Personal Ownership–The Vision Within

vision-imageIt has been said that the very essence of leadership is that you have a vision. It has to be a vision you can articulate clearly and precisely on any occasion. There is a vast difference between a person that has a vision and what is called a visionary person. Think of it in this manner:

  • A person with a vision talks little but does much.
  • A visionary person does little but talks much.
  • A person with a vision finds strength from inner convictions.
  • A visionary person finds strength from outward conditions.
  • A person with vision continues when problems arise.
  • A visionary person quits when the road becomes difficult.

Some of my personal experiences have taught me the following:

  • The credibility of a vision is determined by the leader.
  • The acceptance of a vision is determined by the timing of its presentation.
  • The value of the vision is determined by the energy and direction it gives.
  • The evaluation of a vision is determined by the commitment we the people have.
  • The success of a vision is determined by its ownership by both the leader and the people.

Take a look around you; what is happening to others

A good idea can become great when the people are ready. The data professional who is impatient with people can become defective in their leadership. The evidence of strength lies not all the time in blazing a trail ahead but instead adopting our stride at a slower pace while not forfeiting the end goal. If you run too far ahead then you run the risk of losing your power to influence.

The ability to decipher the big picture

The ability to decipher the big picture is oftentimes what separates leaders. They are concerned with the shop’s basic purpose of why it exists and what it should achieve. Some things to think about that may hinder a vision:

  • Limited Leaders – everything rises and falls on leadership.
  • Concrete Thinkers – see things as they are and say why?
  • Dogmatic Talkers – to be absolutely sure about something one must either know everything or nothing about the problem. At times knows nothing but conventionally says something.
  • Continual Failure– many people look at past failures and fear the risk of pursuing future visions.
  • Satisfied Sitters – people who strive for comfort which sits on the heels of complacency, predictability, and boredom.
  • Census Takers – some people are never comfortable stepping out of the crowd.
  • Problem Receivers – some people can see a problem in every solution.
  • Self-Seekers – people who live for themselves.
  • Failure Forecasters – extract only discord; outlook is always gloomy and times are always bad.

Summary:

Spend some time and think about the dreams and vision you have as a data professional. Whether you are in an organization or a consultant I challenge you to consider the following:

Refuse to accept failure with self-worth.

Don’t restrict thinking to established, rigid patterns.

See the big picture.

Welcome challenge with optimism

Don’t waste time in unproductive thinking.

Integrity–A Key Ingredient to Leadership

IntegrityWhen I have the opportunities to speak, whether local or elsewhere, on leadership I am often asked what are some things that make up a good leader? Over the years one very common word keeps coming up ~ integrity. It is a small word with a big meaning; if you were to pull up a dictionary integrity is defined as, “the state of being complete, unified.” When one has this ingredient their words and deeds match up; meaning they are who they say they are no matter where they are or who they are with.

This ingredient seems to be vanishing where personal standards are crumbling with data professionals in hot pursuit of finding shortcuts to success. Integrity is not what we do so much as who we are, and who we are often determines what we do. Our system of values is so much a part of us that we cannot separate it from ourselves. It is a navigational system so to speak that guides us. We often struggle in our respective shops with situations that demand our decisions between what we want to do and what we ought to do. Integrity establishes those ground rules for resolving such occasions.

Below are some traits that I believe derive from Integrity:

  • Integrity builds trust.
  • Integrity has high influence value.
  • Integrity facilitates high standards.
  • Integrity results in a solid reputation, not just image.
  • Integrity means living it myself.
  • Integrity helps a leader be credible, not just deemed clever.
  • Integrity is a hard-won achievement.

All the above are not given factors in everyone’s life. It is as result of self-discipline, inner trust, hard work, and a decision to be relentlessly honest in all situations.

Summary

Think about the situations as a data professional that you find yourself in. Begin asking the question am I taking a shortcut in order to get to success? Will that security permission not mean anything if I give it now and let another data professional handle the fall out at a later time? Or maybe you are a leader at your shop, is it something that you would sell a team or colleague out to get ahead. Whatever the case may be I urge you to take a long look at what your leadership looks like in your current role. Everyone influences someone in some form or fashion, will you have this key ingredient that is called integrity?

