Winning From Within: a book review and a new attitude

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See that guy there? He’s not winning. This picture was taken in July of 2013, and at that exact moment, that guy was not winning that race. He was also not winning at work. He was not winning as a leader, a mentor, a manager, or anything else in his job description that required getting along with coworkers. He was miserable, his team was miserable, and things were at a breaking point. Luckily, he found a book, and he read that book, and it changed the game…

Yes, yes, I know, this is supposed to be a blog dedicated to SQL Server, but too bad. It’s my blog and I’ll write about what I want to write about. I’ve found it to be quite therapeutic to write about the “soft” challenges that I face in my job. In the end, it all helps me to be a better DBA, a better professional, and a better person. Maybe it will help somebody else too.

WinningfromWithin If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you know that I had a tough year last year. Not just me, but my whole team, infrastructure and DBA alike. Put simply, it sucked to go to work. As in so many other places, the classic “us versus them” war was waging between the operations team (us) and development (them). We were outnumbered, outgunned, and morale could not have been worse. I was ready to walk away, as were many others, but something in the universe aligned and an email arrived in my inbox, unsolicited, introducing me to a book entitled Winning from Within: A Breakthrough Method for Leading, Living, and Lasting Change. I read the book, and it was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time – it changed the game for me.

The book centers around the concept that you are not just one “you”. You are made up of several different “people”. There’s the no-nonsense, charge ahead and get things done you. There’s the hand-holding, cuddling with kittens you. There’s the let’s stop and think about what that fifth slice of pizza is going to do to your blood pressure you. Yeah, it’s one of those touchy-feely self-introspection books, but it works. I found it helpful to “geek it up”, and I’ll give my review from that geeky perspective.

As I said, the book splits “you” into seven different people, and shows you how one or two of those people are calling the shots. The rest of the crew never gets a vote, never gets to express an opinion, and that is likely causing you problems. Here are the seven different people:

  • the warrior – in geek terms, think of the warrior as James T. Kirk. He takes crap from nobody. He cheats to win. He never backs down from a fight. He makes things happen.
  • the thinker – obviously, this is Spock, the pointy-eared, sometimes annoying member of the crew who is always pointing out how illogical it would be to fire those phasers, because the odds of penetrating their shields are approximately seven thousand eight hundred twenty four point seven to one.
  • the dreamer – aye, Scott here. That problem we had? I dreamed up an outside-the-box solution! Just before they went to warp, I beamed the whole kit and kaboodle into their engine room, where they’ll be no tribble at all. Now off to find a way to coax warp 9.1 out of those engines.
  • the lover – he’s a doctor, not a bricklayer. He once said “Compassion: that’s the one thing no machine ever had. Maybe it’s the one thing that keeps men ahead of them”. Obviously, Dr. McCoy.
  • the lookout – I didn’t align this one with a Star Trek character, I thought of this more as the ship’s sensors. Those sensors monitor what’s going on inside and outside the ship. Are we being threatened or attacked? Go to red alert! Are we overloading the warp core? Better slow down and let ‘er cool off a bit.
  • the captain – in the book, the captain is tasked with taking input from the five sources listed above (in this case, the senior officers and the ship’s sensors), and using that input to decide on the best course of action. In my head, I’m using the Enterprise to represent the captain. The ship responds to input from the crew and the sensors, safely transporting us away from danger, taking us into a confrontation fully armed, or just around the corner to the next resort planet where the green women await.
  • the voyager – this one is was just BEGGING to be represented by a ship, but I didn’t take the bait. No, the voyager in this case is YOU. You’re traveling through time and space, seeking new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no man has gone before. You’re growing, you’re learning, you’re voyaging through life, expanding your horizons.

Early in the book, the claim is made that most of us don’t utilize our full crew. We let one or two officers run the ship, ignoring the advice and warnings of the others on the bridge. As you progress through the book, you’re presented with various scenarios and assessments to help you figure out which of your crew members are sitting in the big chair. Overwhelmingly, the book showed me that my Kirk is in charge, maybe occasionally listening to Spock or Scotty, but not often. That explains why I spent much of 2013 bruised, bloodied, wearing torn shirts and wondering what the hell just happened.

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Once you’ve figured out who is in charge, the book then helps you to devise ways to start including the rest of the crew in the voyage. That email that you just read and are angry-typing a response to? Why not take a minute to check the ship’s sensors? Is the core overheating? Scotty, you have three seconds – I need warp 11 now or, oh, wait, hold on, McCoy is saying something. Ohhh, so that ugly monster isn’t threatening us just because it’s an ugly monster? It’s wounded and defending its eggs? Oh, well don’t I feel like an ass. Ok, disarm the torpedoes, come down from red alert. Somebody find me some thermo-concrete, I’ll go try to make friends with it.

It works. I literally have started running through the crew in my head with every interaction that I have with someone:

  • sensors: What is my current mood? What is the other person’s mood? Is there a crisis underway in the group/company/system/world? What is happening that might affect my response or theirs?
  • Kirk: Am I being challenged or threatened? Do I need to assert myself? Is it time to pick a fight or force action?
  • Spock: Considering all of the possible responses, which one makes the most sense? What effect will those responses have?
  • Scotty: I have 30 minutes to do what? That’s impossible! Or is it? Can I dream up some creative solution that will save the day?
  • McCoy: Why is this person REALLY asking me for this? Are they new to the company? Are they young and inexperienced? Is this their first time working with SQL Server? Are they facing an aggressive deadline?

Factoring in all of those things, I’ll plot a course of action and set the helm. Sometimes it is necessary to fire the phasers, but sometimes just reversing course and going a different way is a better decision. It’s not an easy habit to start, but it REALLY works. Just ask yourself, “What would Kirk/Spock/Scott/McCoy do?”. It gets easier and faster each time you do it.

This book, and this new (new for me) way of thinking has seriously changed the world for me. I no longer come home from worked pissed off EVERY SINGLE DAY. I no longer dread going in to the office each morning. I’m having real, genuine interactions with people outside of the operations team. One particular person who I could have labeled a “mortal enemy” is actually starting to become a friend.

This book works. Buy it, read it, go through its assessments and exercises honestly. And then ask yourself – in this situation, what would Kirk do?

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