It’s All In My Head

I can see the future when I look at a spreadsheet. Within a minute, I can see what promotions will look like for a year, what risks lurk ahead, and what options aren’t as good as they seem. Someone comes with an issue, and I know where the answers can be found, who to call for help, and where the pitfalls are. Within an hour, I can review a record and give a very clear view of what’s missing, what needs to be added, and what needs to be removed so someone has a better chance for promotion.

It’s all right here in my head…and that’s the problem.

The first question is obvious: Should I share all this information in my head?

The answer, if you haven’t guessed yet, is yes.

If I’m supposed to be the solution to every problem, fill the space between every question and answer, and be the only person anyone comes to with complicated questions, then I’ll never get anything else done. I’ll exhaust myself running from one problem to the next, and by the time I get back to my office, there will be a line of people waiting and an email inbox that never empties. Some might call that job security, but I don’t. My job title isn’t answer-man, so answering every question isn’t going to help me be successful. It’s good for my ego, but bad for the organization. Here’s another reason why the answer is yes. Sooner or later, I’m leaving. Not only am I leaving here within a few years, but so is everyone else.

The things in my head are my own. They’re from my experiences of using what I’m good at to find order in things that seem chaotic. I wish I had more time to share with people so they can leave here with more tools than they arrived with. I ask a lot of them, so sharing my experience is the least I can do to repay them. Sometimes I feel it’s all I have to offer.

We talk a lot about training our replacements, which is about sharing the experiences we have or giving opportunity to people so they can learn for themselves. Since many of my lessons were learned the hard way, it might be best if I share instead of putting my people through a similar wringer.

If the answer to the first question is yes, I should share what’s in my head with those who have the potential to replace me, then how do I share this information? How do I, figuratively, get the contents of my head out onto the table for others to pick through and ask about? Sadly, it’s all about time.

I do it here by taking the time to write some of the lighter fare. I talk about what makes me tick, but I can’t share the technical stuff or specifics about policy and implementation. The only way to get the rest of it out is still about time. There’s no solution but to invest my energy into training. I can’t always teach someone to be good at what I do if they don’t have a talent for it, but I can break things down to a process for others to understand and follow. I can include them in more conversations so they can hear the way I speak to certain audiences, and then invest more time afterwards so they can ask questions.

If you think for a minute there’s an easier solution, likely based on email, you’re wrong. You have to get into a room and make time to train. Here’s the truly difficult and frustrating part of the whole thing: the people I want to train have to be in the room too. This is where it gets complicated. They have day jobs, with their own stresses and deadlines, so it’s just as hard for them to make time as it is for me.

With any luck, some of the people I want to train will also want to be trained, but that’s a much different discussion. If they do, and we invest time and energy into getting as much information out of my head as possible, they’ll leave more prepared to lead than they arrived.

– What information do you wish you could get out of your head and share with others?

– Are there topics you find yourself covering more often than not, or issues that you seem to consistently be the answer for?

– Is it something you need to share with your peers so they can answer it too?

– Who has the knowledge and experience you want to see on the table and ask questions about, and is there way to get it out of that person’s head?

Have a great week out there.

– JT

James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.