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Listener Question: Brett Asks About How to Identify When You're Being Set Up For Failure

Published 7/22/2016

In today's episode, listener Brett asks about what you should do when someone sets you up for failure.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode I answer listener Brett's question about being led into failure. We don't have a formal sponsor today but I wanted to talk to you for a second about spec. There are other shows that if you like Developer Teaou are going to absolutely enjoy. For example the new show or thogonal is about finance for freelancers go and check out the other shows on spec.fm and if you're interested in getting your message in front of thousands of designers and developers who are constantly looking to make themselves better these people are driven to make themselves better that's the kind of people that you're going to be putting your message in front of if you're interested in getting your message in front of those kinds of people go to spec.fm slash sponsors and you can learn more about how to sponsor Developer Teaas well as our other shows on spec. Brett wrote an email and asked me hello Jonathan I have a question for you you almost touched on this in your episode I'm working on Saturdays. This is an episode I did this this week. What do you do when you are put in a situation to fail? It could be something like not having a technical person being your manager and they're not understanding how long it takes to actually develop something. Another example I can think of is when a sales rep makes promises that are impossible to keep in those situations I have typically jumped ship. I was curious if you had any tips or suggestions in case I find myself in that situation again. Thanks Brett. Brett I like this question because it opens up a bigger conversation about what it means to be a great developer as it relates to how we interact with our boss how we interact with our clients and which is really the primary topic of the show how to be a great developer when you are put in a situation to fail you have a lot of competing priorities right you have a lot of competing ideologies and wishes and desires and drives that you're trying to sort through for example most people who are put in a situation to fail have someone who has put them there like a boss or a client and I'll be using the term boss but really I mean anyone who has significant input into the direction of a given decision or project you're working on as a developer like for example a project manager or a sales rep like Brett said and you're motivated to please that boss or that client or that sales rep because pleasing your boss or your client or your coworkers is often kind of a prerequisite for being successful right and you may end up getting a promotion if your job actually entails you making your boss happy which pretty much anybody with a boss hopes to make their boss happy but on the other hand you know that true success doesn't mean pleasing your boss true success doesn't just mean your boss telling you you did a good job it means generating real value and actually accomplishing the overall goals of a given project Brett this is why you asked this question because if the answer were simple you just go straight for it right the answer answer is not simple it has a lot of competing factors kind of sitting in front of you to choose from so another interpretation of this question that Brett is asking might sound like this how do I tell my boss or client that their plan is headed for disaster while staying on their good side and the answer to this question quite simply is not simple but hopefully I can bring some good advice to the table on the subject here's the thing one of the most valuable pieces of advice you will ever hear for your career is to put yourself in your leader's shoes think from their perspective how do you as the boss now that's where your brain is you're thinking from the boss's perspective how do you as the boss or how do you as the product owner or the client how do you want the people working for you to act what kind of decisions do you want them to make most reasonable clients and most reasonable bosses want real success they don't want to follow down a bad path they don't want to follow a bad plan to ultimately fail they're seeking success however it's also incredibly important to remember that your boss your client is a human and when you are wrong or when you have a bad idea how do you want to be told that your idea is bad would you prefer for the person telling you to be abrasive and harsh and demeaning or prescriptive I don't think anyone particularly enjoys being on the receiving end of those kinds of attitudes your boss and your client are certainly included in that no one wants to be pointed out as incompetent or wrong right nobody likes that feeling it's a very difficult thing for our pride to be proven wrong in front of our peers so your job as an employee or as a consultant is to empower those you serve empower them with the knowledge and the direction they need to uncover the correct path so I'm going to give you some quick guidelines to help ensure that you are empowering your clients and empowering your boss in the face of potential failure guideline number one for today guideline number one is recognize that your boss's goals are to succeed this is really simple this is a mentality change for most of you who are facing this you may be kind of in that accidental presupposition that your boss is seeking failure your boss is not seeking out failure your client doesn't want to drive their product into the ground they're also not out to make you look bad they aren't out to make your job miserable one in a thousand cases maybe somebody has it out for you but by and large people are not out to try to hurt you your boss is looking to succeed at what they're trying to do it's important to start from this perspective so that you can align yourself with your boss instead of going to war with them this is such an important mindset shifted a lot of people go into work thinking that they are basically fighting their boss they're at odds with their boss and the problem is that's always going to end in some kind of bad situation some kind of negative situation where you know you're trying to get away from work all the time you're not invested you don't appreciate the work you're not trying to make the the work succeed instead you're trying to do something to spite your boss those are toxic attitudes right so get in line to push the goals forward now I don't want to downplay the idea that some people do experience abuse in the workplace this is very real and I don't want to you know make make light of that so you have to recognize that and talk to somebody if you feel like you're experiencing that go and talk