Browsing the archives for the Overview category.

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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Introduction to the Geek 5

Geek 5, Overview

In my experience in coaching geeks, I’ve seen five recurring themes.  Some or all of these might apply to you.  Many of my coaching suggestions will center on what I think of as the Geek 5.  If you are struggling to advance or to excel in a professional context, consider your standing on these five areas.

  1. Broader role – Geeks often prefer to stay in the cocoon of their technical specialty.  They resist giving up their expertise to move in to broader roles.  Sometimes they are pushed in a new direction and sometimes they pursue a new role to increase status and salary.  To be successful, a geek has to find peace with this decision.  In addition, geeks tend to have analytical work styles and introverted personalities.  These tendencies can make it less natural to focus on professional success strategies such as developing relationships, selling ideas and personal branding.
  2. Organizational savvy – Organizational savvy is about understanding how businesses or organizations work – and specifically how to get things done easily and effectively  in your workplace.  Some geeks refer to this as “playing politics” and cringe at the thought. “Politics” does not have to be a dirty word.  Organizational savvy is about understanding how to get things done, build networks, communicate effectively and protect yourself.  You’ve got to learn the rules of the game in order to win.
  3.  Managing people – Technical experts often make it to a mid-career point as well-paid individual contributors.  They are responsible for their own production, performance and success.  When they move into their first role managing other people, they are often missing basic knowledge around directing the work of others, delegating, communicating expectations, having performance conversations and developing their direct reports.  Managing people well is not an easy thing to learn – and it is not as clear-cut as technical knowledge.  A chemist who knows that two chemicals will always react the same way can struggle when two employees need completely different management styles. 
  4. Leadership skills – With a narrow technical focus, geeks are often not stretched into bigger leadership roles.  Leadership means setting a vision and clarity of intent for the organization or group, so everyone is moving in the same direction.  It involves building cross-functional relationships and always considering the systemic impact of decisions.  It involves strategy and motivating others.  It is often fuzzy to define, but yet remains critical to success.  Leadership skills are gained through experience and by learning from other leaders.
  5. Business acumen – Geeks who are not already in financial and business areas often lack basic business and financial fundamentals.  Moving into higher level roles or getting attention outside a technical area, requires geeks to think about bigger organizational issues.  This often involves an ability to understand and discuss financial metrics like EPS, EBIT, Margin, etc.  If you don’t know what these are, my point is made.  Go look them up.
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What is Coaching?


Coaching is one of those terms you hear thrown around a lot these days.  We all understand what a sports coach does (BTW – I promise not to yell at you if you strike out!).  But who are all of these other coaches that we’re hearing about and what are they doing?

Coaching is the process of developing skills in a certain area with guidance from an objective expert.  You can find coaching in many different areas, including:

–Sports Coaching:  Team coaches are obvious but there are also private coaches that can be hired for one-on-one training.

–Life Coaching: Life coaches help people sort out priorities and keep their lives on track.  Beware of life coaches.  I’m sure there are some great ones out there, but anyone can hang out a shingle as a life coach.  They aren’t required to have credentials, and you never know what you’ll get.

–Job Search Coaching: This involves experts who help with resume writing, interview preparations, networking, finding job opportunities, etc.

–Presentation Skills Coaching:  I once helped set up a VP with this type of coach.  The coach was someone who regularly worked with TV anchors and professional actors.  The VP went from lacking self confidence and lots of “ummmms” to being a solid presenter.

–Wellness Coaching:  My sister-in-law does this.  She is an MD who can help people live healthier lives by supporting weight loss, diets, exercise, and management of chronic disease.

–Business and Professional Coaching:  That’s me!  Professional coaching usually involves identifying individual skill or style gaps and working with the person to improve in those areas.  It often involves assessments, feedback and individual development plans.

Coaching usually involves one-on-one interaction between the coach and coachee.  It can be in-person or via phone and usually lasts 3-12 months.  Sometimes a coaching engagement is shorter or longer depending on need.  One-on-one professional coaching is the type of coaching I do as part of my job.  I work with internal executives to help them be more successful in their roles.

