More career trouble and bounce back

Career Challenges

I’m still puttering around with the changes to my Geek 5 model and approach.  Until I finalize that, here is a good read from BNET’s The Corner Office.

I’ve written about running into active and passive career crises and how to bounce back from them.  Steve Tobak wrote an entertaining piece called “10 Classic Career Disasters and Lessons Learned” on some of the career challenges that he has faced and the lessons he learned from them. 

If you are working hard and always looking to do things better, you will inevitably run in to some friction and trouble along the way.  Consider it a testament to the fact that you are proposing positive change.  The reaction is not always pleasant, but you can still make progress and learn something. 

The comments section offers some other incidents from readers.  I could add some career mis-steps such as challenging the wrong sacred cow and violating some unwritten rules.

One of the commentors talks about how you should never stay with one company for more than 5 years.  If you do, it starts to feel like a partnership.  However, the company will dump you in a second if they need to, so don’t get too attached.  That view is a bit too extreme for me, because some long-term careers at one company can be very rewarding. 

I would agree that you should not let the company or your job define you.  You need to have a life and an identity and a sense of self-worth outside of your job.  Many people find that through friends and family and hobbies and church and volunteering, etc.  If you are defined by your job and you lose that job, it does a major whammy to your self-esteem. 

Protect yourself from job crises – sometimes sh*t happens.

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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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Article: Using Fear to Control Employees

Outside Articles

Over at, Liz Ryan posted a great article called “Ten Signs of a Fear-based Workplace”.  Some of the scenarios she describes are, unfortunately, quite common.  They range from brown nosing being common to a focus on getting results regardless of how the results are achieved.  Even an overabundance of rules can mean that the company is fearful of employee actions and therefore tries to control everything.  My favorite sign is when the boss from The Office television show seems like a good guy compared to your own boss.

In today’s tough economy and job market, has civility and respect and professionalism disappeared from the workplace?

If you witness or experience any of the signs listed in her article, you are probably in a fear dominated company.

Some questions to consider:

  • Does this describe your workplace?
  • If you are a leader, how can you prevent these types of problems?
  • As an employee, how can you push back against fear tactics?
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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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Geek Fun: Geeks propose marriage with style

Geek Fun

It should warm the heart of any geek to check out the Geek Marriage proposals over at  Not surprisingly, they tend to involve a lot of computer hacking and technology.  My favorite is #10 the LOL Cats proposal.

For a laugh, check it out:

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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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Happy Fourth of July!


I’m taking the day off as part of a camping trip into a cooler area.  Hope you have a happy and safe Independence Day!

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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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