In this episode:
- Three hats you need to wear as an effective geek
- How to get the recognition you deserve at work
- Why you’re not getting the results you want
- 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
Tom: Steve writes, “I’m an engineer in a manufacturing company. I’ve been working professionally for a few years now, and if I do say so myself, I’m smart and hard-working. I care a lot about my work and I’m passionate about my ideas. My problem is my boss doesn’t listen to me. Not only that, but I’ve been told by my boss and HR that my directness and attitude are getting me in trouble. I don’t understand what they’re talking about. Even if I’m making a critical comment, what I’m saying is true. There’s nothing wrong with speaking truth, is there?”
Announcer: Becoming a geek leader. Season three, episode three.
Sponsored by Brighthill Group Executive Coaching Services.
Man: This episode is sponsored by BrightHill Group’s Team Leadership Services. Dysfunctional teams are painful and cost you time and money. They also suck the life out of you and take the fun out of work. How about your team? Is it time for a tune-up? How prepared is your team for the challenges ahead? I can help create a simple development process for your team members. Something easy for you to use. Not another project for you to manage.
Growth doesn’t happen by accident. Whether it’s through a leadership assessment or helping you plan a leadership retreat, give me a call to talk about how to set up an affordable program to improve your team’s teamwork and to help your team members perform like a well-oiled machine. Check out brighthillgroup.com/geektraining, that’s brighthillgroup.com/geektraining for quick videos on my team building and leadership retreats. Then give me a call at 240 668 4799. That’s 240 668 4799.
Tom: Welcome to the Becoming a Geek Leader podcast. My name is Tom Cooper. As a geek, I’m on a mission to figure out better ways to lead others at work and at home. Through the Becoming a Geek Leader podcast, I’m sharing what I’m learning so I can help make you a more effective at leading people, too. Ready?
In today’s action-packed episode, I’m going to talk about growing your career by wearing some new hats, getting the recognition you deserve, a hard limit that may be keeping you from more success at work, and a story about my son embracing failure that led to a great Thanksgiving outcome. I guess Ms. Frizzle from “The Magic School Bus” book series was right when she said, “Take chances, make mistakes, get dirty.” So, let’s get started.
Thought leader segment.
Announcer: Level one. Individual.
Announcer: At level one, you may even be a superstar technical resource. Level one focuses you on improving your technical skills.
John: Hello, I’m John Maxwell and as one of my founding partners, Tom has been trained by me and my team.
Tom: Starting with today’s episode, I’m adding a new element to the podcast. Now, many of you who know me know that John Maxwell has had a huge impact about my thinking when it comes to leadership. And one of his most popular books is called “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”. It’s a good book and it’s well worth your time to read. And starting today, I’ll be including a brief description of one of the laws as part of the podcast.
In today’s episode, I want to introduce you to The Law of the Lid. The Law of the Lid says that leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness. So what does that mean? It means that each of us has developed a certain set of skills. We do what works. Everybody does what works. When something works, we repeat it. And as a result, we perform at a certain level. But what if? What if we could learn things that worked even better that got us some more results? And to help illustrate that, I want to share with you a story of two brothers.
In 1937, brothers Dick and Maurice started a drive-in restaurant in California. Now, they were good restaurateurs. In fact, their restaurant was a success. It was so successful that after just three years, they were splitting profits from the restaurant of \$50,000. Now, you can only imagine how much \$50,000 was in 1940. These were good times. In fact, just 10 years later, things were going so well for them, that now they were splitting \$100,000 a year. That’s good stuff. They had…they were smart at running a restaurant.
They had developed repeatable systems for every element of…in the restaurant. And they were good managers. They ran their restaurant really efficiently, Now, based on their success, they thought, “You know what would be really smart for us to do? We’ve got these systems, we’ve got success as restaurateurs, we should franchise.” And they decided to sell franchises. And you know what happened? It did not work. They only sold 15 licenses to franchisees. And of the 15, only 10 actually every opened up a restaurant. Now, why didn’t it work?
