Browsing the blog archives for August, 2010.

Knocking down leadership barriers

Barriers to Leadership, Career Challenges

How do you break a leadership barrier?  As a single person, how do you change biased processes and attitudes?

If you’re looking for a simple answer, you won’t find it here.

Some leadership barriers take generations and social and political movements to overcome or at least mitigate.  Consider the work of the civil rights movement.  The civil rights movement put legal protections in place for minority workers.  It was a huge step forward in changing hiring and promotion processes.  However, it was only a first step – many of the biases still exist.  Over the past few decades, we’ve seen improvements in equality but it is a long journey.

So if you don’t want to wait for decades, what can you do?  Here are some thoughts:

  1.  Be aware of the leadership barriers facing you
  2. Evaluate your situation
  3. Determine whether or not you can overcome the leadership barriers in your company
  4. Don’t dwell on protesting the injustice.  If you want to build your career, the workplace is not the right place to dramatically challenge the system.
  5. Become more than the stereotype(s)
  6. Focus on your own career
  7. Use organizational savvy to build relationships
  8. Stand up for yourself in a respectful manner
  9. Seek leadership opportunities
  10. Do a great job.  Outstanding work overcomes many barriers and gets you noticed in a positive way.

Four steps of the Self-Driven Leadership Development process

  1. Own your future
  2. Break down barriers
  3. Learn critical leadership skills
  4. Apply your skills to your work

Leadership Barriers model:


leadership barriers model

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Why do leadership barriers matter?

Barriers to Leadership, Career Challenges

In the last post, I defined the term “leadership barriers” which are an important part of the Self-driven Leadership Development process.

 Leadership barriers are important to individuals who want to progress to leadership roles, and they are also important to organizations that want to stay competitive and adaptable.

 The first reason is easy to see.  People do not want biases and negative attitudes to stand in the way of their career advancement.  These barriers are about groups the person belongs to and not about the person.  It is a combination of intentional and unintentional stereotyping.  Women and minorities and geeks and others get labeled as having certain characteristics.  That labeling can keep them from career advancement.  Some people belong to multiple groups – like a woman with technical geek tendencies – that have negative biases and get a double or triple whammy.

 The second reason is more indirect.  Organizations should be concerned about leadership barriers that exist in their talent development processes.  There is a lot of research that shows that diversity – of groups and of thought – is critical to business success and flexibility.  If an organization is systematically denying groups access to leadership roles, the organization will suffer.  It also strengthens the employment brand for a company to support diversity.

Four steps of the Self-Driven Leadership Development process

  1. Own your future
  2. Break down barriers
  3. Learn critical leadership skills
  4. Apply your skills to your work

Leadership Barriers model:


leadership barriers model

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WSJ Talks about Geeks as Leaders – sound familiar?

Geek 5, Leadership, Leadership Development, Outside Articles, Uncategorized

Geek careers are starting to get some notice!  Over at Wall Street Journal online, Robert Fulmer and Byron Hanson wrote an article called “Do Techies make Good Leaders?”.

It’s a great article and very consistent with the philosophy of Geeks Gone Pro.  It takes a different approach to looking at the same problem.  Geeks Gone Pro considers career and leadership development from the geek’s point of view.  We focus on the Geek 5 risks and how a geek can overcome them.  This blog is intended to help geeks develop the skills they need in order to advance in their careers and become leaders if they so desire.

The Fulmer and Hanson article considers the same issue from the organization’s perspective.  They discuss programs and perspectives that can help a company develop geeks into stronger leaders.  Some of their suggestions include:

  • Formalizing leadership development processes and programs
  • Using data to measureprogress and success in talent management.  After all, what is measured gets done.
  • Value leadership.
  • Engage the audience.
  • Encourage coaching.

I would add to their list that companies should ask geeks to take ownership for their own careers.  Using resources like Geeks Gone Pro can help geeks grow and develop into our future leaders.   Leaders with great technical skills and great leadership skills are unstoppable!

Check out the WSJ article!

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What is a leadership barrier?

Barriers to Leadership, Career Challenges, Leadership Development, Self-driven Leadership Development

The second step in my Self-Driven Leadership Development model is about breaking down barriers.  What does that mean?

 Definition:  A barrier to leadership is a systemic process or attitude that commonly prevents a group of people from moving into leadership roles and being successful in the workplace.

 The “systemic” part of the definition means that barriers are broad-based and apply to most if not all people of a certain group.  It is a shared experience, instead of being a unique situation applied to one person.

