Don’t be afraid of No

How many times have you been afraid to hear “No”?

We have all been there because we have been trained over the years to perceive “No” as a rejection, or we did something wrong. What if that entire concept is wrong? Imagine instead that “No” just means:

  • Not right now
  • We do not have the budget
  • Just not quite ready
  • Tell me more
  • Work harder

Instead of being defeated by hearing “No” take it as a complement. Wait did he just say a compliment? Yes, I did! A compliment that the person saying “No” has the trust and confidence in you to handle hearing no. They did not make up an excuse or try to sugar coat things to make you feel like you are taking home a participation trophy. Would it really make you feel better if you heard them say, “Hey it was a tough decision but for factors that are beyond my control we had to go with the other company” or in your personal life “It’s not you its me”

Let us all be honest with each other for a second and admit while those take away the initial sting all they do is leave too many questions in the long run. Eventually you start asking yourself what could of I have done differently? What would have made a difference? Then that thing called self-doubt starts creeping in and makes you even more hesitant to go after something again.

Want an even more practical reason not to be afraid of No. If your too afraid to hear know you will never hear yes. That is right nothing is a 100% sure thing in business or in life so if you don’t want to hear know then you’ll never ask and then never get the chance to hear yes. I am not naïve and think this is something that is easy and comes naturally, it is the exact opposite our brains get wired after a certain age to fear rejection and feel like we failed. You are not a failure just because you heard no, instead it should drive you to work hard, be more motivated.

So, get out there and put all your effort in everyday because in the end you’ll find that it will bring you happiness knowing you gave it your all and left nothing to chance. STOP making excuses and rather find the answer to “Why should we do it?” rather than “Why shouldn’t we do it?”

Back with new focus

Back with a new focus


First let me say wow can’t believe that it has been almost 3 years since I have blogged.

The last few years my career have been focused on transitioning from being a pure hands on technologist to management and leadership roles. This transition has had its ups and downs with making many mistakes along the way. Those mistakes, however, have been what has opened doors and lead to great success. One of the most important lessons I learned along this journey is don’t be afraid to admit and share your mistakes with others. In sharing and asking for advice you will quickly find out that you’re not the first one to make these mistakes and there is a world of advice out there to help you along the way.

So why after three years to I pick up the proverbial pen again? First is a conversation I had with Erik Darling (@ErikDarlingData), , recently where I said I have all these blog posts sitting in draft that I just haven’t finished. His response was “Who cares just post them it’s just a blog”. I laughed and then thought wow he’s right it is just a blog and perfection is not required.

Second, I’ve started mentoring a few different people and one of the topics we have been discussing is self-marketing. This led me to realize that I should lead by example to show the power of enlightenment and engagement with your peers.

So stay tuned for my new series on Leadership: Lessons learned.


Leadership Part 1: Team building

Leadership Part 2: Talent acquisition and Employee Retention

Leadership Part 2: Talent acquisition and Employee Retention

The two most costly human capital expenses an organization will have is the onboarding and offboarding of staff. Just take a moment to think about that and if your scratching your head or think I’m crazy let’s take a moment to explore both of these costs.

Loss of staff costs: (Loss of intrinsic knowledge) + (Loss of productivity) + (Irreplaceable skills) + (Loss of leadership)

Talent acquisition: (Staff time to interview) + (Search firm fees) + (Employee referral fees) + (Onboarding time)


Backfill Database administrator in NYC.

In this example we will say we Phone screened 20 candidates, brought 5 in for in person and 2 for final meet with CTO.

Blended rate for staff = $150/hr

Staff time to interview = (20 phone screens * 1 hour * $150) + (5 onsite * 2 hours * 150) + (2 final * 2 hours *150) = $5100

Search firm fees = 180,000 * .25 = $45,000

Onboarding time = 30 days to be production = (180,0000 * (30/365)) = $14,794

Talend acquisition cost = $5100 + $45,000 + $14794 = $64894

This isn’t even factoring in the whole calculation of loss of staff and projects that couldn’t be completed. As you can see the cost goes up very fast.

Why do I bring this up? Well that brings up the next point which is, investment in your current staff.