Well, Dick and Maurice were really good at running a restaurant, but there weren’t really good at taking it to that level of franchisee-ing. They ran straight into this idea of The Law of the Lid. Their leadership ability limited their effectiveness. So, let me ask you this. Have you ever had a really good thing that should have scaled, but it didn’t? Have you ever had a really good idea that other people just wouldn’t buy into? And you think about this, you’ve got a good idea and you’ve got all the important elements that are there, but, for some reason, all the pieces don’t add up to a whole. And this is exactly what happened to Dick and Maurice. They just didn’t have the leadership skills to make it go.
So, looking back, how do we know now that their idea was actually a good idea? Well, in 1954, Dick and Maurice met Ray. Ray was a milkshake machine salesman. And he was very happy to sell milkshake machines to Dick and Maurice. They were his best customer. And so, he looked at the potential in franchising and he negotiated the rights to sell the franchises based on the work that Dick and Maurice had done.
In 1954, Dick and Maurice McDonald sold franchise rights to Ray Kroc. Over the next four years, Ray Kroc opened 100 McDonald’s restaurants. In the next four years after that, Kroc opened an average of 100 restaurants a year. Kroc had a leadership lid that was higher than McDonald’s leadership lead. And he was able to apply his leadership skills to create the juggernaut that became the McDonald’s franchise chain.
Looking at you and your situation, what if you could raise your leadership lid? What if you could improve your leadership ability by, I don’t know, 1% a week? Just 1% a week. That compounding interest would really add up, wouldn’t it? How would that change your career? How might it change your life? That’s The Law of the Lid. And that’s today’s thought leader segment from John Maxwell.
Announcer: Level two. Team member.
Man: Level two is where you work well with others, and together you all succeed.
Tom: Today I’m answering an email from Steve. Steve writes, “I’m an engineer in a manufacturing company. I’ve been working professionally for a few years now, and if I do say so myself, I am smart and hard-working. I care a lot about my work, and I am passionate about my ideas. My problem is my boss doesn’t listen to me. Not only that, but I’ve been told by my boss and HR that my directness and my attitude are getting me in trouble. I don’t understand what they’re talking about. Even if I’m making a critical comment about somebody or something, what I’m saying is true. There’s nothing wrong with speaking the truth, is there?”
“I really do have great ideas, and I think my boss ought to implement more of my ideas, and I should be rewarded. I’m saving the company tons of money and helping them do things that, without me, they would completely fail at doing. I’m so frustrated that I’m thinking about quitting. So, should I quit and go find a company that values good ideas and that will reward me fairly for being a great contributor?”
Steve, I feel your pain. In previous episodes, I’ve said that, early in my career, I believed that my brain power and my geek work, combined with my own two hands, was gonna be the key to my success. And the rest of everything at work was in a sliver of percentage that I called politics/BS. I do understand what it’s like to not be heard. My second job at a college, I had some conflict with senior leaders. I was working for a small mom-and-pop company. I worked directly for the vice president Pop, and Mom was the president of the company. It was many, many years ago, and I don’t really remember the details of this incident, but what I do remember is I was so offended by something the president said about my work that I left her an angry and critical voice mail defending my position.
Now, I’m pretty sure that, if you’d asked me, I would have said that everything I said in my message was truthful. She just couldn’t handle the truth. That’s her problem, not mine, right? Here’s the thing. As engineers, we like to think of ourselves as rational thinkers who make decisions on facts and logic. The fact is that even engineers are strongly affected by our emotions. In you email, you described passion for your ideas, and that’s an example of your emotions coming into play. And why do you care? It’s because your ideas are good, they’re helpful and they move the company toward its goals. And that’s good. But in order for people to hear your ideas, you have to be able to communicate those ideas in a form that other people feel good about.