Leadership barriers can be process based.  This refers to specific policies and procedures in an organization that might work against some people who aspire to leadership roles or to other types of career advancement .  With advances in civil rights and equal workplaces, these are less common.

More commonly, leadership barriers are about attitudes that keep certain groups out of leadership roles.  Attitudes can refer to overt discrimination, unintentional discrimination, social norms, perceptions and more.  These are often ingrained psychological beliefs and biases that many people are not aware of.  Their subtlety is what makes them so dangerous.

Different barriers exist for different groups.  We’ll consider barriers for geeks and women and minorities and the disabled and even career changers.  In addition to these group-specific barriers, there are some common leadership barriers such as stereotypes about successful leaders and person-organization fit.

 As an example, a well-known barrier to leadership for women is “the glass ceiling”.  That phrase even creates an image of a physical barrier.  The glass ceiling is a statement about the fact that a barrier exists.  It does not actually define the meaning or cause of the barrier.   The concept of the glass ceiling is related to attitudes such as role stereotypes, the “good ole boy” network and “good girl” socialization.

In this model, leadership barriers do not cover personal weaknesses such as poor skills and behaviors.  Those are covered during step 3 of the Self-driven Leadership Development process that deals with individual competencies needed to be a successful leader.

Four steps of the Self-Driven Leadership Development process

  1. Own your future
  2. Break down barriers
  3. Learn critical leadership skills
  4. Apply your skills to your work

Leadership Barriers model:


leadership barriers model

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Failing Forward

Advice from the Top

I wrote an earlier post about bad Kung Fu leadership.  This is another Kung Fu post – or more precisely – Tae Kwan Do.  The master at our school used a terrific phrase the other day.  He was working with some kids who were struggling to learn a new move.  They were getting frustrated and embarrassed when they got the move wrong.

The master said, “It is okay to fail as you learn as long as you fail forward”.

His point was about learning from your mistakes, moving forward and getting it right the next time.  Don’t get discouraged – keep on trying.  Mistakes are part of the process of continuous improvement as we work toward mastery of a skill.

We all have struggles with tasks and skills and experiences.  Don’t regret that mistakes happen.  Just make sure that you are always failing forward.

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4 ways to drive your own career success

Self-driven Leadership Development, Uncategorized

The first step of the self-driven leadership development model is “own your future”.  As mentioned in the previous post, this is about taking charge of your own career development instead of waiting for your company to tap you on the should for a promotion.

Of course, that is easy to say and harder to do.  How do you translate that idea into action?

Here are four suggestions for driving your own career success:

 1.  Write down your career goals – Make sure you know what your goals are.  Where do you want to be in one year, five years, etc.  Writing your goals down makes you solidify your ideas and be clear.  Consider your career goals in relation with family needs and personal goals.  What makes sense in light of the other parts of your life?

2. Inform your boss – Once you decide on your own career goals, let your boss know.  Your boss can be a terrific advocate for you in finding developmental assignments or networking or for discussing your interests in succession planning.  Of course, this assumes that you are seeking another role or promotion within your current organization.  If your main career goal is to run away from your current employer, you probably should not share that with your boss.

3.  Create an IDP – An IDP is an Individual Development Plan.  An IDP helps you document the skills and behaviors that you need for future opportunities.  Items on an IDP can range from formal training like taking a financial acumen course or be on-the-job development like learning to stay on the agenda when running a meeting.  Your company might have a development process that involves creating an IDP.  Whether it does or does not, it is your responsibility to make sure you have one and that it is robust, useful and completed.

4.  Be an informal leader – If your goal is to break through barriers and become a formal leader, you may see leadership as something way off in the future.  Having a leadership position with a title and responsibility may be further off. But you can start acting like a leader now.  Every person in an organization has an opportunity to provide leadership.  This can range from volunteering to lead an internal committee to supporting co-workers who need assistance.  Find ways to showcase your leadership ability.

What other activities can you think of to prepare for a leadership role?

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Waiting for an engraved invitation to become a leader?

Leadership Development, Self-driven Leadership Development, Uncategorized

Are you waiting for someone at your company to recognize your brilliance?  And to tap you on the shoulder for a big promotion?  If you are, get comfortable with the status quo, because you’ll probably be waiting a long time.

A few lucky folks get labeled as high-potentials in succession planning and get more focused career attention.  The rest of us need to fend for ourselves.

In psychology, we talk about something called a “psychological contract” between an employer and an employee.  The psychological contract defines what an employer and an employee can expect from a working relationship.

Decades ago, the psychological contract for professionals was that a worker could graduate high school or college, join an organization, move up through the ranks and retire after 30 years with a gold watch and a pension. 