Investment in current staff

We so easily get lost in budgets and bottoms lines and asking the in the moment question of “Do we really have to spend that now?” I’d ask the question back of “Do you really want to avoid a $100 lunch bill for the team and instead pay to replace them?” If your working for an organization that can’t see the value of investing in staff, then you should be fighting to change that mentality on a daily basis. This is the difference of being a leader versus being a follower. There should never be a moment that you aren’t fighting for your team, as this shows not only sets an example for the rest of leadership is also shows your team that you have their back and believe in them.

Now investment of staff can come in many ways and here are just a few ideas:

  • Team building events
  • Monthly lunches
  • Quarterly happy hour
  • Training
  • Conferences
  • Flexible work schedules

Out of this list I just want to take a little bit to focus in on a couple of the areas above. The first is around team building which overs the first three items in the list. Team building is an investment in not only the team but the individuals. Studies have shows that when you have employees that have a “Friend” at work they are more likely to stay and have higher productivity. See Gallup Productivity Poll or CNBC Why work friendships are critical. These are relationships you should foster, support and not get in the way of. They will develop naturally with your overall support of the team no need to create crazy get to know you events to force them.

Next, let’s talk training. This is a simple one. Budget for training and encourage your team members to attend training, conferences or your local user groups. If there is a user group that meets during the day encourage them to take the time to attend. This will have a significant long term benefits for example, in the technical space it will result in better innovation and less technical debt. I’ll save technical debt for another post, as that is a topic all in it’s own. I can’t stress enough to reinvest in your employees and provide the training for them so they can always feel as they are growing and not becoming stagnant.

Lastly, flexible work schedule, this is a hot button topic I know at a number of different organizations and wraps up to a much broader topic of Work /Life Balance. The first piece of advice I will give here is if that you don’t already have a policy in place to handle things such as remote work, sick time and vacation rules create one now. Having clearly defined rules around what is expected when someone is working remotely makes sure both employer and employee are on the same page. For example, here are a few areas I make sure are covered in a remote policy:

  • Working hours
  • Response times
  • Work Phone forwarding
  • Messaging (Skype, Teams etc…)

Remote work is only one a part work life balance as you also want to consider flexible work hours and vacation policy. Flexible work hours is rather straight forward, learn what your employees needs are and how you can combine them with business needs to make sure that you have both business coverage and work/life balance. Let’s say you have Employee A who has to drop kids off at school before coming to work and allowing them to come in at 9:30 rather than 9:00 could mean they wouldn’t have to find childcare and incur extra cost. This results in reduced costs for the employee and usually a higher satisfaction level with their employer. Vacation policy is one that is not always so obvious but not only encouraging employees to use there Paid Time Off but to also fully unplug is key to overall satisfaction. There should never be pressure to check emails or take phone calls during PTO and in some cases I have actually taken this as far as to create a policy that states if you check or reply to an email while on vacation your account will be locked out.

In conclusion don’t be the horrible boss, value your employees and realize that without them and their dedication you can’t effectively lead.

Leadership Part 1: Team building

Leadership Part 1: Team building

One of the most challenging aspects of being a good leader is building a team that can support the initiatives you will set forth. Without a team that will stand behind you and one that you will fight for can be the difference of success versus failure. I’m sure most of this sounds like a no-brainer and your reading this going “Duh, he’s stating the obvious.” While this may seem so obvious it’s still important to reiterate.

Myself, I have read numerous books, see below, on how to build a strong teams and they have all helped mold my approach. One of the most influential experiences for myself was having the opportunity to spend some time around the Military and learning how to build a team when you don’t necessary get to choose your team members. Learning how to find the strengths and weaknesses and put everyone in the best position to succeed is an art form that will take practice and you will undoubtedly like myself make mistakes along the way.

Team Building Books

Get to know your team members

This is something that I learned the hard way on how important it is to get to know each team member. Now depending on your team size it may be more difficult to get to know everyone as time and logistics will be a hurdle for you, but I can promise that the more you get to know your team the stronger team you will have. So how do you go about getting to know your team? For myself what has worked is the following structure.

