Posts Tagged ‘ Technology ’

When Silence is Not Golden: A Story of Unexpected Leadership

I admit it. I fear the unexpected. And I still remember the time when the unexpected hit me flat in the face.

I was working for the Geek Squad at Best Buy at the time, and my supervisor asked if I’d like to be an instructor for the local Geek Squad Summer Academy event. This is a two-day program held annually in different locations of the world where agents from across the country gather and teach children in the area about various aspects of technology, from building computers to producing music.  I said, “sure,” and was sent off a week later to Oceanside, CA.

After orientation, I was assigned to teach the image manipulation class with another agent who looked like he went to the gym far too often. We went over the course and divided the lessons between the two of us before heading home to prepare for the next day of actual instruction.

On the first day of class, we stood in front of about 25 children, ranging from four- to thirteen-year-olds, and three other agents in the room who were acting as helpers. We all went around the room introducing ourselves and my co-instructor confidently started to talk about the first lesson. And that’s when things went terribly wrong.

As he pulled up the program on the computer for the first activity, he started fumbling his words and his voice lowered to a mutter as he moved from the instructor’s computer to the instructor materials. Then, he went silent. He looked like he had no idea what he was doing. I could see the children starting to fidget in their seats. They began to whisper, which grew to talking, and then yelling. The three helpers were desperately and unsuccessfully trying to calm them down.stage fright

Instantly, I was on my feet. An intense dread came over me as I realized I had no idea what I was going to say or do. I remained motionless with everyone’s eyes on me, including my co-instructor, for what felt uncomfortably longer than the 10 milliseconds that I stood there. And then, my brain suddenly started making connections and words flowed from my mouth. I had vaguely recalled that my co-instructor’s portion involved taking pictures, so I told everyone to grab their cameras. And with that, I ended up presenting the entire two days, making up lessons for portions that weren’t mine. The kids went home happy and skilled at image manipulation, and I went home relieved it was over and pleasantly surprised at myself.

That incident taught me a few things:

  1. Don’t doubt yourself. Doubt can be quite the speech-killer, so believe that you can overcome and succeed. The brain can make surprising connections under high pressure situations. Or, in my fellow instructor’s case, make no connections… and then, you just might put yourself and/or someone else in an awkward situation.
  2. Take everything as a learning experience. This mindset can help you get more from your best moments, as well as really understanding your worst ones.
  3. Just go with it. Never think that something is ruined if it doesn’t pan out the way you thought. Be creative. Sometimes, things can turn out better than how you’ve planned.

You never know when a moment of unexpected leadership will strike next, but these tips can help you turn things around and make the outcomes a bit more… expected.

I can goof off at work!

The wonders of technology:  It has brought us the ability to do our jobs from home just as effectively as before the digital age when the option never existed…or has it?

Last week, I met with an old colleague who I used to work with at a web development company.  While my profession has changed somewhat, his has, for the most part, stayed the same.  He was telling me about his current job, and how it had been going. 

He works on a team with other web developers on large projects.  Most of the team works out the same office, but a few of them, including their manager, work virtually.

“Sometimes, it feels like I’m self-employed.  I hear from my manager mostly from emails, and it’s usually in regards to the team’s current project.  I only hear from them directly if I specifically ask for help or if there’s a problem with my work.  If I messed up on a project, even if it was a minor detail that anyone could have missed, I get a phone call with them barking in my ear.  Other than that, they don’t really check in with me on their own to see how I’m doing. 

Some of the other guys on my team slack off if they aren’t assigned specific project work, even though there’s always something to do outside of projects.  If I wanted to, I could goof off at work all day and my manager wouldn’t even know.”

Some people might think that this is a dream manager.  You know, someone that is as hands-off as possible, that pretty much lets you work the way you want to work.  However, a lot of individuals want, and even need, more structure and connectedness than my colleague received.

As virtual leaders, how can we make sure we’re engaging our direct reports who we may never see face-to-face?

Ask yourself the following:

  • Are you having regular 1 on 1’s with your team members?  In other words, are you giving them the time they need to address issues about their performance and struggles?
  • How much do you know about what’s going on in each team member’s personal life?  There could be personal issues your team members are dealing with that could be affecting their performance.
  • Do you know what their career paths are?  If you don’t know where your direct reports are trying to go, don’t expect them to be working for you for long.
  • How connected are your team members to one another, especially if they work virtually?  Do they have a team culture set up in order to avoid barriers and perform at higher levels?
  • Are you taking advantage of technology?  If available, video chat services such as Skype Google/Yahoo/MSN video chat, etc… are free ways to give more of a personal touch to your interactions.

While working from home allows me to work in my PJ’s all day (a dream come true, I might add), it gives me another set of challenges to deal with in managing a team that might not be as hard as if I could manage them from the office.

Do you work virtually, whether that be as a leader or a direct report?  What do you do to stay connected with your team members?  Leave your comments!

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