The (Baseless) Shame of Not Knowing

2820521078_1d5f4d7caa_oWhen I was a kid, I learned how to ride a bike, ice skate, read and play music.

Today, I can still do all of these things.   Though sometimes my mind makes a promise that my body can’t fill!

With sufficient practice, maybe I could play as well as I did when a good part of my free time was spent playing music.

Who knows?

What I do know:  there’s a body of knowledge.   There’s qualified instruction.  And then, there’s practice.

In my travels through the NY tech/startup community, one thing I’m seeing is a bunch of people being really hard on themselves.   And sometimes we’re hard on one another, too.

Managing people is hard.   It’s harder than playing the piano.   After all, the piano is a machine.  If you strike middle C, you’re going to get middle C.

Not so with people.   There’s a lot more to cause and effect at work.  I’ve started to think about management “use cases.”


  • Setting expectations/goals
  • Giving/receiving feedback
  • Asking the right questions in an interview
  • Having a difficult conversation

These workplace interactions encompass probably 80% of the situations you’ll encounter when managing people.   The first time you encounter a situation, it’s hard.   The 5th time, it’s at least known.

Having to let go of someone is a variation of the “difficult conversation”.  That should probably never feel too easy.

It’s a bit easier to up your game at the conversation you’d have with someone who’s perpetually late.

Yesterday I had a few conversations with colleagues at Orbital about my upcoming #Management Intensive.   We talked about referrals they made (thank you!) to people I didn’t hear back from — as well as my conversations with people in the community.

Of course, I’m not for everyone!   But rolling out my program, I’m seeing some emerging managers who are reluctant to admit that they’re not skilled people managers.

I perceive a lot of what I read as “shame” around not having management skills down.

That’s a real shame.

I feel no shame about not speaking Russian, knowing only a little about how to program, and about being a base amateur in the kitchen.

Very simply, these are things I’ve never learned.   I never sought out the information.  Nobody taught me.  And I didn’t practice.

Leading people at work is a 10,000 hour skill.   You need access to the right information.   You need qualified mentoring and coaching.   And you need practice — and feedback.

(BTW, this is as true for a first time founder as it is for a new Team Leader.)

So, I’m excited about the people who will be joining me starting this Friday.   And grateful to everyone at Orbital for making space for us!

More than that, I’m interested in continuing and expanding the conversation around what makes us good leaders at work.  And how we can engage more people in helping one another to develop this aptitude.

This element of workplace interaction is creating the level of human decency we have in our workplaces.

Of course it’s not easy.

Click here to join a waitlist for my next open enrollment #Management Intensive!

Photo:  Seth Sawyers, Piano teamwork via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.

Talk to me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.