Don’t Duck On Responsibilities

ResponsibilitiesBeing a data professional you assume a certain amount of responsibility. It often requires having the right attitude and an action plan in place for finding the solutions to our problems at hand. Too many times we attack the symptoms causing the issue, but overlook the root cause. The quick Band-Aid fixes are found many times over, whereas our jobs should be identifying the real issues that lie beneath the symptoms. Now, don’t get me wrong – I understand at times you have to stop the bleeding. In the end though one should uncover the root cause and make the permanent fix.

Prioritize the issue at hand

Chances are you, dear reader, encounter many problems throughout the day. Never try to solve all the problems at one time; instead make them line up for you one by one. Might seem odd but make them stand in a single file line and tackle them one at a time until you’ve knocked them all out. You may not like what you find when uncovering the root cause issues, but that is part of the process. Be careful of this uncovering and be cognizant that what you find with the issues may or may not be the root to all the problems.

Take time and define the problem

In it’s simplest form, take time out and ask yourself this question – “What is the problem?” Sounds easy enough doesn’t it; you’d be amazed by the many accounts of knee jerk reactions data professionals make all over the world. You  may be thinking to yourself that there has to be more to it than that. Think about it in four easy steps:

  • Ask the right questions – if you only have a vague idea of the situation, then don’t ask general questions. Do not speculate but instead ask process related questions things relating to trends or timing. What transpired over the course of the week that may have led to this issue.
  • Talk to the right people – you will face people who inevitably will have the all-knowing and all correct way that things should be done. Heed caution to such as you may find resistant to change and blind spots by these individuals. Creativity is, at times, essential to any problem-solving skill.
  • Get the “set in stone” facts – once the facts are all laid out and defined you may find that the decision is pretty concise and clear on action that should be taken.
  • Be involved – don’t just let the first three steps define you; get involved in the process of being the solution.

Questions to ask yourself regarding the problem

  • Is this a real problem?
  • Is it urgent?
  • Is the true nature of the problem known?
  • Is it specific?
  • Are all parties who are competent to discuss the issue involved?

Build a repository

Once you’ve come to the conclusion and provided a solution to the issue – document it. I know I just lost several readers there. Believe it or not documentation will save your bacon at some point. Maybe not next week or next month, but at some point down the line it will. Some things to consider are:

  • Were we able to identify the real cause to the problem?
  • Did we make the right decision?
  • Has the problem been resolved by the fix?
  • Have any key people accepted the solution?

I am reminded by a saying I once ran across:

Policies are many, Principles are few, Polices will change, Principles never do

Summary

Each day we encounter issues and problems. Don’t let them define you but rather you define the issue. Often times we overlook the root cause; remember to go through your process, policy, and standards in rectifying the problems at hand. It is better to tackle the problems when they are known than to sweep them under the rug for the next data professional to come along and then they are faced with fixing them.

Hopefully this short post will provoke you to think about the issues you deal with on a daily basis and how best to tackle them.

Are You Wasting Energy?

Teamsuccess.jpgOften times we as leaders within our respective shops tend to waste our time focusing on the wrong things. Think about that for a moment and think about the team that you are on or that you are leading. I’ve seen it happen among some very talented teams where we (yes I include myself in this) are not tapping into the expertise of our teams bringing for the most potential out of each team member.

Over the course of time I’ve come across some things that have helped me in a leadership role that may help some other data professionals out there who are starting out or maybe even a season vet.

Want Results?

  • Eliminate those distractions – you have to define out what matters most. What are you or the team doing that may prevent you from focusing on the real tasks at hand.
  • Get Real – face it; there will be times when those awkward conversations are needed. Hold each other accountable if you are on a team, and if you are a lone DBA which some of my friends out there are then build a base in the community of trusted advisors. Bounce some ideas off them.
  • Point out what is not working – this may seem simple enough, but believe me it’s not always that easy to overcome it. Constantly review processes and procedures to make sure you are thriving forward; not drifting backward.
  • Set some goals – do this with your team, individuals, or yourself – put the emphasis on with.

