Monday, January 11, 2010

Don't trip on your ego

My last blog entry was about communication skills. A few people took the time to email me with comments which suggested communication skills were not important or were minor factors in contributing to successful teams. These assertions may be correct, to some degree. I have been on a number of very successful teams where some team members had tremendous difficulties communicating. In one situation, a very intelligent and highly successful team member had a severe speech impediment which made it extremely difficult to understand what he was saying. Despite his communication issues, his code was brilliant and everyone accepted him as an equal member of the team. Situations like this are more the exception, than the norm. More often, people who fail to have the ability to communicate are seen as an outcast or are perceived (wrongly) as being less intelligent. Sure, they may be able to contribute to the team; however, their contributions could have been much, much greater, if only they had better communication skills.

The next topic to address regarding being a successful team member has to do with ego.
There is an old saying modesty is the best policy. This old saying rings true in the IT field and is another skill which can be very valuable to someone looking to improve their team-building capabilities. All too often I get the chance to work with some extremely bright but incredibly narcissistic developers. Maybe I am just getting older or perhaps I am just starting to notice; but, it seems more and more of the younger generation have over inflated egos and are not shy to let you know how excellent they are.

Being self confident is one thing, but there is a point where one’s own self confidence can be an anti-team building pattern. Letting your team members know how good you are is the equivalent of telling everyone on the team they are not as good as you. This, almost always, is a sure-fire way to build walls and turn people off. Sure, you might be a genius developer and you can code rings around everyone on the team, but keep your comments of self-greatness to yourself. Let your code do the talking for you; or, better yet, let your customers sing your praises. Rarely is there ever a good time to tell anyone how great you are. Exceptions to this might be interviews and performance reviews.

Along the lines of ego, a related characteristic I have found to be abrasive is the practice of showing off ones code. There is a fine line between being overly helpful and being a bragger. This also includes showing off how your code was so much better than the code which previously existed. I have seen many cases where a member of the team made it a point to tell everyone how poorly written some existing code was and only they were able to make it much more efficient. Sure, they were able to improve the code, but at the same time they alienated members of the team. Who knows, maybe the boss (or your future boss) wrote the code and by pointing out how bad it is might come back to haunt you. Exercise restraint when you get the urge to spout off on how you were able to save the world by coming up with a more clever algorithm in the payroll application.

My advice is to exhibit self confidence but exercise self control when it comes to patting yourself on the back. Self confidence is an excellent leadership trait and is a quality which is highly desired in the consulting field. There should, however, be a balance of self confidence and self praising and it may be better to exercise on the side of caution when you have the desire to let people know how good you are.

Dale Carnegie has a series of books, one being “How To Win Friends and Influence People
.” This should be mandatory reading for anyone looking to move into management or for if you want to become a successful consultant. The lessons taught in the book are very applicable to just about any situation where you have interaction with people.

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