many cases, we can

understand more about what they’re capable of than they understand. If you think back into your

career, the times where someone saw more in you than you saw in yourself and were able to

bring that out, I think that’s the essence of a good coach. But bringing that up within the

framework of a team, you know, if we think about sports teams, some players do this, some

players do that, and how do they mesh together? They can have a very talented team that

doesn’t mesh together and doesn’t deliver. And so we have all these different skills in IT, and

how do we accent those strong points and cover up for the weak points of the individuals? And I

think that starts off with getting to know all the people, both professionally and personally, as

much as they’re willing to share. Knowing them as people allows you to understand how to fit

them together, but also it builds trust. If you think from yourself of… If you think someone truly

understands you, you tend to trust them more. If you understand them and there’s open

communication, you understand their thought process, well, okay, that trust goes a little further.

And as you continue to build that trust, that is the foundation of which you can do everything

else as a team to deliver for your organization.

(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

I want to look at the building blocks, so to speak, of where we’re going with the importance of

really developing strong quality leadership in IT. So could you define leadership for us,

especially when it comes to the difference between leadership and management? Because

there could be a little confusion there.

(Guest: Don Welch)

Yes, thank you. You know, when I think of management, I think of that as the organization of

work. We think of project managers and they build work breakdown structures, et cetera. And so

there’s a certain amount of our job that is the organization of work and it’s the mechanics. And

that’s important, we have to do that. But the above and beyond to me is leadership. And that’s

the dealing with the person, not with the thing or the process. And so my definition of leadership

is inspiring a group of people to achieve a common goal. So there’s nothing about authority in

there. I think you’ve failed as a leader if you rely on your authority. But the emphasis is on

inspiration. You want people to want to do the work. And if you can set up an environment

where people are engaged, they’re enthusiastic, they’re happy, they look at the challenges, they

feel that they’re growing, they’re really going to deliver for your organization. And they’ll deliver

above and beyond what you think they should be able to deliver beyond their individual talent

level. And I think that’s the key to leadership. When we look at great leaders, that’s what they

do. They get more out of people than the people believe they have in themselves.

(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

You made a great point earlier. And I remember you brought this up. I took it personally because

you really directed it to me. And do you remember when somebody thought something about

you positively that you didn’t see in yourself? And that really is so important when it comes to

leadership. So let me ask you this, how do you take the talents and then the personalities as

well from your team to get the most out of them?

(Guest: Don Welch)

So I said, it starts with you have to build that relationship that’s built on trust. So you want to get

to know them. Not everybody wants to share everything about their personal lives, but as much

as they’re willing to share, if they believe that you care about them as a person, both

professionally and personally, I think that is one of the key foundations. And then in caring about

them professionally, do you want them to be able to grow and to be able to improve? Now that

lines up very well with what you want them to do as your role as a leader to create a great team.

You want them to grow. And sometimes people will be surprised that you can reward someone

by giving them more work. Someone is enthusiastic about something, you empower them, you

give them extra tasks that are along the lines of the things that they want to learn, that they want

to do to accomplish. And I think when it all comes down to it, people want to have a sense of

accomplishment and mastery of their tasks. There’s lots of different theories. If you’ve read the

book, Drive that was out a few years ago, we go back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When we

feel that we are part of a team and we feel that we are really contributing and we are valued for

what we do, then I think that there’s really no limit to what we can contribute. And if you can get

most of the people or all the people on your team who are feeling that way, they’re feeling

empowered, they’re feeling energized, they come to work and they want to do really good for

the organization. Those are the people who are really gonna make a difference. And the more of

those people you have in your organization, the better your team will be. When I was the CEO

of a company too, I had four vice presidents and we had 10 directors. And every six months, we

would look at those directors to see how they were doing. And when we discussed their

performance, we never discussed how well they led their individual teams. We discussed how

well they made the others in the organization, the other directors more successful. And in letting

them know, and they believe that this is what we were really looking for, they stepped up and

they made each other stronger. They helped each other develop. And this I think was the key to

our success. On the wall behind me, you see a picture of President Obama. I was invited to the