Change is hard; change is never easy. That’s where coaching comes in; you have to stick with it. Trust me; if it were easy then everyone would be doing it.

What Are Some Ways To Define Success?

  • Respect and leverage – I’ve personally found that when teams respect each other and can strategically leverage each persons talents then watch out. You are about to witness something special take place.
  • Management has focus – as I typed this I had to take a moment and reflect on the team I’m blessed to lead. I’m I positively focused on leading the group – I do believe I have their best interest but that doesn’t mean “we” won’t make mistakes. I include we, cause dear reader, you may be in this category with me.
  • Does your team matter – your colleagues and teammates; the ones you get in the trenches with on a daily basis should feel like they matter.
  • Ability to be innovative – one of the key success points I’ve experienced is turning a team loose and just say, “be innovative”. End of day I got your back, and guess what you will fail. Let me repeat myself; you will fail. However, if you are not being innovative or your team or colleagues are scared to try anything new from fear of backlash then are you truly pushing forward?
  • Good enough isn’t really good enough – a saying that has stuck with me my whole life is a simple one. Somewhere someone is practicing getting better, and when you meet that person one on one will you rise to the challenge. It is okay to set the bar high and it is also okay to keep working hard toward and end goal. On the flip side to that it is also okay to learn from your mistakes and let that be the fuel to the fire to keep getting after it.

Summary

I challenge you to embrace your aspirations today. If you lead a team of data professionals then take a long hard look at how you are leading your group. Let innovation; collaboration, and engagement with others turn into respect, leveraging talent, and building on success. If we are bragging or dwelling on the past; then that may mean we are not doing enough in the present.

How’s that fuel in the fire; are you passionate about succeeding? These are just some thoughts in my own mind that I’ve jotted down over the years that may help you along your journey as a data professional. Time to get after it and make it happen ~ BE THE CHANGE.

A Letter To A Younger Yates

deskphotoHello much younger Yates. Hope you’ve been doing well. Why don’t you pull up a chair and stay for a few minutes so we can talk and maybe help another data professional that is just starting out on his or her journey. Nah, it won’t take us a long time to get through our talk, but I think it is now prudent more than ever to share with you some of life’s journey’s you are about to embark on.

I know you are starting out as a developer and you won’t know where your career will take you at this point; you are just happy to have a job out of college and that’s okay. One thing I do want to iterate to you though, when you see variables in the code that reference the Gilligan’s Island characters it is not okay nor best practice to do such, and while we are on this topic please line your code up – the future you being a DBA will thank you; trust me.

Life is going to throw you some curveballs along the way, both professionally and personally. This is part of growing on both fronts; what you need to know is to learn from them and not to be afraid to make mistakes in either scenarios. You will fail; you need to accept that. However you need to take solace in the fact that if you fail it means you are trying and never be ashamed to own up to anything you do. Don’t try to hide mistakes; address them head on and remember that if you get knocked down nine times you get up ten. Hard work will eventually pay off and you can take those lessons learned and teach them to others who are coming up.

Explore all avenues of learning, you’ll eventually get to know a group of people called SQL Family. They aren’t a perfect bunch, but then again neither are you. It is there you will find new colleagues, friends, mentors and heck you may even find yourself helping run user groups and help plan a SQL Saturday – – bet you didn’t ever believe that would happen would you?

You’ve come along way from the basketball courts where you poured your heart and soul into being the best you could be. Your dreams may have come up short in your mind but oh my friend you couldn’t be more wrong. The lessons and injuries you learned from that time were molding and making you into the data professional you will become. The discipline you had then will still apply even more so later on. That coach that entrusted you with the rock at the end of the game will again be the same in business. As you become a database administrator who will eventually lead and serve alongside a group of dedicated professionals in which you will find again the ball in your court. Attack it the same way with hard work and dedication; don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something….remember when someone did that to you – – you ended up with a triple double.

