Browsing the archives for the Broader role category.

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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A Dash of Charisma

Broader role, Geek 5, Outside Articles

There is a theory of leadership that attributes leadership success to personality – it is called charismatic leadership.  It supposes that successful leaders influence others through the power of their personalities – through charm and attractiveness and force of will.  Charismatic leaders have exceptional personal qualities that can border on heroic or superuman.  With this theory, the competence of the leader is not as critical as the leader’s ability to influence people.

Charismatic leadership has been essentially disproven as an effective strategy.  Research shows that successful leaders must be competent and adaptable in addition to having personal influence.  Charisma is only one piece of the puzzle.  However, it is an important piece – especially as you move up the executive ladder.

Leaders are always being watched  and judged on their behavior and attitudes and decisions and personality.    Having personal charisma can make the leadership spotlight easier to bear.  When coworkers like you, they give the benefit of the doubt when a situation gets tense.

Geeks tend to focus on technical expertise versus leadership skills.  Furthermore, introversion and lack of perceiving themselves as leaders can result in a charisma deficit.  Geeks can be quiet versus outgoing, inward focused versus people focused and often don’t think much about physical impressions.

But don’t worry!  Charisma can be learned!

Over at BusinessWeek, Debra Benton wrote an article called “Get Yourself Some Executive Charisma“.  She talks about charisma being a skill, and one that everyone can learn and improve upon.  She equates it to golf and how golf skills can be continuously improved over a lifetime.

The really helpful part of her article is that she gives concrete and easy to follow advice on how to start enhancing your charisma.  She talks about posture and handshakes and more.

If you think you could benefit from an extra dash of charisma, check it out!

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That introversion thing again…

Broader role, Geek 5, Org savvy, Uncategorized

We’ve talked a lot about introversion and how it can impact the career of many geeks.  It is a key part of the Geek 5 risks as part of the resistance to a broader role.  There was also a post about Jennifer Kahnweiler’s book, The Introverted Leader

Dan McCarthy over at Great Leadership just did a nice post on introversion.  It is called “How to be a more approachable, sociable leader“.  He provides many useful tips on how to overcome some introverted tendencies.  I like that he focuses on small, achievable changes – such as setting a goal for how many people to approach on a daily basis.

Several of his suggestions match suggestions from this blog – such as smiling and listening more.  He also talks about the need to do more personal disclosure (appropriate disclosure) in order to build rapport.  Dan also suggests several books related to building relationships and charisma.  I’m not familiar with the books, but they’re probably worth a scan on Amazon.

Check out his post for another perspective and more advice about introversion.

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Advice from the Top: 3 easy steps for building relationships

Advice from the Top, Broader role, Managing people

I attended a meeting of my company’s PhD club the other day. That is not nearly as pretentious or high-brow as it sounds. Actually it is not even a club – after all, there are only two of us in the whole company. My fellow PhD, I’ll call him Sam, and I are friends and just go out to lunch every few months. We share the common bond of being PhDs in a business that does not really value PhDs or scientific thinking.

Sam and I don’t work directly together. I’m a psychologist in HR, and Sam is a technical expert who works in another area of the business. Sam is very specialized. His PhD is highly unique – only a handful of people in the country do what he does.

Sam and I both manage groups of people in addition to our technical, geek work. Like many geeks, Sam is naturally introverted and had to learn new skills to manage people. The Geek 5 risks include resistance to a broader role (often due to discomfort of being a leader) and also trouble managing people.

I asked Sam how he managed to be successful at being both a geek and a leader. He talked about how critical it is to overcome introverted tendencies and focus on building relationships in order to be perceived as a leader. He simplified that even further into three steps he does every day to build relationships:

1. Be intentional about your presence at work

2. Smile

3. Say hello to everyone

First, he clicks into an intentional, extrovert mindset every morning as he walks into the building. He is conscious of the fact that he needs to be “on” when he is at work and that everything he does is being watched. He’s careful about how he looks, what he does and general demeanor.

Second and third, he makes a point to smile and acknowledge everyone he meets in the building. He uses every opportunity outside his office to build relationships. People love being acknowledged and being greeted by the sweet sound of their own name. He even makes a point to greet people he does not know.