Maya Angelou once said, “People never forget how you make them feel. People never forget how you make them feel.” And that’s one of the core lessons all of us needs to consider. I’m reminded of that joke where an engineer decides to apologize for upsetting someone. And the engineer says, “I’m sorry you got upset when I told you you were stupid. I thought you already knew that about yourself.” Now, how do you think that made the so-called stupid person feel? I guarantee you they are never gonna forget that.
So here’s my feedback to you. I’m willing to bet that you’re right. That you are smart, and that you are hard-working, and that you’re adding a great deal of technical value to your employer. That is really good. Keep it up. You are investing in one part of your career success, in technical skills. Stanford Research International reported that a study showed the importance of technical skills to your career success. Their study proves that technical skill are critical to your achievement. And continuing to invest in those technical skills is an important component of your overall success.
However, the study showed that 13% of your career success is technical skills. Thirteen percent. The other 87% is made up of what I used to call politics/BS. Now, back in the day, I thought it was 2%, and actually, it’s 87%. It’s not really politics and BS. It’s actually about understanding how people work and how to relate to others. So, let’s get back to that voice mail I left for the president of this small company I worked for.
My boss, the husband of the company president, sat me down for a tough conversation. At the end of that conversation, it was communicated clearly to me that I needed to apologize for my insubordination and my disrespect. It was a tough message to hear. And it was tough for me to actually do it, too. I remember having that conversation. I remember going home and thinking about it and trying to decide exactly what I was gonna do, and eventually I did go and confess my insubordination and disrespect, and she was gracious to me. But it was a tougher choice for them, too. Because they could have fired me. They could have fired me immediately and I would have had no recourse at all. And so, I’m grateful that they invested in me and they helped me grow through that season.
Here’s the thing. If you continue to invest in your technical capability but you don’t invest in your people skills as part of your growth at work, it’s not gonna matter which company you work for. You’re still going to be frustrated. Let me just say that again. You are gonna be you wherever you go. If you’ve made big investments on the technical side but you have not made the right investments on the people side of things, no matter where you go, you’re gonna face the same problem.
So, do you wanna have other people support your ideas? Recognize you for your contributions and reward you? Then let me encourage you to invest in the 87% as well. Learn how to communicate, how to delegate, how to manage conflict, and how to plan you work with others. And you’re gonna see a great deal of success. Steve, I hope that’s of help to you. And that’s today’s Coach’s Mailbox.
Thought leader segment.
Announcer: Level two. Team member. Level two is where you work well with others, and together you all succeed.
Tom: That’s true. Earlier in my career, I believed that 98% of my success as a geek came from geek work and the other 2% was a category I called politics/BS. Now, I’ll tell you that I invested heavily on the 98% and I really did not invest much on the 2%. But I recently came across an article from “Gartner” that was called “The Renaissance Developer: Skills Guidance for Modern Application Programmers”. If your company has a “Gartner” subscription, I highly recommend you read the article. It was…it’s well worth your time. I’ve included a link to the article on the “Gartner” website in today’s show notes on the web page. Now, this article is specifically directed at software developers. But I would suggest that it’s applicable to anybody who does technical work.
In the article, Danny Brian, the author, makes the case that you’re gonna need to wear three different hats based on the work that you’re doing. You’re gonna change hats from time to time. The first, you need a coder hat or a geek hat. Second, you need a communicator hat. And third, you need a hat that lets you be a suit. When you’re wearing the geek hat, you’re gonna need to invest in your technical skills. But as you move up the ladder, as you begin to have more influence in the organization, you’re gonna need to shift your thinking from deep technical knowledge in one area to a more broad-based definition of success. You’re gonna need to think about learning and applying things cross-functionally. Things that are outside your wheelhouse. Outside you technical wheelhouse, perhaps. And if you’re a coder, you might need to learn a new language or a new framework. Some other platform.
You may need to understand more about how people use technology. If you’re networking person, maybe you need to think about databases, or maybe you need to think about coding languages. Not to become an expert in those areas, but just to get a sense for what those other areas do. Because your ability to deliver value in the organization is going to require your technical excellence as applied in multiple disciplines. Expanding the scope of your technical knowledge does matter. Now, one thing I wanna point out, there’s a consequence to doing this.