There will be naysayers and there will be harsh critics – – this is life. I wish I could tell you the world will stop for you and you can hop on. That’s not the case; you’ll find yourself having a great family which in turn will teach you more lessons. You’ll learn that you’ll have a new hero in your life in a son who has Type 1 diabetes. In him you’ll find how resilient a kid can be and realize that you will have nothing to complain about. Sure you’ll lose a step as you get a bit older, but what that kid goes through on a daily basis you’ll never have to endure, at least not as of today. You will have the roughest day and you will go home and see smiling faces. When you step out of that car make sure you touch the tree as you walk by to hang up all the work related activities – – you won’t get that for a very long time but when that light bulb goes off you’ll know what I’m talking about. As you left basketball on the court; you in turn will need to leave work at work sometimes. It will be hard…trust me on this ~ your family will need you.

When you get older I ask that you reflect on where you came from and realize how thankful and blessed you are. Investing in others like others have invested in you will be a key component in your future. Don’t let corporate politics detour your outlook that you started with. A passion to grow and also a passion for helping others grow.

As we end our conversation today remember one thing. You’ll never know what other people are going through. Your family, your team, your colleagues, or other data professionals. Win each day and make a difference in someone’s life. Set goals and dreams and never let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve them. If they do use that as the fire to motivate you to do the extraordinary. Be thankful for your mentors both professionally and personally and don’t ever be scared to use the words “Thank You” and “Sorry”. Those aren’t a sign of weakness.

Be humble yet assertive and when you give your word on something you follow through on it. You will have no idea how much communication will come into play – you got this younger Yates – Let’s Roll

**To the young data professional out there**

You may think you are all alone and in a big ocean swimming helplessly around. I want to assure you that you are and were not alone. Each day is a learning day and the lessons you learn along the way will be your story. You are the CEO of your career – – take charge of it. There will be others that come and go in your life professionally; I implore you to build a good base of about 5 data professionals that you can learn from and model your techniques after – – the best of the best if you will. At the end of the day you be the best you and when you get to your future self; take time to give thanks and reflect back on where you came from.

Thanks,

Older Yates

5 Characteristics Every Leader Should Practice

leadershipTodayThe word leadership has many synonyms attributed to it. Something that can be learned early on in one’s career is that having a leader you can trust is very important. Trust is something that is earned; not given. As I reflect over the years I’ve noticed mistakes that have been made along the way; mistakes that have often been learning experiences for myself to hopefully improve areas that need improving.

Below are characteristics that, in my opinion, make up a good leader, but the list is not an exclusive set. No, in fact there are many more that won’t be listed. This post is just to get your thought process flowing and maybe spark some interest in areas that you (the data professional) might not have thought of before.

Communication

This topic in and of itself could have its own dedicated blog post. This is something that many data professionals have a hard time with – myself included at times. The art of communication is a key component in a data professionals tool belt; many only think of a tool belt that consists of technical utilities. I am of the opinion that one should add necessary skill sets such as communication in their every day repertoire for it is in this we get to interact with people on a daily basis.

  • Team based communication
  • Client based communication
  • Business unit based communication
  • Meeting based communication

Communication is all around us; it is how we interact. Are we one who people like to come to with problems? Perhaps people shy away from us because we constantly tell them how wrong they are? Whatever the case may be there are gaps in communication and this characteristic is something that will always have to be worked on daily.

Humility

Whether you lead a team or you are a sole data professional doing your thing there will be times we all need a dose of humility. I can honestly say, personally, that our team I’m on would not be where it is today without everyone included. I’m going to just say this here to get it out-of-the-way; there will always be something that someone else knows that you don’t. That’s okay; it is part of our journey we call gaining knowledge. What I’ve seen over the years that sets data professionals apart from one another are a few things:

  • Thirst for learning and gaining knowledge
  • When a mistake is made; own up to it. Learn from it and move on
  • Do not play the I’m right, you’re wrong game
  • Rest in the fact that albeit how smart one is; you can always learn

Some of my best mentors have been ones that are constantly asking “What can I do to help you” instead of  “That is wrong and here is what you have to do”. You cannot be afraid to fail; for in times of failure you can gain great knowledge. A fear of failure will cause you to not be innovative.