White House in the 2008 stimulus. We were awarded by them as the best stimulus project in

building out broadband. And that was a team that we had together that we just were able to

accomplish, I think some tremendous things. I don’t think any of us you would have thought

were outstanding as individuals, but as a team, we were able to accomplish so much that we

were recognized nationally for the quality of this project. And I’d say the years we spent building

that teamwork is what allowed us when this opportunity came up to be able to seize it and be


(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

Let’s take a look at the foundation of leadership. We’re talking a lot about trust and trust on both

sides because when you talk about the leader and having that team, you need to be able to

trust that what you’re giving to your team members that they can handle. But let’s just take a

look at trust for a moment because you’ve been very clear with the difference about being an

authoritarian versus being a leader. So let’s talk about that, the definition of trust, but on the

bigger scale, how do we build it? Because it sounds easy. We’ll just get them to trust. Just get

them to trust you. How do you do that?

(Guest: Don Welch)

Well, I think you do it every day. So if you are someone who they feel is hiding things and

doesn’t share information, then that tends to build a little, build distrust. But if they feel that

you’re being totally transparent, sharing everything you can, obviously as a leader, there’s

certain things you can’t share, but those things that you do, that helps build trust. As I said, if

you care about them individually, if they think that you have their best interests in heart, even if

the decisions you make don’t always go their way, but you understand their perspective, that’s

gonna build trust. And it really helps too if you’re competent. If you tend to make good decisions,

then people will tend to trust you over time, even if maybe they don’t get the opportunity to

always see why you’re making those decisions. If when you have time and it’s the right

circumstance, you involve people in the decisions, they understand your thought process, they

see that you’re being as fair as possible, you’re making good decisions, then when they can’t

see that, they’ll tend to assume that you are doing that in the same way. But I think that this idea

that we want from our leaders, we want to be able to trust them, but we want to be able to verify,

as the old saying, trust but verify goes in, we want to make sure that our leaders have the best

interests of the organization at heart, they don’t have hidden agendas, they’re treating people

fairly, those are the kinds of things that build trust. And when you come down to a situation

where you can’t share the information, that’s where trust is really important, that they believe

that, okay, you’ve always acted this way before, and you’re acting this way again.

(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

I need to ask you this because you mentioned, of course, it helps if they’re competent when

you’re building trust and being a leader, but let’s look at the flip side for a moment, because I

think this is a really hard space, and we’re all human, and we all make mistakes. So how do you

handle that? You are the leader, you’re trying to coach your team, but sometimes you may not

have all the answers. Can you give us any insight on what to do in that area? Because you

really are trying to present this air about you that you do know what you’re doing and you are

competent. So what advice do you have there?

(Guest: Don Welch)

So my advice would be, we have more, as leaders, more implied authority than we think. And a

lot of us are maybe a little uncertain, we don’t wanna admit when we’ve made a mistake, we

don’t wanna admit if we don’t know something. And I think we actually build trust when we admit

that. When I make a mistake, everybody knows, right? I mean, we’ve all been down there, we

talk to our friends, it’s like, boy, that was stupid or so forth. And everybody knows it. And if you

don’t admit it, or you try to cover it up, then not only do they know it, but they know you’re not

being transparent. When you admit, yes, that was the wrong decision, learn from it, we’re gonna

do this, then that trust builds up there. If you don’t know something, the, you know, sure, yeah,

you can try and make it up, you can try and get by, but chances are, everybody in your team

knows more about their roles than you do. So if you’re trying to fake it, they’re gonna know it.

So, and once again, I think human nature is, yeah, we don’t wanna admit we have weaknesses,

but the reality is, I think it makes you stronger as a leader. You wouldn’t be in the role that you’re

in unless you weren’t accomplished in your career already. And so accept that, and, you know,

live with your mistakes. And I think that will make you an even better leader than if you try and

cover them up.

