Befriending Dragons

Intersectional Coaching Journeys: Reframe, Unblock, Move Forward

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Leadership – Taking Feedback

Leadership – Taking Feedback

As you may have seen from my other blogs, I’m taking leadership courses and trying to stretch and define myself. It is hard work but I think it is going to be well worth the trouble. I’m getting great input from many sources and writing about it helps me think it through.

One great piece of advice I’ve gotten is to look at feedback as a growth opportunity. Feedback is like gold; take it, mine it, and use the best parts. But all feedback is not equal. If you get a low rating on a survey or what you consider “bad” feedback from an individual it might indicate you don’t do that particular thing well, it might mean you do it well but don’t make yourself visible when you do it, or it might mean that person has some other agenda. Take feedback in context and look for trends, patterns, and situations. If multiple people or people whose opinion you really value (or need) say something, that’s probably more meaningful than an offhand comment from someone you rarely interact with. If the feedback is about something that has nothing to do with improving your leadership skills, do you really need to prioritize it?

Once you have the feedback, make sure you truly examine it. Don’t jump to conclusions. Look at your reaction. If you immediately dismiss it or get defensive, think about why. If you’re constantly repeating it as something unbelievable that someone has said, maybe you’re missing the point. If they say you need to do something you think you already do, maybe you just haven’t made it clear that you already do that. Or maybe you don’t do it as well as you think. Maybe you are using the same terminology to mean different things. Go back and ask, without being defensive, for clarification and more details. Don’t accept “you need to work harder” – ask “what does hard work look like to you?” Ask “how will you and I know when I’m working hard enough?” If you’re told to be friendlier, ask for specific examples of when you appeared to be less than friendly and tips on how a friendly person acts in that person’s eyes. Don’t immediately offer a defense of the situation, ask for more examples. Offer suggestions such as “If I do X instead of Y do you think that would be better?”

If the feedback indicates you need to do something that doesn’t fit with your values, needs, and desires go back and address it. Doesn’t stew about and wonder if the person giving the feedback is clueless or out to get you. If you’ve asked for clarification and still believe it doesn’t fit with you, try to find out how important it is. Do you need to change? Does the person’s expectation need to change? Does their expectation really matter to you? Can you substitute something else that’s close enough for their needs but fits better with the real you? Can you agree to disagree and agree that this one thing isn’t going to be a big obstacle to good assignments, promotions, and raises? Don’t obsess about, do something about it.

Last week at #SQLPASS there were about 14 people attending from Boise! That’s a great showing since sometimes we don’t have many more in our Boise SQL Server Users Group meetings. At the chapter lunch one of the regular user group attendees made an offhand comment that I was always correcting people during chapter meetings. Others at the table agreed. I obsessed about it for a while… ok, it still bothers me. But I think he’s right. Whenever we have a speaker at the user group I always have to add something. And by add something I probably mean correct them. Most of the user group probably doesn’t need each subtle point explained at great depth, but I have trouble controlling myself. Should I change that aspect of myself? I’m still debating if and how to deal with it. But at least now it’s on my radar. I can think about it before I make a comment during a presentation or when talking to a customer. How important is it to really get that subtle distinction (correction?) into the conversation? That was a good piece of feedback and I am trying to treat it as the gem it is instead of reacting with “no I don’t”. Because “no I don’t” is a correction to his feedback. Instead I’ll take the golden nugget and use it to improve my own interactions. And that’s what feedback is about.


Leadership – What Does It Mean?

Leadership – What Does It Mean?

What is a leader? Are you a leader? Do you have to be a people manager to be a leader? Do you care about leadership?

These are all questions I’ve faced recently. I’m attending some leadership training and I’m doing a lot of introspection. When I got to the first Women Unlimited session I actually started my answer to the ubiquitous “why are you here” question with “my manager made me come.” And I sort of meant it. But really that was a cover for my reluctance to face the hard questions about myself, my career, and my life. I knew that once I started digging I would find things I didn’t want to know or address. I knew it meant a lot of time and hard work. But as my friend Suzanne Jackowski said at the #SQLPASS #PASSWIT lunch, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” That’s the first time I’d heard it related to getting ahead at work, but it’s a perfect fit. Does it really take “too much time and effort” to figure out your true desires and goals? To take that knowledge and search for a job that lets you use your strengths and doesn’t force you to constantly work on your worst weaknesses? To figure out what you want to be known for? What exactly am I willing to do for an even better job and career? And if I’m not willing to do it, who’s to blame when I wish my career were going in a different direction?

