As you might know, I’m writing a book, its working title is “The Seniority Trap”. From time to time, I’ll post some parts of it, before it gets released. If you are interested in the updates, please subscribe to my personal blog and let’s connect on Twitter! —
If you want to grow, if you really want to be a senior on the team, you cannot hide. Even if you are not a born leader and you don’t plan to become the shepherd of your team, you cannot live in the shadow when people - including you - are hurt.
You have to stand up to stand out.
Be a leader __ an individual contributor
How would you fill in the empty space?
Would you say that you should be a leader rather than an individual contributor? Or you don’t really know, you are hesitating whether you should be one or the other. If you are ambitious, but not having a job right now, you might even say be a leader or at least an individual contributor.
In case you are not into the managerial path, I have something better in mind for you. Be a leader and an individual contributor at the same time.
We tend to mix up the meaning of a boss, a manager and a leader. I have to remind you that a manager is not necessarily a leader. I’m sure you already noticed this in your career. If not, you are a lucky one.
The other way around is also true. A leader is not necessarily a manager. You can be a leader without having real authority.
That’s what you should aim for.
I don’t say that you should not become a manager. Maybe you should. But first, become a leader and then look for formal authority. If you really want it.
What would you choose?
Would you prefer to feel unhappy about your work, about your project knowing that you didn’t try to do everything that was under your control?
Or would you deal with the fact that not everyone likes you because you stood up when you had something to say in order to save the project?
If you didn’t choose the second one, think about it again.
If you are a people pleaser, if you want everyone to like you, you’ll fail anyway.
You already failed.
I don’t like you.
I don’t like people whose sole aim is to make sure that everyone likes them.
It’s a solid path to failure and unhappiness and I don’t like people who simply take the low road and walk into a trap.
Worry not, speaking up is not always about yourself, but it’s often about the team, about the greater good. Or maybe just for another person.
Sometimes, speaking up simply means that you don’t let someone “bully” a junior. You don’t let someone with no authority basically order someone inexperienced which meeting she can go to and what she should do instead.
You’ll be soon seen as a natural leader. Despite the fact that there are no natural leaders. Leadership is a learned skill that certain people start very early in their lives. As you gain experience, you can become a leader. Note, that I still don’t write about becoming a manager, but a leader.
The difference implies that you can still stay an individual contributor. But you’ll be seen as someone who still leads the team. This can be dangerous in an environment filled with insecure managers. They might feel threatened, so you have to manage up and make sure you don’t make them feel that you want their authority.
Sometimes even if you speak up, even if you are right and it would benefit the others as well, you’ll not win. You’ll still be seen as someone with principles.
Like in any area of life, sometimes you’ll have to accept defeats. Other times, you’ll have to compromise. If your points are never taken, probably you should look for another place where you fit in more.
Don’t burn all the bridges
If you always have to fight, if you do nothing but standing up for your values, there are two possibilities. Maybe the problem is you and you simply want to control too much. Though that’s a different problem that we are not discussing in this book.
The other option is that you are not at the right place. Your workplace is not necessarily bad, but you have a value mismatch. In that case, the best thing you can do is leaving. You are not going to change the whole world and who wants to live in a constant conflict?
Your values are not for sale, your values are not about compromises. They are part of you, they are part of your integrity.
But how to leave then?
Even if not everyone has to like you, it’s important not to burn all the bridges.
If you are thinking it’s not possible after all those conflicts, think about it again.
We already agreed that as adults we should take ownership of our acts. So if we cannot leave on good terms, that’s our fault.
I know that I wrote many times that you should always take ownership. If you cannot leave on good terms, that’s your fault.
Maybe you’ll not stay on good terms with everyone, but if you mess up with everyone, it won’t be everyone else’s fault.
It might be that someone is a jerk. Maybe your manager had different views on management and professional relationships than you. It’s okay. You think you were right and maybe you were, but you can still step back and leave on good terms.
Maybe you choose to be still very clear on your points and leave with making them even clearer. You know if it’s burning that bridge. But maybe it would burn only one bridge and not all the bridges with the rest of the people. Sometimes sacrificing one bridge can strengthen the others.
I want to emphasize that even if you decide to burn some bridges - but not all - it will be your decision, your “fault”, but a consciously chosen one.
Once you left, you’re left, you’re out. You should close that chapter of your life. Both physically and emotionally. Do not speak in a bad way about your previous bosses. Probably you shouldn’t speak them about at all. For you, they are dead. Do we share bad stories about dead people?
