Browsing the archives for the Geek 5 category.

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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Geek Fun: Lego Time!

Geek 5, Geek Fun, Org savvy

My family and I are big fans of Legos.  I even did a Lego post in which the savvy geek defeated the evil political co-worker!  Remember savvy geek with the sword of knowledge?

Lego savvy geek small

For some more geeky Lego fun, check out this story at PC World of “Our Favorite Geeky Lego Creations“.

Fun stuff!

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Re-thinking the Geek 5

Geek 5

The Geek 5 was introduced as this blog was launched in 2009.  The Geek 5 refers to five areas that can keep geeks (deeply technical people) from achieving career advancement and even success in a current role.   Geeks Gone Pro has been dedicated to helping geeks overcome these career risks and barriers in order to find success.  The Geek 5 include:

  1. Resistance to a broader role
  2. Organizational Savvy
  3. Managing People
  4. Leadership Skills
  5. Business Acumen

I’ve been using this as a framework to give career and personal development advice to geeks.  After doing this for awhile, I realize that the Geek 5 needs some tweaking.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll introduce a new Geek competency.  To keep the Geek 5 to five instead of being the Geek 6, I’ll also combine two of the existing ones.

In addition, I’ve started thinking about this topic in broader terms.  Soon we might start reaching beyond the geek world to some other neglected populations.

More to come.  Stay tuned!

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Bad Kung Fu Leadership

Geek 5, Leadership

One of the side effects of being an I/O Psychologist is that I tend to analyze everything and everyone around me.  That includes watching team dynamics, trying to diagnose my kids’ MBTI personality types and observing leadership in everyday situations.  The other day I experienced an episode of bad leadership.

My family is taking martial arts.  We just started, so we are all white belts.  The white belts signify that you are a blank slate and don’t yet know Tae Kwon Do.  The kids fit right in to the kid classes.  My spouse and I, however, stick out in the adult/ teen classes.   We are by far the oldest beginner students.  Anyone close to our age is in the Black Belt range.  And yes, we definitely feel the pain of getting back in shape and learning the moves.  

But this post is not about our age and aches and ice packets.  It is about the leadership shown in a recent class.  Martial Arts are unique in that leadership is bestowed by belt rank and not by age.   The highest ranked person in the room is respected as the leader – even if it is a 12 year old leading adults.

In this case, the teacher is a high-ranked black belt in his late teens who is studying to become a formal, paid instructor.  He’s relatively new to teaching and fairly young, so I fully understand that he is still perfecting his leadership skills.  But it is still a lesson in what not to do.

Specifically, this young instructor, we’ll call him Mr. Hunter, struggled with being perceived as a leader.  Several young teens in the class did not show him the respect he deserved by merit of his rank and his instructor status.  They were goofing off and not being respectful.  Furthermore, Mr. Hunter was trying to teach something he was not fully prepared to teach.  Consequently, one of the more senior instructors kept correcting him.

I could visibly see his anxiety and frustration growing.  Finally he snapped.  He moved from teaching to directing.  He showed his anger.  He had the entire class move from learning Tae Kwon Do to doing intentionally painful calistenics – over and over.   His focus became compliance and not commitment or team work.

By the end of the class, everyone was frustrated and angry.  I did not learn anything new.  And he lost credibility as a leader and as an instructor.  In the future I will try to avoid classes where he is teaching – at least until he learns some more leadership skills.

Mr. Hunter’s leadership mistakes included:

  1. Losing his cool and showing his frustration.  He lost credibility and showed his youth.
  2. Forcing compliance to get what he wanted.
  3. Punishing the whole class to take care of a few problem students.  This made me feel like I was in fourth grade again when Ms. Felder punished the whole class because one person farted (gross and unfair!).  Just as you should not do team building to fix one person, you should not punish everyone to correct a few.

The more senior instructor could also have been more tactful about how she corrected his teaching.  It might have helped prevent some embarrassment and overreaction.

Ah well, Mr. Hunter is young and will continue to learn and develop as a leader.  My muscles and joints are old, but even they will heal with time.