The more broad your thinking is and the wider your ideas are across different technology platforms or across technical areas, you’re less likely to continue to be the smartest person in the room within your chosen area. Now, it’s actually okay, but it’s something you simply have to come to terms with. When you realize that you can have more impact, you can have more growth, you can get to more success by broadening your understanding and giving up some of the depth that you’ve previously had, you begin to see it’s okay for somebody to know more than you about a specific technical area.
I’m working with a client right now who’s an auditor by trade. And he said to me just last week, “I recognize that I’m not going to be the smartest auditor in the room. That somebody’s probably gonna have more auditing skills than I currently have. But I’m gonna have to be okay with that as I move forward.” And that client is exactly right. So you’re gonna have to be willing to no longer be the smartest guy in the room. But you’re gonna be smarter because you’re gonna know more about areas outside your discipline. And that means if you are a project manager, maybe you need to learn more about technology.
If you’re a technology person, maybe you need to learn more about business process, or maybe you need to learn more about technology to solve business problems in a particular area. Maybe if you’re in one department within an IT organization, you need to have lunch with people who are in another department and understand the kinds of problems that they’re running into. The kinds of needs that they have. And that begins to lead us into hat number two.
So let’s talk for a minute about the communicator hat. The only way great ideas can ever get implemented is if they’re communicated in a way that other people can understand. When you’re growing your skills as a communicator, Danny suggests that you need to look for ways to improve your communication and collaboration. Now, one tool that I would recommend is the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. It’s a great starting point to help you become more persuasive. And the higher you go on the ladder, the more your communication and persuasion skills become important.
I just want to take a second here to say I talk to senior leaders all the time. I cannot emphasize enough how much people at the sea level struggle to find people who have great technical skills and can communicate and collaborate with others. And you know that’s true. You know there are plenty of highly technical, very smart, very capable people that you don’t let talk to customers. They say, “Give me the specifications or let me go do the work and get out of my way. But don’t make me talk to customers.” And I’m telling you, if you can develop skills when it comes to communicating well and collaborating with others, it will transform your success in your career. It is going to be worth your time, I promise.
Now, the third hat that Brian talks about in the article is the suit. And this is all about understanding the business drivers. Seeing where your solutions fit and why does the business need your help. Years ago, I worked for a software as a service company. And we had a software tool that easily generated 5X ROI. That means that if our customers paid us \$1 million, we could prove demonstrably they would see at least \$5 million in cost reduction. And because of this, it seemed obvious to us that customers, A, needed this tool, and, B, could easily seize so much return that everybody ought to buy. Right? I mean, if I made you a deal where you put a \$1 bill in my hand and I would put a \$5 bill in yours, you’d take that deal all day long. Right? You’d have to be an idiot not to. Right? Well, not so fast, and this is where the suit hat comes on.
Because the business guys, or our clients, did understand the ROI, but they also understood that it takes time and effort to make changes based on the reports from our tools. Even if they could…even if it cost them another \$1 million. So, \$1 million to us for our software and another \$1 million in labor, so they still got \$ million extra back. Not a bad deal, right? You give me \$1, I give you \$3. That’s a deal you should be able to take all day long. Or you give me \$2, I give you \$3, either way, it’s a win.
It wasn’t worth it to them. Why? Why wouldn’t it be worth it for them to get demonstrable return on investment? Because, in that industry, our clients often had parts of the business where they were losing \$100 million or \$200 million a year through waste and inefficiency. And if they could take that same time and attention their team members put…instead of putting on the \$5 million-a-year problem, or the \$1 million-a-year problem, right, they could be focusing attention on these much, much bigger problems, and that would be far better off for them than just getting a \$5 million return on investment.