So now I’m commencing a round of trying to define my brand, interviewing respected leaders, analyzing the difference between managers and leaders, learning to play to my strengths, taking surveys, and thinking all the time about how everything I do or don’t do looks to those who matter – whoever that may be. Because letting leaders know what you’re doing is key to your success. I signed up for a series of four sessions with Go Lead Idaho, attended a talk at work given by people one level above myself, and am thinking hard about what else I need to do to gain control of my future.

Back to the questions I started with. A leader is someone who gets people to follow. It’s that simple. Sometimes I’m a leader, oftentimes I’m a follower. Managers might be leaders, and leaders might be managers. But there’s no true relationship between them. We like to think managers are chosen for leadership skills, but quite often they’re chosen for doing their last job well. And when someone is chosen for leadership rather than knowing the job well, we all complain that they don’t understand us and our jobs. I work for a company that highly values leaders and gives them the option of a non-management track to advance very far up the chain, so I don’t have to be a manager to be a leader. As for the question of do you care about leadership, that’s up to you. Do you want to be in control of your life and your career, or are you comfortable following? For most of us the desire and need to be a leader will change over time, perhaps even over the course of a day. Be a leader when you can and follow when it makes sense. The hard part is knowing when each is appropriate.

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Women in Technology – Why Does it Matter?


Women in Technology – Why Does it Matter?


The yearly SQL PASS summit is always one of my favorite times of year. It’s a week packed full of great technical content and many networking opportunities. Not to mention the parties and fun. J And of course the #sqlkilts. One of the highlights of the #sqlpass conference is the Women in Technology (WIT) Luncheon. This year quite a few men (and a couple of women) wore kilts that day and several of those wore shirts designed by @MidnightDBA saying “I’m supporting Women in Tech. What are YOU doing? (Plus, I look hot in a skirt)”. They came with the rest of us to hear a panel that discussed topics such as how women influence innovation, how women affect the bottom line, and why high tech jobs benefit women. Many audience members participated with comments and questions. I was so inspired by the day that I am taking some of the key points and summarizing them.


This year we had a great panel of speakers:

Billie Jo Murray, General Manager, SQL Central Services, Microsoft

Nora Denzel, Senior Vice President and General Manager – Employee Management Solutions, Intuit

Michelle Ufford, Senior SQL Server DBA,

Denise McInerney, Staff Database Administrator, Intuit

Stacia Misner, Principal, Data Inspirations


The number of men in the audience at the WIT luncheon continues to grow each year, as more people realize that supporting women in tech takes support from both men and women and that everyone benefits from the diversity. As Nora said: “Welcome to the women, and also welcome to the men, and also welcome to the men in skirts”. The number of women in technical jobs is decreasing at a faster rate than in other occupations, and the percentage of computer science graduates who are women is plummeting. Going forward it will be harder and harder for companies to recruit women into technical jobs. There doesn’t seem to be a good explanation for why this is happening. There are plenty of hypotheses but so far there doesn’t seem be consensus on the causes and more importantly on what to do about it.


So why do we care? Why does it matter how many women there are in tech? Why do we need a special group, time, or event just for WIT? There were many good points given about this during the lunch, both from the panel and from the audience. As Nora and Michelle both pointed out, at a high level diversity helps teams deliver a better product and fosters innovation. When you have people from different backgrounds, they approach the problem/product/issue in varying ways. The more approaches you have during the development phase and the broader the base for feedback, the more innovative and useful the end product is. This isn’t just some people sitting around a room and complaining; studies have borne this out. Gender is only one aspect of diversity, but it’s an important one. As the panel said, diversity is a means to an end. Diversity done right attracts great talent, leads to higher ROI, and makes the workplace healthier. Diverse companies are more likely to be voted a great place to work and that higher morale can translate to a better bottom line. Denise shared a great quote from Bill Gates. BillG was giving a speech in Saudi Arabia to an audience segregated by gender. There was a question to BillG about whether Saudi Arabia could become a top competitive economy by 2010. His answer: “…if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the top.”


Women (yes, stereotypically and not across the board) tend to approach tech projects differently than men. Often they take the perspective that technology’s purpose is to help others and therefore they think of projects in those terms. Teams shaped by stereotypically male dominated thinking often take an approach of fixing a problem or using something just because it’s “cool”. Both approaches have their place, and when they’re combined the innovation can explode (hopefully in a good way).