to someone if you have an HR coordinator at your workplace go and talk to that HR coordinator this is not going to be something that people at smaller companies typically have though but you may have someone that you trust that's close to you that you believe is going to offer you positive advice you know a counselor is a good idea those are the kinds of people that you can reach out to and determine you know am I actually being abused in the workplace and that's something that you need to get out of immediately if that is the case so don't get in line with your boss if they are truly abusing you but for the most part the average case your boss isn't trying to make you fail they aren't trying to abuse you they aren't trying to make your job miserable they have some kind of goal that they're trying to achieve and if you align with your boss you're going to help them succeed more and ultimately in the long run if your boss succeeds and they see you as a part of that success then the long term prognosis for your career is much better than if you just did what they asked you to do so number one recognize that your boss's goals are to succeed number two choose leading over demanding choose leading over demanding a good developer leads other people to success rather than demanding from them what they think will result in success let's think about that for a second a good developer leads other people to success rather than demanding for them to do things that they think will result in success the idea of leadership is incredibly complex we started talking a little bit about it on the show in the past few weeks but you don't have to be in a position of leadership to lead in other words you can lead your boss you can lead the people that you're working for that's why they hired you leading doesn't mean being in power or having control over someone else it means empowering someone else and helping them find success so how does this actually practically play out we've talked about leading we talked about finding success what does this actually mean in a day to day job instead of starting from the perspective of listing all the problems with your boss's plan consider playing the endless question game the what if game open new thoughts and possibilities this is often also called the socratic method ask questions to lead your boss towards the success if you know a particular problem is going to occur then help your boss learn about that problem you don't have to lay out every single detail instead talk with them and have a normal conversation where they experience a moment of epiphany you see it doesn't really matter if you tell someone what you see if you see failure down the road it doesn't really help for you to tell your boss what you see it does help for you to show your boss what you see and there's a subtle difference there telling your boss what you see they have to visualize it for themselves right they have to interpolate that they have to run it through all the filters that they already have all their beliefs but if instead you reveal something for them to see for themselves in other words they have found it out for themselves that is how you lead people that's how you convince people that's how you can help people avoid failure that you see in the looming distance another example of leading rather than demanding is often used when working with a project manager or a sales rep instead of simply saying this is impossible and you over-promised you may approach the conversation of what is possible within that time frame or perhaps talk about how what they want is possible if there is more resources if there's more money involved and if you adopt the attitude of a teacher in other words if you offer to walk through in more detail so that you can ensure that the delivery will go well that is the kind of attitude that is going to help that project manager see what's happening see kind of the light of the path right that you have already walked down a number three is incredibly important and also perhaps one of the most difficult points that I've ever been on the show and that is remember your own potential for fault in other words stay humble about what you think you know it may look like you were headed straight for failure when in fact you're not it may look like to you because you've seen failure in the past and you've seen some of the things that lead up to failure it may look like you are headed straight for failure when in fact you're not the truth is two people with opposing opinions both think that the other has a less likely chance of being right one of them is wrong in other words even though all indications are pointing to failure you are still human and susceptible to being incorrect be willing to learn even from the failure of others don't be so sold on your ideas that you think everyone around you is more likely than you are to fail any information you present then anytime you come and talk to your boss anytime you talk to your client any information you present should be subject to a healthy dose of skepticism all in all if you want your boss to be happy just for today well then it's your decision if you want to follow them into failure but if you want to collaborate with your boss and succeed together which ultimately is more likely to lead to success in the long run for your career start by thinking from your boss's perspective or from your client's perspective and lead them with humility rather than demanding through the lens of your own pride thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea today again make sure you check out the spec network of podcasts on spec dot fm we also have a few blogs some really interesting content coming out from the spec family of course you can also connect with us on the spec slack community by going to spec dot fm slash slack i'm in there and so are all the other hosts and writers for spec just a quick shout out i will be speaking at css summit and you don't have to go anywhere to attend this conference it's a virtual conference online go and check it out i'll put a link in the show notes css summit dot com in my talk i'll be talking about the business case for good css really it's not just css it's going to be the business case for writing good code writing clean code from the start rather than just doing the minimum necessary so definitely want to check that out css summit dot com i have some really exciting content coming up in future episodes of Developer Tea and it's easy to miss out on this show because we deliver it three times a week if you don't want to miss out on a future episode make sure you subscribe and whatever podcasting app you are listening to right now and takes just one click typically and you will get those episodes delivered straight to your device thanks so much for listening and until next time enjoy your tea