How to be a role model – continued (1)

In one week I received two requests to present to a group of technical professionals as a role model! One request came from my good friend Nnenna Elkins, one of the leaders of the Women in Technology initiative in IBM in the Nordics; the other request came from Paridhi Verma, the communication manager of our IBM Academy of Technology.

It means a lot to me that my fellow technical professionals think of me as a role model and I don’t want to bore them with lamentations about the various potholes on my long career path. After all, for each jerk, bully or rat that I have had to work with there were ten kind, creative, supportive and honest colleagues who helped me grow and learn and get the best out of myself. They were MY role models! And many of these role models happen to be technologist(a)s and Academy members!

The question that Paridhi has asked me to answer is : “What does being an IBM Academy Leadership Team member mean to you and what did it do for your career?” I became an IBM Academy of Technology member in 2014 and joined the leadership team a year later. For me, being an Academy member means to be accepted into the core of the IBM technical community, to be as close as one can get to all the bright minds who have formed the technical heart of this company for so many decades. And that is a tremendous honour! There is so much to be proud of…

But it is also a huge responsibility. At this level you have to help shape the company – you can no longer distantiate yourself from unrealistic solutions or unethical proposals. You have to have the courage to speak up. That is difficult and not always good for your career. The best solution for your customer may not be the one that generates the most profit for the partner in charge and thus may not be the preferred solution of the sales team.

How to deal with those situations? First of all I strongly believe that one should stay true to one’s beliefs and that we should be transparent to our customers about what we know is right.

Secondly one should never loose one’s temper, not even when the stakes are high, everybody is nervous and people start threatening, shouting and using bad language. Stay calm and explain in reasonable and thoughtful words what your objections are! As technical leaders we are the technical conscience of the company and we have to ring the bell when we see that something is not right, that a proposal does not fit the customer’s needs.

And last but not least, in times of stress and doubt, there is this vast technical community to reach out to. Ask for help and advise, ask for a peer review. You’re not alone…

How did I perform in my own eyes? Did I always behave like that senior technical professional that I wanted to be? Was I always on top of the situation? Did I always effectively express my concerns?

I am afraid not. There have been situations where I backed off, hurt. I know that in order to be a better role model I have to improve on self-confidence and effectiveness in working in a man’s world. But should a role model be perfect? Probably not – a role model is someone whom we can relate to, who is in many ways just like us but who has gone through the career path that we aspire to before us and from whose experiences we can learn.

In their book “The art of possibility”, Benjamin and Rosamund Zander advise to encounter each unpleasant, disappointing or challenging situation with the words “HOW FASCINATING!”. This is great advise! There is something to learn in every experience, even in the bad ones… Use that advise when you feel that you reached the bottom and share with YOUR role model – that is what she is there for!


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