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Posted on: Tuesday, 16 June 2009 by Rajiv Popat

When The Sky Is Falling.

There is something to be a said about a shitty day when things get ugly.

I'm talking about the day when the sky is failing and it is time to take a deep breath.

The day when someone in your team gets up and says --- 'we're fuc@#ked!' --- and everyone connected to the project pretends things are still fine; every single one of them realizing deep down inside; that we are in fact; badly fuc@#ked.

That's when everyone panics and the blame game begins.

This is the time to observe people in your team, your managers and yourself; closely.

Very closely.

As closely as you possibly can.

That is the time when your manager who was always a nice and friendly individual turns into a pompous asshole and your team members who were your bosom-friends turn into incompetent idiots.

Michael Lopp explains this situation rather articulately using the example of firing in his book Managing Humans. He explains:

Panic backs a person into a corner and their only means of getting out of that corner is relying on skills that have worked for them in the past. This is how a normally friendly manager can turn into a backstabbing asshole when it comes to a layoff. See, they were an asshole before; you just weren’t there to see it. If you are lucky enough to see this behavior as well as make it through the layoff, well, you learned two things. First, this guy I work for degrades to jerk when the sky falls. Second, he values me enough to keep me around. The question remains: are you going to hang around waiting for him to be a jerk to you?

At the end of the day; it isn't just about firing.

It's also not about finger pointing.

It is about the shit that was thrown into your manager's backyard, straight over his fence.

It is time to observe him closely; because what he does with the shit; to a large extent defines his character and your working relationship with him.

Given his position in the pecking order; he presumably has the keys to your professional backyard.

Is he going to add his own crap load of shit and leave it in your backyard?

Is he going to clean up his backyard himself?

Is he going to get the shit to the junkyard himself?

Are you even going to notice that he is having a bad day?

Are you going to find out the magnitude of badness of his day?

Is he just going to talk about it; or is he going to try and pass over the badness to you because he can?

If you do find out when he is having a bad day; and you can find out the magnitude of the 'badness' of his day; and you can suddenly see shit being thrown over to your backyard; it is time to rethink your relationship with your manager and your organization.

Nice Guys

Story-Time.

Flashback!

Jane has found a new job.

She seeks my advice on if she should leave the five years of roots she has developed in her tiny amazing startup; behind. She is a little reluctant about moving on to a newer environment. She is a little insecure; and rightly so.

Jane is a friend; I want to give her the best possible genuine advice I can.

"I know him personally. He is a really nice guy." --- Jane explains --- while talking about her new CEO.

I hear her talk for hours and my suggestion to her is simple. It's a suggestion I've given to a couple of other people in the past.

"Nice guy" is different from "Nice to work with" is very different from "Nice to work with the sky is falling".

Jane really needs to find out if her CEO is nice to work with when the sky starts falling; because just "nice guys" with weak spines often morph into dangerous, ugly and sometimes even political monsters when things start getting ugly.

Nice Guys Or Potential Ass-Holes Waiting To Happen.

The problem with "nice guys" is that they are dime a dozen. Another problem with nice guys is that it's easy to be "nice guy". The most critical problem with "nice guys" however, is that most of them morph into serious assholes when the sky starts falling; and when they do turn into pompous assholes none of them realize that they are turning into one.

If you are working with managers or team members who are just "nice guys" capable of morphing into assholes when the sky starts falling --- it is time to consider making a few changes.

If you have other reasons for sticking around --- the overall environment; the team you are working with; a management that understands software-development; other managers you work with; growth; whatever be your reason; it is time to take your CYA arrows out of your quiver and watch your step.

When you suddenly see a truck load of shit coming your way; be prepared to see these so-called-nice-guys on the other side of the fence; throwing the crap in your direction.

An ugly day when the sky is falling is important; because it helps you find out the 'nice-guys' who are potential assholes waiting to happen.

You may not see the complete transformation from a nice-guy to an asshole; but a slight glimpse of shrugging their responsibility; not listening; not have consideration for all the effort the team is putting in; not caring what is do-able and what is not etc. are trait-enough to tell you all you need to know. 

Nice, Nice To Work Or Nice To Work With When The Sky Starts Falling.

What differentiates a builder with spine and conviction from a gutless whiner is their reaction to fire. Tell a 'nice guy' about a fire on your project and watch him run.  Tell any genuine builder worth his salt that there's a fire on your project and he runs too --- only in a slightly different direction.

Isolate a fire incident and observe a genuine builders worth their salt run; straight in direction of the fire to rescues their team out of it.

Staying late --- just happens.

Working weekends --- give them a hint and they will show up on a Saturday morning. 

Cancelling personal commitment --- no bitching or whining. It is not even a problem.

Heated arguments with your vice president of marketing --- there is more than one person willing to bell the cat.

Defending the team even if it means taking up the blame --- sure. 

Of-course, they are having a bad day; but they are having a bad day as a team --- as partners in crime who are in it --- together.

Throw shit their way and they will blatantly and openly refuse to take it; as a team.

Ask nicely; and they will go a great length to get your project through.

Being a "nice guy" is easy.

Every whiner that I have ever worked with has been a "nice guy".

It's the "nice to work with" that is harder and the "nice to work with when sky is falling" that is the hardest. What you really need to have is a team where people who are nice to work particularly when the sky is falling; that's you know you are working with a team of genuine builders.

Builders don't make dents in the universe and change cultures by being nice guys.

They do it by being nice to work with; and above all they do it by being nice to work with when the sky starts falling.

How many nice guys go you have around you?

How many of them are nice to work with?

How frequently does your organizational sky start falling?

How many of them morph into monsters when the times are bad and the sky starts falling?

How many of them stick around to rescue the team, dear reader?

Discuss.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.