This site will provide you much of the same advice and information that you could get out of a coaching relationship.  The difference is that this is free and available to everyone.  Also, you’ll have to do more of the work to apply this information to your specific situation and your developmental needs.  And of course, this advice is intended for geeks.

Any coaching engagement requires hard work and commitment from the coachee.  It also takes time to practice new skills.  You did not develop your problematic habits or styles overnight, and you won’t fix them overnight.  You must have reasonable expectations and celebrate the milestones on the way to your goal.  Some changes will happen quickly and others take longer.

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About Geek Coach

Overview, SIOP

Who am I?

As confessed in an earlier post, I am a geek.  I definately have that deep technical expertise thing going.  Specifically I have a PhD in Industrial/ Orgainzational Psychology (I/O Psych) from one of the top programs in the country.

Okay, I hear the crickets chirping out there – very few people outside the field have heard of I/O Psych.  Here’s the official definition from the American Psychological Association (APA) division 13, Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology (

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is the scientific study of the workplace. Rigor and methods of psychology are applied to issues of critical relevance to business, including talent management, coaching, assessment, selection, training, organizational development, performance, and work-life balance.

Unlike many areas of psychology, I/O Psych focuses on rigorous measurement and analytics – lots of multi-variate statistics, advanced modeling and science-based research.  SIOP is currently voting on whether or not to change the name of the organization.  The name is only part of the problem – the group suffers from a lack of good PR and marketing.  It is a field that could provide potentially huge benefits to improving business and individual performance.  Unfortunately the group tends to be so focused on obscure academic issues that the practicality gets lost along the way…but I digress…

With my degree, I have expertise in assessment, executive development, learning, organizational development and more.  Many I/O Psychologists do research and teaching at major universities.  I’m one of the rebel I/Os who wanted to apply my knowledge and not just think about it.

So I work inside a corporation.  I’m a Director in Human Resources with a focus on talent assessment and development which includes coaching, succession planning, leadership programs and some other stuff.  Being an I/O geek in a corporation makes me doubly suited to writing this blog.  On one hand, I have the deep technical and professional expertise in helping other people develop professional skills.  I do it every day at work.  On the other hand, I am a geek who had to adapt to the corporate world.  It wasn’t always easy – coming from an academic focused environment.

This site is in no way associated with my job – hence the anonymity.  I don’t work on this during work hours or even discuss it at work.

In most cases, I will not be officially affiliated with the companies or products I’ll discuss.  When I am affiliated, I’ll let you know.  I’m not getting royalties or freebies for my work on this blog.  Right now, I’m interested in seeing if I can help out a few geeks.  If this holds together, maybe I’ll shoot for writing a book down the road.

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How to use this site


As Captain Obvious, I will state that this site is in blog format.  A couple of times a week, I’ll add posts related to professional development for geeks.  In addition, I’ll occasionally post other geek-related information.  You’ll see some original concepts and comments all shared in my informal writing style.  You’ll also see discussion of ideas from published writers and practitioners.  I will always cite my sources when I use them – professional integrity and all.  In those cases, I’ll frequently refer you to another site or a book where you can get more information. 

The value that I provide is that I will distill the information down into a manageable size and translate it specifically for geek behavior.  There are a lot of good resources available but they can be hard to find if professional development is not your field.  I’ll also try to steer you past the pseudo-science and fads that are so popular in this area.  We’ll stick with proven (usually scientifically proven) techniques.

You can opt to read each post sequentially as they are published.  You can also search the site for a topic or look in the archived categories.  Come regularly or only when you are seeking an answer to a problem.

BTW – I can hear some of you scoffing about the technical quality of the site.  I readily confess that I am not a technical geek.  I’m using a simple WordPress blogging site.  I still struggle with adding widgets and changing formatting.  I can’t promise glamorous or cutting edge technology.  I can promise a functional site.  More importantly, I’ll vouch for the sound research and experienced-based content.