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Building your financial acumen

Business Acumen, Geek 5, Outside Articles

In the last post, we talked about the importance of financial acumen to geeks progressing in their careers.  So now you’re thinking, I know I need it, but how do I get it?  And – how painful is it going to be?

OK, OK, learning about financial stuff might not be as exciting as some endeavors, but it is still important.

I found a great website that can help with some accounting and finance skills – and most of the site is free!  See – it is a great financial decision already!

The site is called accounting The site is run by Harold Averkamp and he is dedicated to improving knowledge and skills related to accounting.  Containing a wealth of information, the site presents accounting concepts in easy to understand terminology and in bite-sized chunks.

The Accounting Topics section contains tutorials on concepts like Accounting Basics and Depreciation and Activity-Based Costing and Improving Profits.  If those topics don’t mean anything to you, then you desperately need these tutorials!

My favorite part of the site is the Test Yourself section.  It offers quizzes and crossword puzzles and word searches with financial themes. I failed the Basic Accounting quiz, so I obviously need to spend more time with the tutorials!

This is a great place to get started.  Once you master some basic concepts, you can seek out a mentor at your company who can help you apply the new concepts to your specific company.

Good luck on your path to financial enlightenment!

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Importance of financial acumen

Business Acumen, Geek 5

One of the Geek 5 risks is that geeks often lack basic business and financial skills.  In school and early career, geeks often focus so intensely on their area of expertise that general business concepts get neglected.  If you are interested in moving from a technical role to a more general leadership role, you need to get savvy about business.

 For Geeks, gaining financial acumen is important for three reasons:

  1. Important understanding – Financial skills are more than a ticket to success.  The skill is important for a reason. The foundation of any business is the finances of the company.  Financial acumen will expand your understanding of the costs and challenges of doing business in your industry.You’ll gain a better understanding of how outside economic forces impact your company and how your company’s decisions impact your bottom line.  In many cases, this also directly impacts your personal bonus and compensation!
  2. Critical skill – As a leader, you will be called upon to make important and probably costly decisions for your company.  You need to know how to assess the best course of action.  For example, think of an IT Leader who needs to decide between a costly, gold-standard software package and a lower cost, lesser known package.  What does she choose?  How does she compare costs and assess short and long-term value?  How do you expense the package or is it a capitol expenditure?
  3. Credibility with senior leaders – As you rise in your career, financial skills becomes a ticket to play.  They are expected from all leaders at a certain level.  You need to talk the same talk as other leaders at your level and above.  You don’t need to turn into a Finance guru or get an MBA, but you should be able to contribute intelligently to a financial conversation and decision.

In the next post, I’ll point you to a website that can help you build your financial acumen.

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Supporting Geek Women

Broader role, Geek 5, Outside Articles

As we enter this holiday weekend, I’m going to point you to some resources in support of geek women.

The first is a blog that I just found called Geek Feminism Blog.  Recent posts include topics like “Behaving like an honorary guy” and “IT careers for an older IT woman”.  The blog seems to focus on the challenges that women face in geek industries that are often largely male dominated.

I’m also going to point you to a great article over at  Written by Kelly Watson it is called “The Four Myths of Self-Promotion” and the tag line is “It’s time to toot your own horn”.  It talks about the myths and misperceptions that many women have about self-promotion.  Women shy away from self-promotion, because they are uncomfortable with it.  That can be detrimental to your career.  This article helps women get past the discomfort.

Although this article focuses on women, it is a good lesson for most geeks.  One of the Geek 5 risks is about the resistance many geeks have to taking on a broader leadership role.  Geeks in general are uncomfortable with self-promotion and touting their own strengths.  So this advice should apply to most geeks.

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Lessons in Leadership from China

Geek 5, Leadership

Over at, Shaun Rein blogs regularly on leadership topics – especially related to his work in China.  His commentary is often interesting and insightful.  China has a rapidly growing and changing business climate, and that change requires strong and effective leadership.  China provides an almost experimental space to study leadership in an accelerated fashion.  Rein’s recent article is called:  “What I Learned from a Chinese Billionaire”. 

Rein relates some leadership messages from a billionaire who worked himself out of poverty with no political connections.  It is interesting that the billionaire chooses to remain anonymous – out of fear of being persecuted.  China and capitalism and wealth accumulation have a tenuous tolerance right now.  Social and cultural norms have not kept pace with the business changes.