  • Direct Reports
    • Weekly one on one sessions
    • Required to also have weekly one on one sessions with their direct reports
  • One Level down
    • Monthly touch points
  • Two levels down and below
    • Quarterly full team meetings with small group break outs

The one on ones are really a key to getting to know your team. During this time make sure not to just focus on work related projects but also get to know your team members personally. Keep them light, laughing is ok and allowed at work despite what HR may say, and make sure that they also report back to you on their direct staff and what’s going on. This helps you gauge not only how things are going with the team as a whole and keeps your team accountable for making sure that your process is being followed.

Quarterly full team meetings can be an opportunity to get out of the office and plan a team building event. These don’t have to be those silly get to know you events we all went through when starting school. Find activities that challenge everyone to work as a team in a fun way. One of the best events I ever did was relay go cart racing. This required strategy, planning and learning the strengths of all different team members.

Don’t put all the rock stars on the same team

Now that you know the different personalities on your teams and who the rock stars or potential rock stars are it brings up the question of, how do I group my teams? My rule, and yes this is my rule you don’t’ have to listen to me, is to never put all my rock stars on the same team. Why you may ask? Well it’s a lesson learned from doing exactly that in the past. What it left me with was one team that got all the accolades, did a majority of the work and worked on all the cool projects. As for my other teams they became resentful and felt like they were in a dead-end position.

This made me take a step back and change my way of team structure and focus more on having strong leads on each team and leads that were not only experts in their field but also knew how to mentor and share their knowledge with the rest of their team to build them up. Team leads on any of my teams are required to have three key attributes:

  • Expert level understanding of their domain
  • Ability to mentor and train other team members
  • Ability to say “I don’t know”

The last one to me is key as I much rather get the right answer to something that have them feel they need to answer on the spot, make something up or assume they might know the answer. “I don’t know” to me means you don’t know the answer now, but you will get the answer and get it right in a short time frame.

For the actual organization and team structure make sure to put individuals together that don’t have conflicts or personality clashes. It’s a careful blend of with the goal to get the optimal output out of each team. Don’t be afraid of change either, the expectation your going to get the perfect teams on your first attempt is unreasonable. Conflicts will arise and some can be worked through and some can’t.

With that said don’t make it too easy either and put a team together because they are already friends or have worked extensively in the past together. You want to make sure that everyone is slightly challenged and not in too much of a comfort zone.

There is nothing wrong with keeping people on their toes. I compare this to a new pair of shoes, sure they are uncomfortable at first and need to be broken in but they don’t prevent you from walking, just reminds you that walking isn’t as easy as you remember in that old broken in pair.

Set a defined career path

This may be the most important thing you can do as a leader. People who don’t know what their career path looks like tend to become detached and don’t put in the investment needed to be the best team member possible. It’s also one of the primary reasons someone will start to look for another job, as they start to feel like they don’t matter and start looking for a place that will appreciate them. Now not everyone on your team may want to climb that proverbial corporate ladder so career paths are not always a way to move up but sometimes just a way to make sure they keep their skills current and are recognized for their achievements.

What is a career path? First, let me start with that it’s not a dictatorship or ultimatum. This should be a collaborative effort making sure to align not only the companies/team’s goals but also the individual’s goals. Employee A may have aspirations to be a CEO one day and employee B may be perfectly content with just doing their current job and knowing everyday what time they are going home. So, with that said here’s my definition:

  • Collaborative exercise that is reviewed at least yearly (I prefer quarterly)
  • Geared towards company and person goals
  • Measurable goals
  • Defined outcomes for meeting goals

I want to take an extra few moments to focus on the third point of Measurable goals. This is one of the easiest mistakes to make, making a goal that can be left up to interpretation will lead to very uncomfortable and possibly contentious conversations. Don’t let yourself or any of your leaders go down this path as no good can come from it.

Example of bad goals:

  • Become an expert in area X
  • Lead a conversation in area X
  • Increase revenue

Example of good goals:

  • Pass exam X before 4/1/2019
  • Achieve certification X before 12/31/2019
  • Server as technical lead for 1 project that was completed with no schedule delays before 12/31/2019
  • Raise top line revenue by 25% by 7/1/2019

As you can see the second list is well defined and makes sure there is no interpretation and leads to clear cut conversations.