You Can't Fake Awesome
Recently, I was part of a panel discussing new technologies and how entrepreneurs and young engineers are now taking the non-traditional route of gaining entry in to the software development field. We talked about growing trends, hot markets, and new careers as entrepreneurs within IT. At the end of the discussion an ecstatic, vibrant, and young (younger than myself) engineer approached me to ask questions in regards to my reasoning for choosing the path that I took within IT. My answer was simple,
"I selected a major in Information Systems during my undergraduate studies because it was the same major as my cousin. She is smart. So I figured, hey if I didn't do well at least I will have a tutor."
Almost immediately, I knew I would have to give this person a better answer because I could tell by their body language that this was not acceptable. He was waiting there for a better and more eloquent answer than what I started with and I, to be honest, have failed him. Even though I began my explanation with a joke and a smile I hope that I further redeemed myself with my better explanation that went along with the idea of my love of technology and solving problems. However, I have failed him at being awesome technologist that he assumed I was.
Sometimes, you have to be vulnerable to be awesome. In Brene Brown's book "Dare to Lead" she discusses in great length about the need to be vulnerable as a leader with your teams and gives some great points about how and why, you should do so. I try to replicate this concept with any team that I am coaching or as a leader, because to succeed at the idea of creating an awesome team you must learn to be vulnerable. Going back to my joke about selecting my major during my undergraduate studies, I assumed I should start my response to him with a joke to allow some vulnerability within myself to relate with this younger engineer.
I failed that miserably. Miserably, because as noted in the Brene's book you have to understand when and who to be vulnerable with. Even if it is posed as a joke to lighten the mood or remove any nervous tension. After a bit of self analysis, it made me think about how I present myself to my teams or other leaders. Am I faking my awesome? Are my teams being coached to fake being awesome as well? Whatever the case may be, it made me think of some ideas that I am sharing to hopefully recognize if you are faking awesome and what you can do to rectify it.
1. Stay True To Who You Are. As a child growing up I was taught to always greet the people of the room whenever I enter. I never really understood its significance besides the fact that I am respecting the elders of my family by listening to their wisdom. During my professional career I have done this type of gesture subconsciously. It's fairly simple, whenever I enter a room I give my normal greetings to the folks in said room.
Me - "Good Morning everyone!"
Usual response - "Good morning, how are you?"
Me - "I am superbly well, which is the same as swell, fantastic, and living the dream."
I am believer that if you put out positive energy you will receive it back in return. So when you are coaching your teams exhibit that positive energy and keep the negative away from them. Or show them how to deal with the negative when it comes. If my morning greeting is a way to show that positive energy then hopefully I am starting off the day on the right foot. Find ways to be true to who you are and how you interact with your teams while exhibiting your own version of awesome.
2. DON'T SAY who you are. SHOW what you are. I have been in coaching engagements with leaders where I first show them the most cliche leadership graphic that you can find on the internet. I am sure many of you have seen these graphics as well because during the week I began planning to write this blog post I have seen the one below a few times.
After I show the graphic I would follow up with this question.
"Who think they are the person pictured in the top of the graphic, as a Boss?"
Usually, after no one agrees, I would give them a more relevant example. As a consultant for a company years ago I sat in a room of leaders that were watching a demo from a client that was looking to pitch a product to the company. One of the leaders who usually take charge of such demos began with an explanation of what the company was looking for.
The client would ask for an introduction of the parties in the room so that they can get a good grasp of who their audience were. Almost everyone summed their introduction to their name and the department they work in. Even surprisingly, the CEO only noted his name. No elaborate introduction, background information, nothing. However, another leader, who was the last to introduce himself stated in a loud commanding voice
"I am John Smith and I am Chief blah blah blah blah, in charge of blah blah blah blah."
(For confidentiality reasons, of course his name is not John Smith.) I would pay close attention to the communication styles of the CEO and John Smith because, to be honest, I did not want to be John Smith. Nor did I think that I would ever have to use John Smith as an example of a different leadership style in comparison to a Boss Vs a Leader. This person was a great leader but he did have some characteristics of a boss that I wanted to look out for.
Showing who you are instead of saying what you are can be applied to anyone who is also not in leadership. One of the best interviewees I have had was a recent college graduated that noted on her resume that she had no experience as a real world software engineer however displayed a great number of examples of projects via her Git profile, provided references, and spoke eloquently about different problems she solved coding in C++ and Java.
However, many other interviewees of equal experience or more had in big bold print on their resume.
However, they lacked the ability to show what made them a software developer. No examples, no projects, no personal page or profile. Being awesome is showing your team and your peers who you are instead of what you are. Unlike the John Smith and the other interviewees, stating who they are instead of showing does not hold the same value when thinking of the concept vice versa.
3. Create Actionable Goals. Whenever I am working on a project or with a team I create goals that are actionable. Ideally, when coaching I am always creating a backlog and timeline after assessing where a team is and how we are going to build onto their current knowledge. Actionable goals allow you to create a guideline as to where you want to be. In a previous blog I noted that I am a big fan of Trello and that I use the application to track my weekly goals that I have prioritized into iterations.
Lets go back to my conversation with the younger engineer at the beginning of this post. After the awkwardness had died and we started to get deep into discussion, one of my questions to him was.
"Now that you have completed your bootcamp. What are you next steps?"
I was very impressed with his answer for two reasons:
He gave me a great elevator speech about his plans to gain entry into the market and what type of role he was looking for. Elevator speeches can be very nerve wrecking without practice. His speech came out so fluidly that I knew exactly what he wanted to become and his plan to get there, in less than 30 seconds.
He created very concrete and actionable goals that he was looking to accomplish within the year.
His elevator speech motivated me with some goals of my own. I believe his path to being awesome was set because he knew what type of work it would take, he was knowledgable and ready for uncomfortable situations, and he has a plan on how he is going to get to where he wants to be.
4. Be Ready To Fail. Failure is inevitable. However, how we react after failing is key. Will Smith created a great video blog in regards to failure and my take from it was:
"Hey, since you are going to fail anyway. What can you do to not let it bother you and learn from it quickly?"
Allow failure to be a motivating factor to your path to being awesome. Additionally, focus on the reason why you failed.
When coaching teams and understanding failure it is important that we analyze why the failure happened. Many teams use the 5 Why's method. However, when was the last time you have used the 5 Why's with yourself? There was a time where I received some coaching feedback that I did not like. Instead of sulking about it, I went back to my desk and created a 5 Why's analysis of what went wrong and tried to understand how I can do better for the future.
Being awesome will take a number of many other factors but consistency is key in whatever factors you chose. The points above are some that I have used within my teams while coaching and personally. When I am not consistent with those points then I am trying to over compensate with something fake. Bottom line, you can't fake awesome. your path to greatness relies on hard work, learning from your failures, staying true yourself, and showing instead of saying.