Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 42;   October 15, 2008: When You're the Least of the Best: II

When You're the Least of the Best: II

by

Many professions have entry-level roles that combine education with practice. Although these "newbies" have unique opportunities to learn from veterans, the role's relatively low status sometimes conflicts with the self-image of the new practitioner. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.
Gen. John J. Pershing, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

From left to right, Gen. John J. Pershing, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Pershing was commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in Europe in World War I, and later general of the armies. Marshall was Chief of Staff in World War II, and later Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the forces invading Europe in World War II, and later President of the United States. Pershing was mentor to Marshall, Marshall was mentor to Eisenhower. Both mentoring relationships were formed outside any formal mentoring program. Photo of Gen. John J. Pershing courtesy U.S. Library of Congress. Photo of Gen. George C. Marshall courtesy U.S. National Archives. Photo of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

In Part I of this short series on "newbies," we explored how it feels to be in the role, and how to be more comfortable in it. In this part, we look for ways to build relationships with your colleagues and others in the workplace.

Build rapport with peers
You probably aren't alone in being a newbie. Help others when they ask, but don't foist help on those who haven't asked for it. Learn from others how to be a leader at your own level.
Build rapport with superiors
There are no quick ways to build rapport with superiors. It takes time and it takes care. Stay out of their way, learn what you're supposed to learn, practice humility, and be a leader among your peers.
Establish credibility opportunistically
Credibility comes when two things are in place: (a) you must be expected to have answers, and (b) you have those answers. Supplying answers when you aren't expected to have them risks seeming arrogant; not supplying them when you are expected to have them risks seeming incompetent. Wait for the right opportunities, and then deliver.
Seek professional advice from the bottom up
If you have questions, ask the lowest ranking person who might have the answer, then work your way up until you get what you need. Aiming too high might be seen as currying favor. See "Currying Favor," Point Lookout for June 8, 2005, for more.
Seek personal advice elsewhere
Don't seek personal advice in the workplace. It's a bad idea for most, but for anyone of low status, such as the newbie, it's especially risky.
Find a true mentor
Wait for the right opportunities,
and then deliver
Mentoring has been fashionable for some time, but budgets for mentoring programs have been cut in many organizations. Find a mentor truly interested in your career, even if it means going outside the formal mechanism.
Learn how to handle newbies
Someday, one of your responsibilities will be developing newbies like yourself. Watch how people handle you. You now have an opportunity to see what works and what doesn't. Few people take this opportunity; most tend to focus only on the content of the work.
Learn how to connect with people in other professions
Most workplaces contain a mix of professionals. Notice how your superiors relate to people in these other professions, and learn from their successes and failures.
Learn about ethics
Most of us would benefit from additional training in professional ethics. Pay special attention to the ethical choices of those more experienced than you are. Learn from their mistakes; learn from their deftness.

Someday, you'll be where your superiors are now. Notice who is succeeding and who isn't, and try to understand why. Their trials and successes are lessons to them and to you. Go to top Top  Next issue: Extrasensory Deception: I  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The end of the line for a railroad trackComing May 30: Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully, in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters? Available here and by RSS on May 30.
Mohandas K. Ghandi, in the 1930sAnd on June 6: Chronic Peer Interrupters: II
People use a variety of tactics when they're interrupted while making contributions in meetings. Some tactics work well, while others carry risks of their own. Here's Part II of a little survey of those tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 6.

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The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Technical Debt Management: Making the Business Case
This Technical Debt Management: Making the Business Caseprogram outlines the steps necessary for deploying a program for rational management of technical debt. For many organizations, adopting a program for rationally managing technical debt entails organizational change. And unlike some organizational changes, this one touches almost everyone in the organization, because technical debt isn't merely a technical problem. Technical debt manifests itself in technological assets, to be sure, but its causes are rarely isolated to the behavior and decisions of engineers. We can't resolve the problem of chronically excessive levels of technical debt by changing the behavior of engineers alone. Technical debt is the symptom, not the problem. In this program we outline the essential elements of an effective business case for adopting a rational technical debt management program. But this business case, unlike many business cases, cannot be captured in a document. We must make the case not only at the leadership level of the organization, but also at the level of the individual contributor. Everyone must understand. Everyone must contribute. We explore five issues that make technical debt so difficult to manage, and develop five guidelines for designing technical debt management strategies for the modern enterprise. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
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