A Daily Impostor

Impostor syndrome has been a common buzzword in software development for the past year or two. It’s an interesting concept and I think everyone experiences it to a certain degree.

There are two parts to the definition. One, as an individual in the workplace you don’t internalize your own accomplishments. This means a person thinks less of themselves and downplays their achievements and value in the workplace. Two, the individual feels they are an incapable fraud and this fraud will eventually be discovered. These feelings lead to a lot of anxiety and self doubt.

Software seems to be an interesting industry where the impostor syndrome is quite common. I definitely feel this way and it has impacted my career negatively. How you boost your own self confidence is somewhat subjective, and while I’ve gotten better, I feel I have a long way to go.

I recently came across an article that gave me a different perspective on a few levels. The article was more about work life balance but it made a few interesting points about how managing work life balance helped the author with his own impostor syndrome.

The issue for me is that if I don’t set these boundaries, if I allow myself to continue working and exploring and solving problems at all hours, my own Impostor Syndrome only gets worse. I want to know everything and I cannot, and because I cannot I start to think less of myself.

This is a great take on things. I feel the same way on a lot of levels, I know there are things I should be learning, tools I should be experimenting with and trends I should be following. It’s nearly impossible to keep up and knowing that can lead to feelings of inadequacy that only increase symptoms of impostor syndrome.

The second paragraph goes on to discuss social media and the developer community

Twitter and other social media are the worst things when it comes to having this problem. People who are clearly brilliant programmers, people who I admire for their work, would proudly declare that they’d just spent all day coding and were feeling really accomplished and I could only sit back and despair about why I couldn’t do that. Why can’t I put that kind of effort in? Stupid brain! Why won’t you let me be as productive as they are?! I can be just as good as they are, if only you’d get outta my way!

This was a trap I found myself falling into a year ago when I was really getting into React development. I discovered twitter was a great place for news and updates and there were all these amazing developers out there sharing their work. But comparing yourself to others is a surefire way to get serious impostor syndrome. We are all different in our own strengths and abilities so there’s no reason to for direct comparisons.

The article is about being a 9 to 5 developer but I think it has lessons for anyone working in any profession. We must balance our work and life in order to be effective in both our personal worlds and our professional worlds.

Teamwork is still all about working together

Found an interesting blog post about Google’s study on team performance. It seems the most important thing is that team members feel secure enough to take risks without facing humiliation.

I find this interesting because it mirrors the recent book review I did in which Lencioni suggests a lack of trust is the first dysfunction of broken teams.

I’m fortunate to work in an industry that’s quite forward thinking. The abstract nature of our work means getting results is highly dependent on individuals working together. The team dynamic is built first and foremost on trust and respect. Without that no one’s going to pull an all nighter for you, nor will they back you up when you screw up.

For me, the easiest way to build this trust is to listen. Listening to my coworkers and allowing them to have their opinions heard helps build trust. At the very least they know I’ll hear them out if they have concerns. From there it’s a lot easier to get everyone engaged and trusting each other. It’s a small step in the right direction that can go a long way for productivity and team results.

Review – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

I recently listened to this book in audiobook format as an exercise for better understanding team dynamics. I found this to be a decent book with some useful information.

The book is written as a fable which seems to be common in management literature. I like this format. The concepts are explained as they’re applied in a story that’s believable. I was able to relate to the characters and situations which helped me understand the five dysfunctions and their impacts.

The model is based on five interrelated dysfunctions which each contribute to each other and cumulatively lead to poor performance:

  1. Absence of TrustFear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team. For a leader, showing vulnerability to the team helps build trust and makes being vulnerable acceptable within the team. This helps members accept each others weaknesses and built trust together.
  2. Fear of ConflictThe desire to preserver artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict. Directly tied to trust, if members can’t engage in conflict in a  way they feel safe then decisions can’t be made. A leader must allow conflict to occur naturally and know when moderation is required.
  3. Lack of CommitmentThe lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to. If team members can’t voice their opinions for fear of conflict they won’t agree to a decision they don’t agree with. It’s important for a leader to allow everyone who shows any doubts to at least speak their mind in order to get buy in. Then once a decision is made all team members will accept the decision whether they agree with it or not. This commitment drives performance.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability – The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable. If the team members aren’t committed they won’t feel a need to hold each other accountable. Without accountability nothing gets delivered. Normally a manager would dictate this to the team but a leader must enable each team member to hold each other accountable.
  5. Inattention to Results – The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success. Perhaps the most difficult when each individual feels they are judged based on their individual performance. A leader must emphasize the importance of the team, as well as how each individual contributes to the team. If members buy into this and understand that their individual results should be framed in the context of team results the overall team performance can improve.

This has been quite interesting to me because organizational values can directly contribute to these dysfunctions. An organization that values individual performance is going to have a hard time getting the most out of team work. A company that doesn’t engage its employees in strategy and vision will never get full buy in and therefore employees just won’t be committed to strategic initiatives. In my industry there can be big egos and people afraid to fail. This leads to absence of trust and can be experienced from the top all the way down.

Overall I enjoyed this book. The model Lencioni has built seems to make sense to me and I agree with it for the most part. I was able to reflect on some of my own qualities and behaviors that make me a leader. There were also some good lessons that have inspired my next few subjects to explore.

Because this is a short read I’d recommend it to anyone interested in team dynamics and team management from human perspective.

Why Leadership?

As I’ve grown in my career and become more aware of future career paths I was always uncertain about the concept of leadership. In particular I’ve been wondering why I’m hearing leadership in place of management more and more. There are several reasons for this in my particular industry.

Leadership is a hot topic in all of business because effective leadership drives performance and results. A strong leader (at any level) can improve the performance of everyone in the team. Where leadership shines is during the difficult times in the workplace. A leader helps with difficult decisions, difficult conversations and difficult consequences.

I.T. as an industry has several qualities that make it unique. Change is constant and rapid. Many employees are well educated and highly intelligent. Most work is entirely abstract and difficult to grasp physically. On top of that there never really is a “right” solution for any problem. Decision making in this environment is difficult because of these factors and trying to get people to agree to decisions is even harder. Leadership demand is therefore emerging in I.T. where juggling the problems of technology with the human aspects of team management makes driving a team towards an effective solution challenging.

Contemporary software development practices also demand leadership. The Agile methodology and Scrum development practices advocate self organizing teams. No management positions are even listed for typical teams in these environments (Scrum Master and Product Owner being the closest). Regardless of title, leaders will emerge and must operate from a leadership role rather than a management role all while remaining equal to their peers. This is a difficult challenge. Organizations structured around Agile teams will have a different management layer that must provide guidance to these self organized teams. Here leadership is extremely important. Not only do these managers need to show leadership to numerous teams at the team level, they will often be engaged with every individual on each team. Helping to guide teams while providing individual leadership is probably not new but it seems like an interesting dynamic I haven’t been exposed to before.

Having experience in competitive sports in my youth brought out my interest in both teamwork and leadership. I’m now seeing it’s benefits in the workplace and I’d like to learn more about this in order to help myself, my colleagues, the teams I’m a part of and the employer I work for. There’s plenty of ideas and theories about leadership and I look forward to exploring this area and applying my own unique touch in my day to day life.