When my time with my group has gone there will be one thing I hope they can glean from me; do not be afraid to try new and innovative ways to accomplish resolutions.

Responsible

Responsibility is a key component to any data professional. I was brought up in life that if you give your word than you better follow through. This doesn’t mean that bumps or obstacles in the journey will not crop up. I’m here to tell you they will; it is then when that first characteristic pops up and you communicate out to the necessary parties with updates on what is going on. Transparency is key and goes hand in hand with responsibility.

As I sit back and I look at any company, heck even consultants, for that matter – the most successful ones are ones that you can rely on and people deem the “go to” people. That’s great Chris, but how to I get there? Responsibility is something you have to show day in and day out. It falls in line with communication and you have to work on it daily. Once you become responsible you will begin to garner trust. Once you have trust then you can begin bridging gaps between teams, groups, clients, and much more.

PASSion

For those that know me they know that I have a strong passion for what I do. I fall into the category of loving the work that I do on a daily basis and also have a passion for SQL Community. If you have a passion for what you do it will show and be a reflection of your work. To me I don’t have a job but a lifestyle; granted there are days that aren’t so rosy, but when we signed on to be data professionals we knew there would be late nights and sometimes exhausting issues. End of the day though do you enjoy what you do? Is it a passion?

One thing I think that has been beneficial to me is seeing the passion in team members. Being in a group, such as the one I am in now, we all drive and push each other to be a better data professional; having a passion for something doesn’t just mean having one from a technical perspective. It can be with your family, your hobbies, or your career. Whatever the case may be; find that fire from within and let it drive you to become as successful as you can be. Once you have passion you can become infectious and it takes just one to make a difference. Will you be that one?

Decisiveness

There will come a time when every leader will have to make the call. This is something that trips a lot of people up; I will tell you as I am typing this that I have made some good calls and I have made some not so good calls through the years. Any good leader will show the ability to make a decision; and once you make that decision you live with it. You don’t go and point the fingers at someone else because when we do one should look at how many point back at us.

Set up some time throughout the week and look at the decisions you made. You don’t need to be a manager over a group to do this; see what were the good ones and what were the bad ones. Learn from them; if there are gaps then look for patterns. What could you have done differently?

If you lead the team you are on then you are the responsible party. Make the decision and then own it; even if you’re not the one performing the action to get the job done – you are the coach so to speak and the buck stops with you.

Conclusion

These are just a few characteristics that make up a good leader. Believe me this is only scratching the surface and I hope to dive into more; end of the day a good leader should be able to look at the day and say they gave it their all. Leave 110% on the court and you had nothing left to give – this isn’t always easy, but then again being a leader is not always easy.

Another set of 5 characteristics I’ll touch on in another blog post will be:

  • Love your team
  • Give praise
  • Cast your vision
  • Surround yourself with a solid work force
  • Big egos can lead to demise of a team (including leaders)

Get after it and make it happen. You and you alone are the CEO of your career. Change is possible; you just have to be willing to make it happen.

Hold The Fort

stressHave you ever heard the phrase “Hold The Fort”? Long ago in battle supply routes were targeted by enemy regiments that would cut off rations to fighting units. As the battle ensued the enemy had driven back their counterparts to a small area on a hill. They were being overwhelmed with many wounded and dying; that is until in the distance they noticed reinforcements were on the way.

