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Posted on: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Hibernation Through Thanks But No Thanks.

Jane is doing an amazing job at shipping some serious backend code. She isn't doing it under the temporary fit of impressing her manager. She has been consistently shipping for the past couple of years and yet you see her working away late nights; supporting issues when things break and getting things done by silently attacking one problem at a time without breaking down.

She is passionate; she is consistent and as she runs forward she is taking the team along with her.

She isn't even burning out.

She; is a builder.

Then you realize that when she politely requests other builders to do things, things get done. Just like that.

She isn't just shipping or building stuff. She is leading. She is leading without whining or bitching. She is doing it at a time when your organizations needs builders who can lead.

Desperately.

You weave an amazing and remarkable story around her capabilities. The story of the quite builder being a hero spreads amongst the corridors of your organization. She can now be 'officially' promoted. More power can be vested in hands of someone who is not desperately seeking power.

Life is good.

"I prefer to do my job rather than leading a team. I like to code. Anyways, thanks so much for asking." --- she tells you.

You are hearing words all right but you can hardly understand them.

That's right --- what she is telling you, is that she does not want a promotion.

Yes; builders say that kind of things and here is the really creepy part - sometimes they mean it too.

You need to take a deep breath.

Don't Panic.

Maintain eye contact, talk; listen very intently and learn.

Very closely.

What's happening here?

Why doesn't she want to take the lead?

The entire pecking order of your organization doesn't know what is going on here. Even Jane herself is clueless. But she is telling you something she cannot put in words. She is saying it through her refusal to accept the promotion and she is giving you her reasons very articulately, maybe not through her words, but through her actions.

Can you hear it?

If you care; I'm going to help you understand what she is telling you.

Her unspoken message has both good news and bad news.

Good news is that she still loves the work she is doing in her team. Her talents are not yet getting utterly wasted in your organization. Jane, as an engineer is highly effective in your organization; and that dear reader is a good thing.

Ready for the bad news?

She knows how promotions and leaderships work in your workplace.

She is developing a disconnect with the way promotions and leaderships work in your organization.

All those whiners that were leading your team and were getting away with promotions and pats on their backs --- she was observing when that was happening.

Now she feels threatened at the idea of being promoted to her level of incompetence.

She associates leadership in your organization with whining and she in her own unique way; has figured out how she can continue to add genuine value rather than turning herself into a whiner.

What she is doing, is simple:

First, she is writing amazing code.

Second, she is avoiding anything that brings her in the limelight.

Put simply, she is lying low.

Unlike fire and motion; a technique well known the world of army; she is using a technique I like to call 'fire and duck'.

What she is telling you is that she has no political skills to match the skills being demonstrated by the whiners leading teams in your organization. She prefers to ship, then duck and hide --- like she does not even exist.

She wants to lie low and keep shipping.

This form of disconnection in builders is so common; and yet most organizations hardly understand it.

The purpose of this post, however is twofold.

First,  is to germinate the idea that most builders survive hostile environments by 'fire and duck' or by lying low. When you see whiners talking about how your 'developers' are not good at communication or how your builders need to be managed; more often than not your builders are actually spending extra effort making sure that you think that they do not exist. They might be leading your teams already; they just don't want you to find it out and make it 'official'.

It's a technique which allows them to lead teams without indulging themselves in bureaucracy.

They are indulging in fire and duck; because they don't trust your organization and leadership to come out in the open and take charge. They are afraid you'll promote them to their level of incompetence and that they will rot in meeting-hell.

The second purpose of this post; is to bring to your notice; dear reader; that the disconnect that your builders have with the promotion and leadership; has probably transformed into disconnect for the entire organization. If not, it will; soon; especially if you leave it unattended.

It is important that the next time you talk to Jane you get her to accept that promotion you are trying to give her. 

Getting her to accept that promotion is important; because by doing that you are sending out a very clear and honest message to your builders. You are telling your genuine leaders that it's OK to get noticed. You're telling them that it is OK to lead and that it is OK to drive the organization; because if they don't; your whiners will.

What examples of builders indulging in fire and duck or lying low have you seen?

Have you ever seen genuine builders in your organization refuse leadership roles and promotions?

Why do you think they refused the leadership roles when they did, 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.

Friday, June 5, 2009 5:36:57 AM UTC
Well, I have going through several posts of your blog. They say a lot about the builders to be the real backbone of an institution where "WE" build things. Be it software, hardware, buildings, or whatever be the stuff.
It's also true that a real builder in his/her true insight of building things undisturbed and unnoticed (though noticeably) like to remain a builder. They don't want promotions even asked for. True. Very true.

What about those builders - the workers who work under those builders (the architect / senior engineers)? They are never asked for a rise in position, responsibility, money, nothing beneficial, nothing they deserve really?

Would like to see something about these workers in your blog. Your views. What these people in their despair their deprivation actually deserve in their continuous work in silence? In your views, will certainly very interesting to know.

Thanks.
Thursday, June 11, 2009 1:49:21 AM UTC
Shankha,

Thanks for the suggestion. I might go ahead and include this in the book going forward if I do gather substantial interesting stories around this.

For the time being however, here is an excellent entry by Michael Lopp for you to look at:

http://www.randsinrepose.com/archives/2009/03/23/the_makers_of_t.html.

This is indeed a fairly interesting article; it is also one of the reasons for me picking the word 'builders' as I toyed with the idea of writing this series of posts or e-book.
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