Last week I enjoyed a great story by Rands, who, as a team lead, had a total communication disconnect with one of his team members. While he enjoyed an easy rapport with Harold and Stan, he just wasn’t clicking with Wallace. At first he accepted things as they were, but soon learned that the disconnect with Wallace was a genuine problem in need of improvement. Rands concluded that the only thing to do with Wallace was to completely unwind his normal assumptions about rapport and “clicking” with a colleague and just get down to making basic communication work. This can be pain-stakingly frustrating, but this is what you need to do when you’re not getting the easy, intuitive connection you want with someone you rely on.
One of the comments (Harry) chided Rands: “Here’s the deal: if your boss asks you to lead, he either gives you the power to sack people, or you don’t accept his job offer. In your case, Wallace is obviously not compatible with you. So you sack him.”
I thought “No–Good engineers are expensive, and it is preferable to learn to steer an existing engineer in the right direction rather than finding and training a replacement.” Other comments pointed out that Wallace wasn’t incompetent or incapable, just that he needed clear expectations with management. Someone named Dave chimed in:
“I’ve been a Wallace, and I’ve also been a Harold, and from my standpoint it has less to do with personality than with context. You can have a poor team dynamic, with no clear leadership and constantly-shifting goals, where everybody ends up isolated in their corner and becoming Wallace, at least in part. Or you can have a good team, where even the most Wallace-y engineer becomes Harold for at least a few hours each day.”
Amen. We each have in us both a Wallace and a Harold. They are Yin and Yang. The Wallace side of my personality wants to get heads down in to the work, but needs to know what to work on. The Harold side takes some time to chat up his manager and coworkers to find work and set priorities, then steps aside and lets Wallace get back to work. Tech workers tend to be more innately introverted, they tend to want a good manager to play the part of Harold, and come back and set clear work objectives and priorities. When things are not going well, unhappy people will tend to revert to their base personalities. For engineers this often means getting stuck in Wallace mode.
Sometimes employees are happy and eager, and sometimes they are curmudgeons. It depends on the context of work and life morale, mediated by an employee’s emotional intelligence. These are variables that can be influenced, allowing for change over time. Management needs to provide a positive work environment with clear goals. Employees need to do our part in building a positive home environment, with positive life aspirations, while also cultivating a greater degree of self awareness. An employee who learns to steer their own craft and deliver what management wants will create a more positive work environment for their colleagues.