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Be The Hero Of The Story

November 7, 2017

I’m good at what I do. I’m actually really good at it. Like many people, I have a terrible time owning up to that fact.

Early in my management career, I was working for Microsoft as a kind of peer leader. Technically, I was a peer with everyone else on my team, but by virtue of experience I was looked to as the lead. Naturally, I wanted to move up in the organization. During annual review time, I wrote a fairly glowing review for myself. We did 360 reviews, so one of the newest members of the team, a woman who was very experienced in our industry but new to Microsoft, read my review.

Well, do you have any feedback?

Um. . .

Go ahead, I really want to know what you think.

You do kind of give yourself an oversized helping of credit for much of what I did last year.

I’d help train her and I was taking credit for a good share of the work that she did. It was uncomfortable feedback because it was true. It was also effective feedback because twenty years later I still work very hard to make sure I’m not taking too much credit. In fact, I’ll sometimes (often times?) go too far the other way in sharing credit.

We just hit a major milestone in a big work project. I’m the project leader. Executives from my company and our client company personally asked me to take on this project. It’s been more than 13 months and thousands of hours from a whole team of people, project managers, engineers, analysts, testers, and more. Last week we rolled the project out to our first group of agents.

It went fantastic. It could not have gone better. We scheduled the rollout to take three days. We completed in a day and a half. Everyone was very happy and very relieved. Lots of email was being sent congratulating the team and individuals on the team. I have deflected much, if not most, of the credit; to my project manager, to my engineers, to my vice president.

I know that I was key to this project. That knowledge means that I don’t have to tell people I was key.

But, there’s a problem. Two problems in fact. The first is “humble-bragging.” I have a great relationship with my manager and my team. If I deflect praise, they are all the more likely to insist I take credit. I found myself in a situation where my manager was trying to convince me how valuable I was to the project. This conversation took place in from of my team. As I identified what was happening, we all laughed at what essentially turned into a “Say more nice things about Rodney” session. I finally shut up, took the praise and the conversation moved on.

Don’t be so “humble” that you end up making others overcompensate and shower you with even more praise. If your effort really is to not take too much credit, you need to take your fair share, or you put others in an awkward situation.

Go ahead and be the hero if you really were the hero.

The second problem is one of using that influence. As a result of the work we’ve accomplished, our team has attracted some well deserved attention. I was meeting with my boss to prepare for a meeting with a senior IT executive in the company when my boss delivered some disturbing news.

I’m not going to be in the meeting with Luke from corporate.

What do you mean? I thought you were here all week?

Yeah, but I’ve got a client meeting at the same time. He’s really here to talk to you. You’ll do fine on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask for some of the things we went over. You’ve done a fantastic job. This is your chance to tell him how much more we could accomplish if you get some of the additional resources we discussed.

The problem is that without my boss in the meeting it falls to me to make sure the executive knows just how critical I was to the project. We have turned out client into the most valuable client for my company. But, it comes at a price. As the IT guy on my extended team of account managers and business analysts, I’m the guy who has been responsible for the technical aspects of our success. Often I’ve been the only guy. Fifty or sixty hour weeks have not been uncommon. Fourteen to eighteen hours days have been needed occasionally. My family has just accepted the fact that I’m not going to be available often.

And the sacrifices have paid off. And, if I’m honest about it, they have paid off because “Rodney” put in the effort to make sure they did. My boss went on,

I don’t think the rest of the team realizes how spoiled we’ve been. We can just ‘call Rodney’ when we have a technical issue or question. We are the only big account that has that privilege. Your IT peers for the other large accounts don’t do for those accounts what you do for us.

While it’s great to hear those types of compliments, when it comes time to claim them, I hesitate. Even typing them now, I get just slightly embarrassed. “Hey guys, I’m great! Did you hear? I’m pretty fantastic!” Yeah, that’s not naturally me. But, in the meeting with the senior executive, I need to make sure I communicate that. Because what our team really needs is a second Rodney, and some dedicated IT resources so that I (and the second me if we can get him or her) can spend less time chasing down the right people and even more time building up the account.

Taking a false modesty into the meeting with senior management would actually hurt the team and make my job harder. I need to be the hero of the story.

I’ll let you know how it goes. The meeting is tomorrow.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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