(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

When it comes to the strategy of really, you know, building once again, that trust and coaching

your team along, can you give us some specific examples or ways that we can do that?

Because once again, not an easy overnight task, it comes with the longevity of really kind of

building that trust, and that comes from day in, day out. So how do we do that?

(Guest: Don Welch)

Well, so I think there’s this, that what we have to do is we wanna constantly coach our team to

get better. And so, as I’ve said, if you are a great leader, the greatest leader, which you can

aspire to, is to sit in your office all day and surf the web, because you have coached and

developed your team. They’re all superstars, they are empowered, and they don’t need much

from you. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I’m working on it. And so the idea of developing your

team, coaching them, challenging them, letting them know honestly, but tactfully, when they’ve

fallen short, when they can improve, obviously letting them know when they do things well. A lot

of times we neglect that. But I think we underestimate the power that we have in giving praise to

people, that if we acknowledge, truly acknowledge when they’ve done a good job, I think that

really carries a lot. Now, if we just hand out praise, just as a rote thing, people know that. But

when you really understand and can relate to them, what they did, whether it was working hard

or working smart, or whatever it is to really help your organization, and you acknowledge that, I

think that really makes a difference. And I think we can understand that when we think back in

our careers of when someone did that to us. And you felt this real, you felt grateful that

someone understood what you were doing, and that it was something that you’d accomplished

or you’d mastered or whatever it is. And so there’s really two sides of that. One is when

someone falls short, you have to let them know that you know that, so that when you do praise

them, they understand that you know that too. And I think that really resonates. But it takes

courage to do that. I don’t like to confront people. I don’t like telling people bad news, but I have

to force myself to do that. It’s one of the things as leaders that we have to do sometimes, is

there’s a lot of uncomfortable things that we have to do. But if we do it in a tactful and honest

way, it can be very powerful. But once again, I think you have to put the effort in to understand

what people are doing and be able to honestly make sure that you know when they have

delivered, and that you give them that acknowledgement, that praise for doing that, and that

motivates them to do more. All the studies have shown, money motivates, okay, for three weeks

or whatever, you get a pay raise. There are certain things that are motivators, but the honest

understanding of what you’ve accomplished and that sense of accomplishment is really the

strongest motivator. And at last, the longest time, the longest time.

(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

If people are listening to this and they’re thinking, you know what, I need help in this area. And

I’m hearing what you’re saying, but I’m trying to process just how to even put it into play. Where

do people start when it comes to kind of doing an overhaul if they need it, or maybe they’re just

minor changes, but what are some of the first steps we can take? And then why is this so

important to IT organizations when it comes to really making sure they have strong leadership?

(Guest: Don Welch)

Yeah, so the way I would encourage people to continue to improve this way, one is go to your

boss and have an honest conversation. What is one or maybe two things that you can work on

to be a better leader? Your boss probably has an idea, doing it in a non-confrontational way, but

draw it out of them to understand. And then a good sense of self- assessment yourself. What

are your real strengths and weaknesses? What do you want to improve? And so if you choose

something, say, I wanna be better at coaching. I want to be a better communicator. Whatever it

may be, do some reading on it, or watch videos, or talk to people that you respect and

understand, get a good vision for what does someone who is like I wanna be, how do they

behave? And research has shown that you have to repeat some action or behavior hundreds of

times before it becomes second nature. Some of the research I’ve read, it’s around 200 times.

