I remember as a kid being more comfortable with adults than with other kids. Maybe it was the lack of kids my age in my neighborhood. Perhaps it was the way that my family treated kids with respect and challenged us to engage in substantive conversations at the dinner table about current events or politics. Whatever it was, I didn’t fit in.
I found my peers unpredictable, foolish, selfish and confusing. I remember the appeal of learning to work with technology. Using money I saved from my paper route I bought a radio shack TRS-80 Color Computer. An aunt gave me a black and white TV, and I was in business.
Image courtesy of Radio Shack
Where my peers were inconsistent and annoying, I found solace in the predictable world of writing code. While I was frequently unsuccessful in getting the computer to do what I wanted, it was consistent. The computer was not moody – it never got offended. It was not busy doing other things when I wanted to play.
Becoming “the god of the box”
More than being available and predictable, probably the biggest draw to me was the idea of being in control. I’ve heard this called being “the god of the box”- where I could be in control. I was the one setting the agenda, in charge, telling the hardware and software what to do.
Where I felt out of place and completely out of control when I was dealing with other kids, I felt confident dealing with technology.
I learned that I could study the technical reference manuals and learn how to make the computer work. I made mistakes often, but the computer never got mad. It was a simpler place to be.
I suspect I’m not the only one who had this experience. What about you? What was it that made you decide to be a tech person? Did you ever want to be “the god of the box?”
People do what works – and geek skills work (for a while)
Over time, I began to have success in the marketplace based on my technical skills. I remember being in Junior Achievement in high school, and writing software that solved a key business problem. We sold that program for $600. That felt really good. Go BASIC!
Those tech skills paid off again and again. I was able to leverage them to get projects I wanted rather than the “regular” assignments. As a summer intern I proposed and then upgraded departmental computers rather than doing the mind-numbing data entry they hired me to do.
People do what works. My geek skills were “working” for me. No one told me that there was more to business success than geek skills. In fact, the first few years of my career, the only thing I was aware of being measured on was my tech skills.
That lasted for a few years, but eventuallly my geek skills weren’t enough. I needed to learn to deal with people.
I did need to oversee people even in my first jobs – and I made a TON of mistakes. In college I never took a class on leading people. ……I even went to a liberal arts school. We focused on technical aspects of operating systems, memory optimization and communications efficiency, but we didn’t talk about dealing with people.
As I talk to geeks, I hear similar stories from others. How do you learn about people?
Most of the time we make a lot of mistakes on our journey. Hopefullly we learn from those mistakes, but many times I was so task focused that I didn’t reflect on what had worked (and what had not.)
Two Key Lessons
I’m grateful for some mentors in my life who took me aside and taught me about learning how to influence others effectively. They helped me start my leadership journey.
What I’ve learned since then is that
1. The higher you go work becomes less and less concrete.
2. Nothing of significance is completed by a single individual. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto!
The higher you go, work becomes less and less concrete.
When I was the help desk guy at the training company, work was clear: respond to people’s computer problems and do my best to fix it.
When I was a young developer, the technical requirements were handed to me and I had to make the code work.
By the time I was in charge of new product development for a software company I had FAR less to work from – there were innumerable options – it was my job to figure out what should be done, and who should do it. Very vague requirements, no certain path to victory.
Nothing of significance is completed by a single individual
No matter how smart you are, no matter how much work you do, the bigger and more important the project the more important it is for you to get the help of others.
You may need to get help from:
- Your boss – getting more tools, more time, or more people to help you
- Your peers – getting them to want to help you
- Your project managers – helping them understand what is needed to get to success so they can clear hurdles out of your way
- Business partners – gain an understanding of the business problem they are solving, find elegant solutions that blow them away
- Project sponsors, senior executives – helping them see how the work you do is important to them and their goals.
Are you a geek? Do you lead geeks? Want some help?
Because I’m a geek (or at least I used to be a tech geek) I get it. I work with geeks in teams, and one on one to help you communicate clearly, work efficiently and get the resources you need to create effective and elegant solutions. I live in the Charlotte NC area, but I’m happy to serve clients all over the US.
One example: I worked with a technical expert from a telecom company to help him come up with key strategies to connect with others. This was a three month blended learning program combining a DVD-based program, a book and 1-1 sessions which only cost him $599.
A second example: I worked with a development team from a multi-billion dollar company to help them better understand how they want others to communicate with them, and how others want to be communicated with. We used the DISC assessment tool.
For another company I’m doing a series of team sessions on topics related to leading others – planning, delegation, communication plans, leading meetings, and holding others accountable without making them mad. All of that is happening as a virtual program, and they are getting great results.
I help geeks communicate with and influence others. Not sure if I can help? Just give me a call or drop me an email, and I’ll be happy to talk about ways that I can help – I can offer ideas for as little as $0 so I’m sure that we can find something that fits your budget.