A while back my colleague Ned Pyle wrote a really great blog post about what to do in your IT career if you want to excel. You can read it here, and if you read just that today (and take it to heart) you’ve done something good for yourself. I really think that his post is a must read if you are an admin or in the information technology field.
Please don’t tell Ned I said that. He is my rival and one day I will crush him <fist shake>!
EricBrec’s blog has a post on exactly this topic. Though it’s geared toward Microsoft centric career path it is still relevant in the general IT world. Eric lists three distinct paths to leadership: boss, guru and sage. I think that is probably the most succinct way I’ve heard it described. In EricBrec’s parlance this post is dealing only with the guru path to leadership.
Here’s a quick list of the things that I’ve observed firsthand as helping, or in some of the cases, hindering the Shining Path to Guruhood.
Roll Your Sleeves Up
If you can’t do what you are talking about, educating on or trying to entice others to do then no one will ever listen to you. Having a reputation of being able to get things done instantly adds 15% to your gravitas. Doing the difficult stuff is the core of how you get to be known as a “go to” person. The best way to do this is to find the most difficult things to do –things others are hesitating to do- and to do them well.
Lead By Example, Pave The Way
On the face of it this point sounds a lot like the first one, right? It is most certainly not. Being able to do the tough stuff is all well and good, but you need to be able and willing to show others how to do it too. Otherwise you are known as the Lone Wolf Who Doesn’t Work Well With Others.
As an aside, saying “I’m now the point person/leader” is one of the better ways to encourage people to not follow you. Leadership is an action, not a noun.
Don’t Get All Emo
An impassioned plea is rarely a good sign of the firmness of your point. If you are basing your discussions on an emotional aspect then there’s a good chance that they will be dismissed out of hand by the other party. They might simply assume that you have an axe to grind. This isn’t always the case of course but it’s something to keep in mind.
A thing I like to keep in mind is that if I have a compelling argument or case for what I am trying to get done then my case will “stand on its own legs”, on its own merit. In cases where it cannot for some reason getting all worked up about it certainly won’t help.
Confrontational Usually Equals Bad
In the Old Days at Microsoft confrontational approaches were pretty common. In my early years here I was on the Windows Millennium Edition beta and saw many meetings that went down this way. Yelling, screaming, that sort of thing. I distinctly recall one meeting which ended with the senior most guy stomping his feet on a conference room table to get everyone to shut up. If you recall Windows Me then I think you’ll understand the point I’m making. It was not our best release, though it did pioneer a lot of rev 1 features.
The point is: don’t be directly confrontational unless you need to, and when you must do it nicely.
Accept That Others May Also Be Leaders And Work With Them.
This is pretty straightforward. I’ll just add that it doesn’t go without saying…and the most productive people are usually the ones that recognize other leaders and work with them. This can also be seen as finding the right person to work with when you need them.
Collaborate On Things
Being easy to work with is critical. You could be the leading authority on something, but if you are a pain in the nether regions to work with then no one will seek you out. This ultimately boils down to being open minded, doing a great job, and not being a jerk. Most people would be happy to avoid a guru who is a jerk in favor of a new guy who is not. Once you do these things then people will want to work with you, and collaborate on things together.
Technical Savvy Does Not Require Condescension
I recall when I was in college that there were some fellow students who thought that the knowledge they were learning made them better somehow. It was a special blend of intellectual snobbery that I recall with distaste to this day. In the IT world there is a similar thing that can happen. I most often see it from people who deal with difficult components or complex troubleshooting methods. There comes about a belief that they are The Authority, and they begin to deal with others in a condescending way.
This is a real blind spot that good people can fall into. It can lead to the Jerk Guru who no one will work with willingly. The word to keep in mind if you want to excel is Humility.
Have a sense of humor.
No project or task gets done without some setbacks. Setbacks can be the result of difficult interpersonal interactions, tough technical nuts to crack, or process related obstacles. The key is to have a sense of humor about it all and keep it in context with the bigger things in your life (whatever they may be). If that fails, then my good friend scotch has my back.
The context of the technical role is one where you may have the same job title and job responsibilities on paper, but in actuality you are leading your peers. This same-same aspect is both a benefit (you will stand out in contrast) and a challenge (you have to think of ways to stand out and do them) to IT roles. Striking that balance between enough challenge and benefit to make yourself stand out is key to your success.