A Thousand Words & Lessons Learned

I have read articles that have stated that to become a better writer – you need to write.  Its not just the act of writing, there are expectations to achieve the benefit.  A thousand words a day, every day is purported to make you a better writer.

I think that it is very possible that writing a thousand words a day will work, but as an average person (aka not a Kardashian) I run out of words pretty quick. I want for this blog to be a platform to share my knowledge as well as a medium to practice writing.


I have spent so much time reading personal development and communication to try to improve other rough edges that I have little time left to practice.  That is just an excuse.

I feel disappointed that there are days when I feel like I have done little more than prepare my next set of excuses.  I guess that is part of the ebb and flow of life.

I have been through trials and tribulations in the past, and each time I have come out better for it.  I am in a similar state lately, so I am working on ME to get ready for my next set of challenges.  I am fortunate to have been given the rope to fail (too heavy a word for the situation) which had the unexpected side affect of giving me a front row view to a valuable lesson.

I have created several opportunities in the last 24 months for myself to reflect and grow.

~Lessons Learned~

Let’s start with Focus.  I know that management is where I am most happy, but I made some mistakes when I had a team of ten.  I used my autonomy (not really, but hang on) to work on personal projects.  That sounds really unethical, but I mean projects that I wanted to work on that would ultimately serve the team.

At the time, I rationalized in many of ways that I was doing what was needed and I was serving the team but that wasn’t true.  I was taking something very important from the team, accountability.  It wasn’t until recently that this lesson became visible.  I was listening to the book “Notes To A Software Team Leader” by Roy Osherove that I saw that I had taken from the team that which I needed from them the most.

I used to feel proud of myself because of the value I created, since I often needed to step in and help with the firefight.  At the same time, I was thinking that they should be able to solve these issues on their own so why can’t they.  I realize now that I was the reason that they could not fix it.

They didn’t need to because “Heath would always be there to fix it”.  What a mistake that was!  I work with an amazing team of engineers and the fact is that they are the best ones positioned to solve these problem.  I wasn’t the one that was writing the code, so why did I think I was the best one to fix it?

That was a major aha moment for me. When I read that passage in the book it gave me a substantial pause of reflection.  I was very disappointed knowing that I took that away from them.

That was a very big one for me, but there is another that I think was the most disappointing.  I learned that mentorship will not come to you – you must actively seek it out.  That is something that I expected to take place.  Someone to help guide me in directions that I would not have otherwise seen and provide affirmation in the ones that I did.

I saw a youtube from John Somnez where someone had asked about how to find a mentor and that is where the lightening bulb moment happened.  Mentors are not always seeking apprentices.  Another thing that I came to realize is that you may not realize that you are being mentored.

I learn something everyday from at least one team member everyday.  I consider this to be a form of mentoring by committee.  I have also received personal mentoring from people that have reported to me.

What I am eluding to is that I no longer believe that mentoring happens in our field like a journeyman or apprentice.  You need to take the lessons as they come and try to learn from them.  You have to ask for clarity when things are unclear or get counseled when you need guidance.

At the start of this post I mentioned how you need to write a thousand words every day in order to improve your writing skills, but at this point I only have 796…


Change My Tune

One of the things that I learned from the Marine Corp was how to make command decisions.  I also learned how to make demands to get tough problems solved and how to lead from the front.  Has this worked well for me in the civilian world, yes and no.

All of my life, I have been taught to be very efficient in how I do all things.   I should clarify, it was “my idea of efficiency”.  I was always very quick to identify and make it known where there was something out of place.  I think that I had the need to ingratiate myself and that need was met.

Labeling me over the years has undergone several transitions, from “Bull in a china shop” to “fireman“.  I used to wear these like a badge of honor thinking that it made me special or unique.  The truth of the matter is that I was a one man show and those labels aren’t flattering.

I always thought that being the hero was what was wanted and needed, but now I know different.  The company that I work for have gone through many transitions over the last 6 1/2 years.  When I started there were many opportunities to improve the software, the development process and other facets of the IT group.

I have had many achievements and probably an equal amounts of failure.  I was fortunate to work for a group that is very compassionate.  I went through some challenging times, but they were there for me.  As you can see, I was not the best team member like I should have been.

I was very fortunate that I had the opportunity to work with a leadership consulting firm.  The coach that I worked with was top notch, she helped me navigate through troubled waters many times.  You could say that my emotional IQ was 0 back then.  I was not capable of empathy and a leader must, must have the ability to empathize.

Like I said, she helped me with a lot of the skills that I lacked.  I would like to say that she solved all of my problems, but I would be lying.  And now things have changed again and I need to make sure I can adapt like the mice in “Who Moved My Cheese“.  I have adapted fine, but I feel that I have a lot effort to prove to others that I am ok with the changes.  I can understand how it can be hard for people, who have worked with me over the years, to see that I am ok with the shift in responsibility.

In some ways, a lot of the burden has been removed.  I don’t have to constantly lookout for landmines where I have to navigate it to alway prove my worth.  Now I can focus on doing my part to help my team and fellow team members to achieve better results.

Side Bar:  They already kick ass, I am lucky to work with them.

Lately, I have been reading various books to help me with my communication and my social skills.  Here is a list of the books so far, and I recommend them very much:

  1. How Conversation Works: 6 Lessons for Better Communication
  2. Emotional Intelligence: 100+ Skills, Tips, Tricks & Techniques to Improve Interpersonal Connection, Control Your Emotions, Build Self Confidence & Find Long Lasting Success!
  3. Notes to a Software Team Leader
  4. Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual
  5. Speaking As a Leader
  6. How to Win Friends & Influence People

These are all great books and I highly recommend each of them.

The Marine Corps taught me many things, but how to play nice with others wasn’t one of them.  My view on the world that I live in and how I should behave has been changing.  I haven’t changed my personal goals, but I think I’m building my tool belt that will help me get there.  Sometimes change is happening around you and it is up to you if you want to change your tune or continue on a sour note.

You must be in tune with the times and prepared to break with traditionJames Agee

Side Bar:  I would feel guilty if I didn’t give credit to Michelle Saul of Possibilities Consulting