And if you think about it, that’s every day of your work year. You want to do that. And so what I

recommend is that you journal. You can journal however you want. I tend to like writing it down

on paper. And at the end of the day, if I am trying to do something like be a better communicator,

I will spend a little bit of time and think, how well did I communicate today? Did I use a feedback

loop? Did I use the right channels? Did I think about what I wanted the action to be from the

person I was communicating with? How well did I convey that? Write down a sentence or two or

that, but that process of thinking and writing helps reinforce that. And then the next day, as I try

to incorporate that in my communication, I write that down again. And if you do that, most days,

your behavior is gonna change and you’re gonna improve. And that’s why I think you need to

focus on one or two things. Your career will take a very long time. So there’s lots of time to

improve things. If you improve on one thing a year, before you know it, you’re gonna be running

the world. But I think that patience and that focus is really important if you’re going to improve,

because leadership is behaviors. The importance of that for IT, I think it’s absolutely critical

because IT is a people business. The technology is easy. Yes, we’re frustrated with this system

won’t configure or this patch isn’t working and whatever it is, but those are easy. So all the

people that are in your IT organization are people and they deal with people. So if you are in an

IT organization like mine, NYU’s purpose is not to do IT, IT is to support the teaching and

research mission. They’re all interacting with people all around the university. How well do those

people help others to leverage the technology? That’s the key. It’s not innovative technology at

this point. Most of our technology is pretty mature. It is how do our stakeholders leverage the

technology? And that is people dealing with people, helping them to leverage that technology,

building technology that they can leverage, understanding the requirements so we build the right

technology, support it in the right way. So leadership of us to our people so our people can be

good at dealing with the rest of the organization, I think is critical. If we look at technology as

only a technology problem, then I think that’s where we go wrong. And to be honest, that’s how

IT people get the reputation that they do, because we’re not focused on the impact of people,

we’re more focused on technology. So I think the key to my success, and I think the key to other

successful organizations is when we think of ourselves as a people organization, and we lead

that way, and technology just happens to be what we do as we help people solve problems.

(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

As we’re wrapping up here, and we have covered a lot of information, but any final thoughts,

maybe any benchmarks that we should be made aware of, ways we can kind of check in to see

how our progress is doing with all of this?

(Guest: Don Welch)

I think leadership is a personal journey, and self-assessment is critical. You can talk to key

people. My spouse is very good at telling me when I fall short on things. You might have the

same kinds of personal relationships that are really good, but talking through situations, how

you handle them, taking that feedback honestly, I think is key. We as people need feedback to

learn. Feedback can be painful, but it is important, but getting that feedback from everybody,

from your team members, from your peers, from your boss, from your personal relationships,

and doing a good self- assessment, where can I improve? That, I think, is the key to becoming a

better leader. If you are improving every day, then that’s it. It doesn’t have to be much, but if

you’re moving in that right direction, then I think you’re going to be a successful leader. I think if

we are satisfied that, oh, we’re doing a good job, then I think we tend to drop off a bit. We begin

to neglect the important things, the people, their balance, their progress, and our organizations

are not such a fun place to work, and they don’t deliver as well.

(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

Great conversation, Don. Really been such a pleasure. Don Welch is the Vice President for

Information Technology and Global University Chief Information Officer for New York University.

Don, anywhere that you would like to send people who maybe have questions or want to learn

more about the topic at hand?

(Guest: Don Welch)

Oh, so I will say that I had been giving my thoughts on leadership to all the IT leaders at NYU,

and those I send out an email about every other week, and we collect those on a blog. And so

it’s available from the NYU site. So anyways, it may be some starting points for your own

personal exploration if you want to look at those.

Absolutely, absolutely. Don, it’s really been a pleasure. Once again, some great information. I

learned a lot. I think regardless of your in IT or any other field, this is just such pertinent

information, is so important because as you said, it’s just about people and dealing with other

people and great lessons that we all can learn. So I really appreciate your time today. Thank you

so much for being with us.

(Guest: Don Welch)

Yes, thanks, Michelle. It was a lot of fun, and I really appreciate your work here.

(Host: Michelle Dawn Mooney)

Thank you, Don. Great to have you once again. I want to thank all of you for listening to this

episode. Thank you for listening and tuning in to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to IT podcast series, of

course, brought to you by Device 42. And you can always visit for more

information about Device 42. Please subscribe to the podcast to hear more great conversations

like the one we had today. I’m your host, Michelle Dawn Mooney. Once again, thanks so much

for joining us, and we hope to see you soon. We’ll see you next time.