So what incentives are there for women to take a tech job and stay in the tech industry? I would argue that it’s a fun career, but what else is enticing? How about money and financial security? Tech jobs tend to pay well in general. The gender wage gap tends to be lower in the tech industry, so for the same job there’s a higher chance a woman will be paid as much as a man with the same skills. As Denise said, with the increased financial security from a tech job, a woman has greater control over all aspects of her life. From another perspective, as women in tech we are “thought workers”. That means we are valued for how smart we are, for our brains. In the tech world we can compete on the basis of our ideas. Despite the constant media message about women having to always compete for who looks the best, see who can dumb themselves down the most, and avoid math and science, in the tech world we can shine based on our merits.


If it’s such a great career path for women, why aren’t there more women here? I already mentioned the rapidly decreasing percentage of women with computer science degrees, though I have heard that in other countries that may not be the case. But why don’t women apply for tech jobs? Is it the geek image? A lack of desire to work around all that testosterone all the time? The media-fed feeling that women just aren’t good at math, science, and the “hard stuff”? The lack of glamour or perception of long hours? A feeling that we won’t fit in? Again, there is no consensus on why. If we could figure that out, maybe it would be easier to solve the problem. As Jimmy May said, “she-geeks are cool”, and we need to communicate that to women.


For women already in the tech arena, how do we approach our jobs? There seemed to be wide agreement that as women we are much more likely to seek perfection of an idea before we present it. We aren’t as likely to speak up at meetings if we don’t feel we are 100% prepared. We need to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s ok to make mistakes or to say “I’ll have to get back to you”. As Billie Jo said, women need to “sit at the table”. This applies both literally and figuratively. She talked about attending large meetings with so many attendees that there were chairs lining the walls as well as around the table. And who does she see sitting in the chairs “out of the way” around the edges instead of at the table? Women. Take a seat at the table, say something even if it’s not brilliant, and be an active participant. Despite the common perception of many women, we don’t have to know everything and do everything to be good at our jobs. Don’t wait for perfection before acting; step in and become a participant. The example was given that if a job application has ten requirements a women with “only” nine qualifications will not apply, but a man with only one qualification is likely to submit an application. That’s a bit exaggerated but does show a gender gap that many of us can identify with. Get over it! Move on and become a player in the tech game!


Now we’re all convinced that we need to have WIT. And we also know women aren’t getting many computer science degrees. So who do we recruit? How about math or physics majors? Billie Jo expressed an appreciation for music majors because the way their minds work is similar to what is needed in a tech environment. I know very successful techies with degrees in such seemingly unrelated fields as English. So don’t limit your search to the typical candidates. If something isn’t a true, absolute requirement, word the job description so it’s clearly a “nice to have” and you may see more women apply. Try to find the essence of what you’re looking for and include that description instead of some example of how someone else typified that essence. And remember that a broad background in college and life is very helpful. Billie Jo pointed out that her experience is that women tend to have a broader background in their coursework. This makes them more flexible and often makes it easier for them to fit in and advance at work. Stacia made the point that we need to look at people in the business world, especially for business intelligence type work. Don’t think of tech vs. non-tech. If IT people rely on a business person who consistently takes the real world requirements and makes them understandable to a techie, maybe they are a candidate for an IT job. Look beyond the normal and expected and you may be surprised who you find.


Life/Work balance always seems to come up when we talk about WIT. It’s not only women who need this balance, but for some reason we seem to be the ones who visibly seek it. This is a discussion for another time, but one important point an audience member made is to ask your family for help. It’s ok to tell your spouse that you’re going to SQL PASS next year and it’s the partner/spouse’s responsibility to look after the kids that week. It’s ok to ask them to do some extra housework while you prepare the presentation you’re going to give at your local user group (or at SQL PASS!). You support them and they feel good when they get to return that support. So ask for support from your friends and family and don’t feel bad about it!


So what can each of us do to support and encourage WIT? Some of the ideas suggested include:

·         Watch the lunch panel here: PASS Summit 2010 Women in Technology Live Streaming Panel Discussion

·         Don’t wait to be perfect or have perfect knowledge before you act.

·         Mentor women who would make good SQL MVPs or SQL MCMs (BJ offered to help!).

·         Don’t put up with a lack of WIT support at your company.

·         Be a peer mentor (to a man or woman) and seek out a peer mentor (man or woman).

·         Nominate qualified WIT peers for the MVP program.

·         As a WIT: submit an abstract for a conference, offer to speak at a user group or code camp, get involved in public/visible ways.

·         Have 1:1 conversations about tech, WIT, and/or diversity with people you can influence.

·         Thank the WIT in your life, starting with the SQL PASS WIT planning team!



#passwit search!/search/%23passwit

#passwit search

Main WIT page at SQLPASS!/sqlpass!/pass_wit