It’s enough to share that you had some differences and you decided to go on different paths.
Believe me, most around you will know why you left and they will find you extremely elegant. Even without speaking in a bad manner, you can convey your message simply by not speaking about certain things.
You will act more classy and people will still understand you.
Respect your values
Treat your values, like you’d like others to treat them. Treat them with respect. Take your stand, respecting your core values and keeping your integrity will always pay off in the long run.
If you lose your own respect, you lose everything. That’s the surest way to a downward spiral. Hence keeping your integrity will at least make sure that your spine is still in its place and you can look into the mirror when you get up in the morning.
It doesn’t mean that this is the easier way in the short run, but the obstacles in our lives appear to show us the way we should take.
A few years ago, I participated in a temporary project. We joined from different parts of the company for 6 months to build a minimal viable product. Six months is barely enough to form a team, but it was enough to lay down the foundations of a new product that later proved to be successful.
In this project, I “fought” a lot with about half of the team. Certain people spoke way too much every morning at the daily standup, we went over the 15 minutes by far and not only because we always started late as the scrum master was always late.
It was the case for regular meetings. In fact, for every fucking meeting the same people couldn’t manage to show up on time.
What could I do?
I made sure that I don’t compromise on my values. I was there at every meeting on time, demonstrating what I believe in. Whenever we were running out of time, I raised my hand and reminded ourselves that it’s time to conclude.
During retrospectives, I brought up the problem. Even though certain people admitted that it’s a real issue, the root causes didn’t want to participate in the solution. The solution - to my problem - would have been changing their behaviour.
Even when about half of the team followed the principles of the daily standup and were on time at the meetings, it didn’t change the rest of the team.
The project was rather interesting and at the end, we had to make a decision whether we’d be interested to join the new department permanently or we would prefer to go back to our original teams.
I tried to understand from the rest of the team who wants to stay, but most were hesitating.
The way our team operated on a daily basis was in such a deep conflict with my core values that I couldn’t risk working with a scrum master being the main contributor to my problems. I decided not to join the team.
In the end, he didn’t join either. But it was not a big deal. I didn’t want to take such a risk. It was not a risk of failure it was a risk to work where my must rules could not be met.
As always, life had to offer something even better for me later.
These few months I spent on the project was a great opportunity for me to live up to my values.
People noticed it as they called me the timekeeper and I left with grace, I even made a few good connections.
I’m pretty sure that at least Fabien, our scrum master, didn’t like me much, but again, as I already said, not everyone has to like me.
Standing up for your values will make you grow as a person.
Even if you might lose some friends. Let me assure you, they were not your real friends.
Even if you lose your job. Yes, we live in such times, you can easily lose your job if you don’t follow the mainstream opinions.
Even if you lose everything.
Is it worth having conflicts?
Let’s remember for a moment what Dale Carnegie said about arguments. It’s best to avoid them.
It’s definitely not worth going into all the conflicts. It’s not worth taking care of all the problems of our society, even if your feeling of justice would make you do it.
Don’t bend your back.
Think about the Stoics, in particular Cato, the Younger. He chose death over accepting the delusively conciliatory hand of Caesar. He didn’t just refuse to compromise, Cato almost defeated Caesar and changed the course of history. Almost. Yet, he didn’t bend his back.
Think also about practising acceptance and calmness.
Think whether something is in your own power to change or not. You watch the news and you are outraged because of the president, or the incapable opposition, or maybe because of Covid. You are ranting about it over the dinner table instead of asking your kids what they learnt that day or your spouse whether she had a good day at work.
But why do you do that?
Can you do anything about it? You can vote, you can be an activist, but it’s not worth changing your mood in reaction to all that.
Accept that what you can do about those things are limited.
Also, recognize what is in your power. Not accepting the harmful environment created by your management is definitely in your power. You can always change jobs or at least you can resign as you’re not a slave. You might have the feeling of being a slave of the corporation, but you have all the right to resign and not just feel resigned.
In most cases, taking your stand will not be so brutal as it was for Cato. You just have to share, you have to explain what you believe in.
Showing the way is your obligation both towards yourself and the coming generations.
It is hard, but we have to accept that we are not perfect and we made mistakes. It’s not your boss’s fault that you got passed over in the promotions again. It’s not the CI/CD’s fault that you broke production once again.
It’s you and you have to find what to do. Sometimes you’ll have to act on your own. Other times, you’ll have to stand up for your values.