In the past few decades, the psychological contract has shifted.  Massive layoffs and re-structuring became common.  Skills became obsolete and employees were let go instead of re-trained.  Jobs were off-shored to cheaper international workers.

In the last two years, the shift has accelerated to light speed.  The recent recession changed some of the fundamental expectations of the economy and business.  Organizations cut staff and learned to be productive without those jobs.  Even as the economy slowly recovers, the jobs are not all coming back.  Employees are exhausted and frustrated with the extra workload.  Companies are struggling and looking for more cutbacks – employees are just another line item on the budget that can be cut.

So we find ourselves in a work world of no gold watches and no job security and no guarantees.

Depressing, huh?

Does that mean we should all quit? Of course not.  Most of us need to work to pay our bills.  Plus work can still be a fulfilling part of our lives.

Should we be victims and let ourselves be kicked while we’re down?  No – of course not.  That is not a good solution either.

The message here is that you need to wake up.  Develop enough organizational savvy to understand how companies run these days.

To be more secure and to be successful and have career advancement, you need to take charge of your own future.  You need to be smart and planful and aware.  You need to make things happen.

The self-driven leadership development model introduced in an earlier post highlights this need.  The title includes the phrase “self-driven” – meaning you actively make it happen.   The first step in the process is to “own your future”.

In today’s work world, the psychological contract is broken – you could say it is even annihilated.  You cannot sit back and wait to be taken care of – you have become an advocate for yourself.

If you are up for the challenge, my next post will discuss some things you can do to drive your career future.

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4 critical steps to becoming a leader

Barriers to Leadership, Leadership Development, Self-driven Leadership Development

As I venture into new territory for this blog, I’m going to use a framework for self-driven leadership development.  Chalk it up to my PhD, but I like to have a conceptual model for the work that I do.  Once the model makes sense, I can layer on the practical information and suggested activities.

This model is intended to help someone (like you) move yourself up the career ladder towards or into a leadership role.  It starts with the need to be responsible for your own career then focuses on breaking down your personal career barriers then involves learning how to be a leader and finally involves applying your skills.

The four steps are:

  1. Own your future
  2. Break down barriers
  3. Learn critical leadership skills
  4. Apply your skills to your work

This picture shows the elements of the model. 

 barrier model

Over the next few posts, we’ll go into more detail about each step and elements of this model.  You’ll learn about the need to own your career future due to a change in the psychological contract at work.  You’ll get some concrete activities for how to drive your career.

We’ll also define what a barrier to leadership looks like – including the psychological under-pinnings.  More importantly, I’ll give you some practical suggestions for tearing down those barriers, so you can accomplish your personal career goals. 

I’ll introduce a leadership competency model that explores important skills for any corporate leader.  This competency model will guide future suggestions on developmental activities for you to try. 

Through out these discussions will focus on dual outcomes.  One outcome is to advance your career and get you to a desired leadership role.  Your personal future is important.  But being a leader also means impacting other people and your organization.  The second outcome is to have a positive impact on your organization.

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Ka-Boom! Blowing up this blog!

Overview, Random

Ok, Ok, maybe “blowing up” is a bit melodramatic, but at least I got your attention.  I am not exactly blowing up this blog, but I am going to reposition it a bit.  I mentioned awhile back that I was working on updating the Geek 5

I started with some simple changes in mind.  I ended up in a very different place.

So here are some changes that are coming to Geeks Gone Pro:

  • Re-framing the blog to be about self-driven leadership development.  This means giving advice to professionals who want to move their own careers into leadership roles.
  • Broadening the audience – Don’t worry, geeks – the blog will still apply to you!  The Geek 5 focused on barriers for geeks to become leaders.  Going forward, I’ll include some other groups such as women and minorities and some of the barriers they face to becoming leaders.  Some barriers are shared among groups and others are more unique.  This blog will now provide career and leadership advice for all professionals.
  • New competency model – We’ll also talk about the leadership skills/ competencies that any leader needs once he or she breaks through the barriers and reaches a leadership position.  The new model I’ll introduce has several elements from the Geek 5, but has some new concepts as well.  This model is intended to apply to any leader, regardless of what barriers they faced.

What’s not changing is the domain name and url.  For now I’m sticking with  As these new concepts gel, I’m hoping to come up with a new snazzy title and related domain name.  At that point I’ll move the site.

Over the next few weeks, the blog content will proceed more linearly.  I’ll introduce a few new frameworks and approaches for thinking about your leadership journey.  After that, we’ll get back to developmental suggestions related to the leadership competency model.

Ka-Boom!  Here we go!

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