For us to be successful, we had to become better suits if we were gonna address our clients’ needs. Now, eventually we did develop products that tackled some of the bigger problems our clients felt, and we were successful. But if we hadn’t learned about their business and about their priorities, we’d have been left in the dust. As a suit, you need to recognize business value. You need to intentionally step outside your comfort zone and connect with people in the business, and then think of ways that your technical skills can be applied to the highest value and most urgent business problems. As a geek leader, if you really want to grow your influence, you need to grow skills when you’re wearing the geek hat, the communicator hat, and the suit hat. And that’s today’s thought leader segment, thanks to “Gartner”.
Man: Level two. Team member. Level two is where you work well with others, and together you all succeed.
Tom: As I record this episode, it is Thanksgiving week in the United States. Thanksgiving is one of the favorite holidays in America. I love this holiday. It’s all about making the time to reflect on the blessings we have and invest time with family and friends in celebration. Now, in most American families, we put out a great feast for Thanksgiving day. With turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and many other delicious treats.
This year, one of our Boy Scouts decided he wanted to grow his skills in Dutch oven cooking. Now, for those of you who don’t know, a Dutch oven is a large cast iron bowl that’s got a heavy cast iron lid. Scouts learn to prepare dishes, even complete meals, using the Dutch oven, by placing the Dutch oven on the coals of a fire. To make the heating even, what you do is put coals on top of the oven, too. It’s not quite as simple as just setting the oven in the kitchen for a specific temperature. And my son Joel prepared a sweet potato casserole to contribute to our family feast.
And he started a charcoal fire in our fire pit, and he put the Dutch oven on the coals and put the coals on the top. Now, his coals started to burn out earlier than he planned, and now the temperature wasn’t gonna be hot enough. What was he gonna do? Well, fortunately, we still had some more charcoal and he was able to scramble to get some more charcoal lit to put back on to heat the casserole back up. Now, I think he was disappointed that things didn’t go perfectly. But eventually, the sweet potato casserole was done and it provided a delicious element for our family meal. I’m proud of him for stepping outside his comfort zone and for trying something new. And his experience yesterday reminds me of two thoughts about learning.
First, the head of Pixar, you know, the folks who put out Toy Story, he said, “Failure is an inevitable consequence of trying something new, and, as such, should be seen as valuable.” He’s saying that failure is valuable. Let me just read that quote to you again. “Failure is an inevitable consequence of trying something new, and, as such, it should be seen as valuable.” Failure is a part of our journey, and when things don’t go perfectly, we don’t need to get upset about that. We need to remember that struggle is normal and struggle is to be expected.
Secondly, I’m also reminded of the proverb that says, “The master has failed more times than the student has even tried. The master has failed more times than the student has ever tried.” This proverb teaches us that mastery comes through trying, stretching, learning, and failure. I just wanna wrap up by saying, the sweet potato casserole, yum. And that’s today’s family segment.
Man: In the Episode Hack segment, Tom shares one action-oriented takeaway from this episode. Something you can apply right away.
Tom: Man, we have covered a lot of ground today. We talked about three hats you need to wear as a technical resource. We talked about The Law of the Lid. How your leadership ability is directly related to your success, and how making mistakes is part of the journey to success. And then how you can improve your influence skills to get more recognition and reward at the office. So, in today’s Episode Hack, I wanna encourage you to make a plan about how to grow your skills as an influencer. What I want you to do is take a few minutes to set a specific goal, identify the smallest possible steps you can take toward that goal, and then give yourself a deadline.
For example, you might say, “I wanna be a better influencer. I’m going to read three books in the next three months on influencing people. I’m gonna take a look at Tom’s website, brighthillgroup.com/recommended-resources for a list of books to choose from. I’ll read one in December, one in January, and one in February. And each month, I’m gonna pick at least one idea from a book and work to apply that idea in my work.” Creating a specific, measurable, and action-oriented plan to grow your influence skills. That’s today’s Episode Hack.
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This is Tom Cooper. Thanks for listening. Be sure to join me next time for another episode of Becoming a Geek Leader. Join me in my mission of discovering better ways to lead others at work and at home.