Know when to STOP

After a frustrating day at work dealing with a repeat of a problem from this past spring, I related some of the situation to my crew of hecklers advisers at the dinner table:

Stop Sign in Australia

By Matthew Paul Argall [CC0]

A software package common to all our endpoints has a third-party plugin that only half of our users utilize. The package incorporates some templates that—in our situation—were created in a different version of the package on quite a different platform. The package and plugin relationship is complicated: only a particular version of the plugin will work with any given version of the package.

Of the users that utilize the plugin, only a few are in the same workgroup with another user. And, of course, there’s not a user group or a communication mechanism. The only common point of contact is the workgroup that takes the output from this package and does some massaging, formatting and editing before sending back to the users.

The IT workers on my team started with each user of the software package and plugin—and blaming the templates. Or the packages. Or the plugins. (Or the users!) Very soon we had a mashup of instructions with every known mixture of package/plugin/installation possible. I was hearing things like “UserA says that it’s the templates” and “UserB says when they reboot it works” and “UserC deleted their cache, reinstalled the plugin and now it works”.

Whatever. Sure, keep developing individual solutions for each of your installations. How’s that working for you?

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Sharing the vision

A Leader “shares the vision” with the Team

We spent a good part of a day at the GCC National Youth Leadership Training course last week talking about “Sharing the Vision”.

There was so much presented throughout the week that I doubt many of the 48 participants got more than a high-level introduction to this topic, but it was one of the ideas that struck me pretty hard.

Here’s what I took away from that afternoon. Continue reading

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More thoughts on the stages of Team Development

From my 2016 NYLT notes:

Day 3

Adults frequently try to start at Performing while still actively Norming. So when Storming hits, it can be quite explosive.


Team individuals (vs true team members) who are accomplished (practiced? mature? aware?) at being team members can navigate these stages faster than those with less experience being on teams.

Navigate, but not always completing the stages. Not fully transformed to the stage.

(Actors with really good script writers can do this well, too.)


[One] role of the Leader is to guide the team through [the stages of team development] quickly and sufficiently [for the situation]. Not always thoroughly, but sufficiently.

A short-lived team doesn’t need to be completely stormed out. Masking conflict (for a time) can be acceptable.


Introspection can help move the individual along, but it’s largely masking the true stage or growth/progression of the individual.


The whole team needs to reach the [Storming phase], together. Otherwise, there are cells of quiet, with flare ups all around.

Read an early post on the Stages of Team Development. More than five years later I find that it still holds up well, but could use an update.

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You’re sick, never mind the details…

Rod of Alsclepius, from Wikipedia

Rod of Alsclepius, from Wikipedia

As a manager, I occasionally hear variations on the “I’m sick and not coming in today” statement from my employees. Sometimes it’s a simple cold, other times it’s not.

Sometimes it comes with much too much information.

I’m not sure if it’s a need to prove that they’re really sick, that they’re not slacking off at home binge-watching Sherlock, or if it’s some form of exhibitionism.

I used to tell my employees I didn’t want to know. But they told me anyway. So now I skip that and just nod, express whatever awkward sentiment seems appropriate and let them know I wish them the speediest recovery.

Once in a rare while, it becomes important that I’m told. Those chronic things that start impacting performance. That’s when it’s very important because I can then refer my employee to  Continue reading

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Vendors: Superheroes or Villains?

Super Hero Flying

Superhero or Villain? (from

As the lead IT guy in a small engineering firm, I get to deal with a lot of vendors. Vendors fill in my gaps: things like knowledge, skills, tools, hours and expertise. Really good vendors become my partners, my superheroes.

I have a rule of thumb about vendors—I just about always call them back. As distasteful as it can be to talk to a salesperson (if you’re a vendor or salesperson and that offends you or you don’t understand, just quit your job now), I call them back. Vendors and salespeople are in the business of selling stuff but some employ tactics that I just don’t enjoy.
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Classical or Jazz?

Classical? Jazz.


I have long wanted to write a post on leadership using elements from Chain of Command, a pair of episodes from the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, but have struggled on where to start[1. And in some sense, where to end.]—there’s just so much material to choose from.

One of the central conflicts of the story is how (and by whom) Captain Picard is replaced as captain of the Enterprise. Even before the change of command takes place, Captain Edward Jellico lists a series of orders, changing the Enterprise and how it functions in several significant, even dramatic ways. There’s no discussion, no explanation, no time for a period of adjustment, just his curt (and unfriendly) “get it done”.

Here’s where we could get distracted from this post’s topic. We could cover how Jellico’s assignment throws the Enterprise back into a Storming stage of team formation, how Picard graciously and effectively becomes a follower when necessary, how Jellico was effective despite his run-ins with the crew or a half-dozen other leadership topics of note.

But I want to focus on a single scene, a single pair of words. Continue reading

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Why? — a short follow-up

5 whys

Asking “Why?” a number of times can help lead to a problem’s root cause

I successfully finished a ISO 9001 class last week on being a lead auditor and during the training was reminded of an easy technique for getting to the root cause of some types of problems we face, including as systems administrators.

Related to another post a while back, the idea is to explore the reasons for an outage or a problem by asking “Why?” a number of times (five appears to be a good number), usually focusing on a process that failed (or doesn’t exist). Continue reading

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On Walking as a Leadership Trait

Walking Stick Figure

A walking stick figure, the letter “N” from Nancy Blackett’s Semaphore Font

One of my favorite leaders during my time at KeyCorp was a walker. He’d catch us early in the morning as he walked around the 6th floor. There were certainly faster or shorter ways to get to his office, but he’d take a little bit longer route in the morning just to see what was going on.

He wasn’t spying on us or checking up on us, just walking around. Most of the time he didn’t even stop and chat, just smiled, said “good morning” and walked the aisles to his office.

Occasionally he’d bring something up, but more frequently, we’d flag him down and give him an update on something, a problem or solution we’d been working on that we knew he’d be interested in. Continue reading

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Crabby Managers

Make a guy a manager, and right away he turns into a crabby old man!

Make a guy a manager, and right away he turns into a crabby old man!

I’ve been a bit crabby at work recently so when I saw this classic Peanuts strip from June 13th, 1965, I had a flash of insight into my own situation.

Lucy, wearing dark shades, walks first into a fence (wump!), then into a tree (klunk!) and then finally, up the pitcher’s mound and into Charlie Brown (bump!) at which point Charlie Brown tells her to “Take off those stupid glasses!!!”

Lucy complies and heads out to her position in the outfield where she jumps to the conclusion that when you “make a guy a manager”, “right away he turns into a crabby old man”.

It’s not being a manager that makes me crabby, but the repeated wumping, klunking or bumping into things.

I get particularly crabby when the wumping, klunking or bumping isn’t necessary. Continue reading

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