This seems like good advice and some actions that I need to start practicing. I’m a strong introvert. When I walk down the hall, I am often caught up in my own thoughts – making plans and solving problems. As a result, I’m more likely to be looking at the floor than the people.

Sam acknowledges that this is not easy to do. He psyches himself up for it every morning and it often has him exhausted by evening. But it is an effective way to build relationships and increase his visibility and credibility as a leader.

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Calling all R&D geeks!

Broader role, Geek 5

Over at BNET Nancy Smith wrote an interesting article called R&D: Skilled, Well-educated Workers Wanted (and not just the science geeks)!   Research and development is one of the fields that will continue to grow over the next decade.   Companies need innovation in order to expand their revenue and to compete with up-and-coming businesses around the world.

The government is contributing to the increase in R&D as well.  The stimulus contributed $19B to R&D – and more is proposed for future budgets.

R&D applies to most technical areas – from engineering to medicine to technology to environmental sciences and more.  Making research happen requires a well-educated workforce with a focus on science, math and technology.

Check out the article.  It should make you feel confident that your geek skills will be even more strongly valued in the future.  Add some soft skills to the mix and overcome the Geek 5 risks (organizational savvy, leadership, management skills, business acumen and resistance to a broader role), and you’re on your way to having an unstoppable career.

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Do you have the cringe factor?

Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy, Uncategorized

I’ve been learning all sorts of new terms lately.  Okay, they aren’t exactly intellectual, academic definitions, but they come from real people with real concerns.  As mentioned in an earlier post, the term “slime factor” was used in a succession meeting to describe someone who was borderline creepy.

This week, I heard another new talent management term – the cringe factor.  I was teaching Situational Leadership to a group of mid-level managers.  Sit Lead teaches that leaders must evaluate how competent an employee is at a task and then adapt their leadership style to match that level of competence.   It is a good training program for newer managers.  We’ll discuss it at some point in this blog.

The audience was managers from across the business – IT, Finance, HR, etc.  There were also some project managers who handle the big IT projects.  They asked a lot of questions about how to manage technical people (ie geeks) who were assigned to their projects, but were not formally direct reports.  They sometimes struggled to get the geeks to meet deadlines and do quality work, but they did not have direct authority over them.

One manager piped up and described the “cringe factor”.  The cringe factor is the unpleasant reaction that non-geeks can have when forced to talk with an uncooperative geek.  The non-geek knows he needs to go talk to the geek, but cringes at the thought.  He knows that the geek is a pain to work with and often hides behind technical jargon to make excuses.  The cringe factor often leads to excuses to avoid the problem and discussion until the problem escalates.

Does someone on your team cause the cringe factor in you or others?

If you are a manager, you need to address it.  Technical skills aren’t enough.  To be successful at work, your team also needs soft skills.  Part of avoiding the cringe factor is having good collaboration skills and being open to questions and concerns.

Keep an eye open for the cringe factor!

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Advice from the Top: Be the Rudder

Advice from the Top, Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Uncategorized

Today’s Advice from the Top post comes from a senior leader in my current company. It relates to the Geek 5 risks of leadership skills and resistance to a broader role.

 The last Advice from the Top post was about treating your office like a prison and escaping it as often as you can.  That is a leadership technique for building relationships and connecting to your team.   

Be the Rudder is also a leadership technique.  It is based on an analogy to a boat.  Picture a large boat (like a Viking Boat) staffed with a dozen men with oars. 

Boat with rudder

Boat with rudder

Q:  How does the boat move? 

A: The men use the oars to row the boat.

Q:  How does the boat steer?

A: The boat is steered by the captain from the back of the boat using the rudder.

As the captain leader of your boat team are you steering from the rear as the rudder? 

As Geeks make the transition from an individual contributor role focused on their expertise to a broader leadership role, many struggle with this issue.  They try to move the boat by doing all of the rowing from the front of the boat and pulling the team along with them. 

Geek managers can often do the work faster and better than less experienced direct reports.  Plus the technical work is in their comfort zone.  So they try to do the work instead of guiding the team.