Since you are all geeks as well, I’ll write as if speaking to my well-educated friends.  I’ll avoid jargon (mostly) but I won’t dumb down the messages.  You are smart enough to follow along, but you must make a choice about whether or not to listen.

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Popularity of Geeks


When I was growing up, “geek” was an insult.  It brought to mind a gawky kid with braces and glasses who preferred A/V equipment and computers to people.  However, that perception has changed.  Geeks have become popular.  The world is starting to appreciate the fact that smart people can change the world – and sometimes even get rich doing so.  As I was planning this site in October 2009, I found two articles in two different airline magazines (business travel – yuck!) that both celebrated the rise of the geek. 

The October 2009 American Way magazine from American Airlines had an article titled “Geek Chic” by J. Rentilly.  It was about the success of geek and nerd movies and shows like “The Hangover” and “The Office”.   

Spirit magazine (October 2009) from Southwest Airlines dedicated two articles to the topic of geeks.  One titled “Geek God” focused on a profile of Rainn Wilson who plays Dwight on “The Office”.   Rainn is a proud geek who has graced the cover of Geek Monthly and been declared People magazine’s sexiest geek.  The second was about geeks designing new products and processes to help save the Earth.  One such geek is Michael Easton who is experimenting with wind power.

It is nice to see geeks come into their own!  I’m not proposing to change all of the great strengths that geeks bring to the table.  But by perfecting some other skills, you can become a stealth-geek with professional savvy and be successful on both fronts.

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What is a geek?


For the purposes of this site, a geek is defined as someone with deep technical expertise who self-labels as a geek.  Right now, the analytical geeks are all thinking that this definition is too broad, non-specific and un-measurable.  And they are right.  But get used to it – part of your professional development is to learn to accept ambiguity.  This definition is intentionally broad.  “Geek” is more of a state of mind than a specific definition. 

The technical expertise part of the definition is often linked to IT and computer specialists.  However, it can also apply to engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, accountants, statisticians, business analysts, merchants, architects, stock brokers and more.  The common factor here is that these folks have deep technical expertise in their areas.  In many cases, the focus on learning the technical knowledge took time and priority over learning more general professional skills.

Geeks are also self-declared and proud of it.  It is part of their identity and reflects their pride in their technical expertise.  Sometimes this pride can inhibit professional growth, but more about that later.

 In short, geeks:

  •  Have deep technical expertise
  • Label themselves as geeks
  • Are smart and productive
  • Come from a variety of technical and specialty professions
  • Can be of any age, gender, national origin, sexual orientation or physical status (it’s like EEOC approval for geeks!)

 BTW – I’m a geek too.  My deep technical expertise is in executive assessment, development and coaching.

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Welcome to Geeks Gone Pro.  You’ve taken your first step to adding professional polish to your technical expertise.  I’m Geek Coach and I’ll be your guide on this journey.  This site came about as I recognized a need for professional development targeted at geeks.  I’m a business coach and I keep running in to a common theme.  I frequently work with very smart and talented technical folks who have hit a ceiling in their careers.  They want to advance but lack some of the professional savvy they need in order to move from a specialist role to a general management, executive or broader professional role. 

This site will help you figure out how to move to the next level in your career (or for some of you it will help smooth out issues in your current role).   I’m not going to help you with your technical development – you’ve aced that!  Instead, I’ll provide help and resources to make you a more effective professional who has both technical and soft skills.

This site is geared for:

  1. Smart, technical geeks
  2. Workers who have some experience but want to move to the next career level
  3. People with a learning orientation who are open to suggestions for improvement
  4. People who have “developmental opportunities” in terms of soft skills, leadership, political savvy and/ or professionalism.

 If some or all of these descriptions fit you, then you are in the right place.  You won’t find any overnight solutions or magic bullets here.  Professional development is a journey.  We’re getting ready to go, so buckle up and get ready for the ride.

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