Passion and the Job

This short article was originally posted in February 2009 on Jeffrey’s old blog.

I have had an interesting weekend. My wife, Bethany, and I drove over the mountains to visit an old friend and mentor, John and his wife Sandy. We got in about 4pm on Saturday, sat and talked for a while, and went a lovely dinner. Today we went to breakfast about 9am, then went to a wine tasting at Kestrel Vintners. Bethany and I then helped John lay out the foundation for his new barn that arrives next week and dug 20 holes in the ground. Hard work and math (to get the building square) but oddly fun. We came back in the house, warmed up, watched some NASCAR (Sandy is the jock in their family), ate dinner, and watched a couple of okay movies (while tearing them apart for bad physics).

All this time we talked about all kinds of things. John and I worked together in some great jobs and some really crappy ones, but one of the most important things I learned from him (and remembered this weekend) is having passion for your work.

My current employer is great. It is a fabulous atmosphere, a strong business model, and an interesting challenge. The dynamic of my team sometimes leaves things to be desired, but I think I can work on that. Being around John has reminded me of my core values.

No. 1 — You build success for yourself by building success for others.

John has been a great mentor to me, both as a boss from time to time and as a friend all the time. I have a responsibility to mentor others, share my skills, and build philosophy to temper technology. I did a fair bit of mentoring with Taylor, but not as much with my current teammates. That is a mistake I plan to fix. My deliverables and deadlines and paycheck are important, but more important is the positive impact I can have on the people around me.

No. 2 — My strength as an engineer is understanding the problem from both the technical and the business side.

I am an odd duck. I think like a scientist and engineer, but can talk like a business person. I have let this skill slip over the last couple of years and need to seize it again. I have a goal for the first half of the year to spend 15 hours learning from members of the business side of the house. I really need to step that up and make it happen.

No. 3 — Ask guiding questions. If you get in a battle of wills, you have already lost.

A question is a powerful thing. I believe it was Pablo Picasso that said, “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” Having the humility to ask a question allows you to shape to conversation or debate without creating combat. “Never argue with an idiot. They’ll drag you down to their level then beat you with experience.”

No. 4 — Keep your tools fresh. They will rust without use.

There are many things I learned from John (like the art of guiding questions) that I have let atrophy. You have to keep your tools active or they will rust. I have a couple of books I am going to reread over the next couple of weeks as a start in that direction.

No. 5 — Leadership is more powerful than management.

Management is a set of responsibilities granted to you by a higher power. It usually implies paperwork, meetings, politics and such. Leadership is an act; a choice of how you are going to proceed through the day. It is about guiding and growing those around you. It means doing your job with excellence while encouraging and building the people that you work with.

Leadership, in thought and deed has been my passion. It is one I will be working to reach again.

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