To be a rudder, the leader should:

  • Delegate tasks
  • Coach and mentor
  • Provide strategy and direction
  • Motivate the team
  • Allow others to carry their own load
  • Keep the team aligned and all rowing together

Are you the rudder for your team or are you hauling them along through the strength of your expertise?

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Should geeks turn down promotions?

Broader role, Geek 5

One of the Geek 5 risks is about resistance to taking on a role beyond a geek’s technical specialty.  It often moves a geek out of the comfort zone and demands new skills such as those around managing people.

Over at, John Baldoni wrote an article called “Sure you want to move up the ladder?”  He covers the same topic and poses some interesting questions that you should ask yourself.

He encourages you to think about what type of leader you would be and what new skills you might need to be successful.  He also mentions the sacrifices that often come along with the perks of a promotion.

Check out his article for more details.

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Personal failure of org savvy

Broader role, Geek 5

In the previous post, I presented a definition of organizational politics. One of the keys points is that you must be aware of the politics to spin them for positive uses and to not fall victim to them. Personally I have fallen prey to these issues. Specifically, I always believed that good work would be rewarded and the person with the best ideas would be listened to. The reality that I found was that I occasionally ran afoul of organizational politics, because I did not pay attention to them. Good ideas went unnoticed or even worse, other people got credit for my work.

In one case several years ago, I was in charge of a new project to test e-learning within our organization. At the time, the work was outside of my job description, but the Director of Training position was empty, so I was tasked with the work. I was excited about the project, because I had done significant e-learning work with my previous employers.

The company had no foundation for e-learning and the senior leaders put a tight timeline on getting a pilot going (so they could discuss it with the Board of Directors). I led a fabulous team and we accomplished a monumental task. We had to define the project, set a strategy, get buy in from various parts of the company, find vendors, determine technology (in a company with limited technology resources), plan a rollout, develop content and more. We accomplished great things and delivered a strong pilot.

Soon after the pilot launched, we hired a new Director of Training. All of the thought work was done and we had done and executed all of the very complex planning. I assumed that I would get credit for the success of the project, since I was the leader that did all of the heavy lifting. However, the new Director of Training was a better politician that I was. He also got to be the one to announce the metrics and indicators that proved that it was a good solution.

As I result, I started hearing about what a great job he had done, and the positive impact he made on the company. Everyone seemed to forget that all of the work was done and humming along by the time he came along. In hindsight, my mistake was that I did not do enough to toot my own horn and toot the horn of the team as we went along. I assumed that everyone knew what we were doing. I focused on the task and not the glory. As a result, I wasn’t automatically associated with the project and the success. I lost that battle of organizational politics. I performed as a leader, but I was not seen as a leader.

If I had taken into consideration that I needed to influence the organization and increase my power as the definition of organizational savvy states, I might have gotten more recognition. Fortunately I recovered from this goof.  If you have had similar oversights, you can recover too.

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Geek Career Questions

Broader role, Geek 5

In recent posts, we discussed using career assessments to determine what career path or job works best for you.  There are some additional things to consider about what career direction to take and also how ambitious you want to be.  This relates to the Geek 5 issue of “resistance to a broader role“.   Think through these questions – they can help guide the direction of your professional development.  Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. What career is well-suited to my interests?  The career assessments are a big help for this.

2.  Are you willing to make sacrifices to get ahead?  Can you truly commit to moving up the career ladder or would you rather stay where you are?

3.  Do you understand how careers generally progress in your field?  Do you have the right education, experience and credentials?

4.  Do you understand what it takes to get ahead in your company?  Career advancement often rests as much on relationships as it does on skills and results.

5.  Do you understand how to “brand” yourself and advocate for your own career?

6.  Are you willing to take career risks?

7.  When you think of a promotion, what interests you?  Is it only the additional money and status or are you truly interested in the work you would be doing?

8.  Would you consider a lateral move in order to gain more skills? 

9. Who do you know who can provide help, guidance, mentoring?

10.  What are your primary skills?  Do you have any additional skills that can help your career?

What other career questions do you wrestle with?

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