How many times have you, as a data professional, been stuck wondering the same thing? Battered, worn down, and flat-out exhausted until you look and see reinforcements on the horizon. Sure, we’ve all been there, but to some it is a question of how do I call in re-enforcement’s or how do I even go about sending out a help signal? Below are some various ways you can tackle problems:

Forums

There are several forums out there that can provide some great insights into similar issues that you may be experiencing. To a certain extent I think forums are a great avenue to explore potential solutions. With that said however you cannot take every answer verbatim. There can be some off the wall answers out there that shouldn’t be followed. It is important to test anything you find on the web regardless of who it comes from.

You can find some of the forums I frequently attend here.

#sqlhelp

One thing that I’ve learned about the community is the willingness to help each other out. Remember above when I stated “Hold the fort, and reinforcements are on the way”; this is a good twitter hashtag to be familiar with. Professionals from all over the world take this seriously and it is not to be mistreated on how it is utilized. I have received great assistance in the past on issues I’ve been stuck with.

Phone a friend

We all have our “go to group” we bounce ideas off of. Sometimes it is helpful to bounce ideas off of another data professional. You may surprise yourself and actually start talking through your problem and come to an answer you may not have arrived to had you not initiated the conversation.

Old Fashion Testing

As a data professional you cannot be afraid to get your hands dirty. Prove your theories and test the scenarios as you run across them. One should be doing this anyway, but in doing so a wealth of knowledge gained is at your fingertips. We stop learning when we stop trying; just because you encounter one failure doesn’t mean you stop. You keep fighting and beating down that door until you make it through the other side. How bad do you want it?

Is It A Vendor Product?

I have the opportunity to work with a plethora of vendors. Maybe your issue revolves around a vendor product and you are not able to make any changes. Great, this happens all the time to data professionals. Some questions I’ll throw out there are:

  1. Have you opened a dialogue with the vendor about the issue?
  2. Have you documented the issue; not just call and say I have a problem?
  3. Have you tried to reproduce the error?
  4. It it already a known bug?
  5. Is it something that we can address internally before we talk with the vendor?

I’ve worked with a couple great vendors in Red Gate and SentryOne over the years. As a data professional I’ve seen vendors (not all) take pride in a quick response time. If there is an issue with a product they will want to take care of it in a swift manner or provide feedback as to why, when, and what to expect.

Internal Resources

I’m going to say this here, and it may shock some of you. No one knows everything; there may be some who elude or perpetuate appearances that they know everything there is to know,  but that is not the case. Whether you are in a shop or maybe a consultant (who can tap into their contact base) there are internal methods to maybe approach a different business unit or tech unit on an issue to get an outside perspective. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes goes a long way.

Technical Blogs

There are many great technical blogs out there; I have listed some in my DBA Blogs section to the right of this page. Each person is different and has their own go to Blog for review. I receive questions all the time from readers and other data professionals; being respectful is key but I have not seen one data professional out there who would not extend a helping hand if presented in a respectful manner. DO NOT TAKE this as one will provide an answer. We may show you how to connect the dots, but it is important one takes the necessary steps to get to the answer on their own. Nothing is given….work hard for it.

User Groups

Maybe your issue is not a hot ticket item and it can wait to a user group meeting. These are great places to bring up questions and issues in a local environment with some pretty stellar professionals. I guarantee that if you ask a question and no one knows the answer then someone will do their best to find out that answer and further the discussion. An example of a user group can be found here.

PASS Summit

Perhaps your issue is ongoing and you are at the PASS Summit. Great, besides being at a conference with over 6k of our closest friends I would take advantage of the SQLCat and AzureCat Team’s hours. It is a great way to tell Microsoft of your issues and get advice from some of the top-tier people in our industry.

Conclusion

I don’t know what your situation is or will be. Obstacles will come from all angles this year; it is up to us on how we deal with them. I would be amiss if I sat here and didn’t tell you that it won’t always be easy. Nothing in life is easy; some days you will have to work and grind your way through until you get to an answer for an issue. In the end though, when you do find that answer (and you will) you will be able to learn from it and move on. It is part of a data professionals journey.

Keep fighting and keep working toward your end goals. Never stop learning; never stop gaining knowledge.