The first lesson from the Chinese billionaire is to believe in yourself – you are the only one who can stop you.  The second lesson was that sometimes you must respect everyone and sometimes eat humble pie to accomplish your goals.  His third lesson was about sharing wealth – both with business partners and family and strangers.

It is a great article – from a leadership perspective and from a social and cultural perspective.  This story shows us how good leadership can lead to success even in a closed country like China.  In the US, even in the poor economy, we have a lot of opportunity and few restrictions in our actions.   Imagine what we could accomplish if we set our minds to it!

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Coaching: Making the vague more specific

Geek 5, Managing people

Last week I gave some advice to a less experienced manager.  She and I are friends and have worked on projects together in the past.  About a year ago she was promoted into her first role in which she manages people.  Unfortunately she inherited a tough team.  Early on she had to manage a long-time employee out of the business.

Last week, she had to coach someone on performance issues.  She was stressed out from the conversation.    So we talked that through and I think she felt better.  She just needed a friendly ear.

Then we talked about the action plan she was setting up for her direct report.  He was struggling with some tough issues.  They were more about “will” versus “skill”.  Skill issues are easier to fix – they usually require teaching and time.  Will issues are about someone not wanting to do something or not being willing to change.

This direct report, let’s call him Charlie, has solid skills and does his job reasonably well.  However, he is difficult to work with.  He can also be argumentative and closed to other perspectives.  His body language screams when he was unhappy.  Maybe he even has a bit of the cringe factor.  One key problem is that he often ignores input from internal clients about his project work.  He will not incorporate changes if he does not agree with them.

The manager did all of the right things – she had the difficult conversation and and used specific examples.  However, she wasn’t sure how to turn that information into an action plan for fixing the problems.   Similar to advice given about performance reviews, there are some basics about writing good action plans.

In this case it was about being more specific and behavioral.  Originally the plan stated that he needed to be more open to input from internal clients and incoporate their feedback into his work.  The problem was captured but this description was not specific enough to help him understand what he needs to do.

So we worked together until the manager had an idea of what to tell him to do.  In this case the action plan was modified to say that he needed to send an email after content meetings with internal clients.  In the email he will specify what he had heard in the meeting and what changes and work he will do as a result.  He will copy the manager, so she can follow up on progress.

I don’t know how this story will end.  But the manager handled it well with a few tweaks to the action plan.  Charlie has a chance to turn things around and the manager has grown as a leader of people.

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Don’t do team building to fix one person

Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people, Uncategorized

As a leader, one of your jobs is to build a strong team.  You need to hire the right people, train them, motivate them and keep them productive and happy.  As stated in the Geek 5, managing people is one of the toughest task that a leader faces.

So what do you do when someone is not performing well?

One poor suggestion is to do team building.  As an Industrial/ Organizational Psychologist working in the Organizational Development area, part of my job is to run team building sessions.  There are a lot of good reasons to do team building such as helping a new team get to know each other, working out process and communication challenges, building trust or getting focused on a big goal. 

When someone comes to me with a request to do team building in their area, I start by asking questions.  What are they hoping to accomplish? What behaviors should change after the session?  What would a successful session look like?

All too often, I get an answer such as “…let me tell you about Joe.”

The story about Joe is that he is not doing a good job.  His performance is poor or he annoys everyone or his behavior is out of control.   The manager and the rest of the team all know Joe is a problem.    The manager does not want to have a tough conversation with Joe, so she suggests team building.

She thinks that after team building Joe will see the error of his ways and shape up.  She wants to use team building to set expectations for the right behavior.

It is a cop out by the manager.  And it won’t work.

Most teams are savvy enough to know when the exercise is really about trying to straighten out Joe.  Plus, team building can’t be successful with a seriously dysfunctional team member.  It will just fragment the team more and cause morale problems with the other employees.

Joe’s manager need to do some good old-fashioned, tough-love feedback and deal with the problem directly.  Once Joe is fixed, the team will probably need a team building session to regain trust.

Don’t cop out.  Find the right solution to the problem.

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