Be the Ally, Not the Ego

Competition is everywhere. Sometimes it is unavoidable. For instance, when you are looking for a job. You want to focus on you, skill up, and set yourself apart from the rest that are competing for that same job. It is definitely stressful, but can also be necessary when it comes to career advancement. Not always, but sometimes. However, job hunting is not the scenario that I want to cover in this post. In this one, I want to go over the scenario in which you are already in the role that you want. You are not only bright, established, driven, and hard-working, but you are also a part of a team. Let’s say in that team, there are some new, up-and-coming, less experienced members. Or maybe, there is someone within another department in the company that is looking for a change, and wants to explore your specialty. How would you handle something like that?

The Reflex?
This obviously isn’t ‘one size fits all’, but I think a natural reaction could be to want to protect yourself. That first reflex might be to immediately enter the competition mode that was brought up earlier. Your mind could quickly take you to a far-end, worst case scenario spectrum quickly, if you let it. You could find your brain starting to race with questions such as:

  • Well, who is this new and ambitious person?
  • Why do they want to get into, and familiar with my responsibilities?
  • Do they think they are better than me?
  • Are they trying to take my job?
  • What if I train them and my boss likes them better than me?

Honestly, I think it’s fine if this is the first place your mind goes when this situation comes up. This competitive instinct pops up in me fairly often. I think it’s important however, to realize this happening, and shift the energy elsewhere.

Flip the Script
As stated earlier, the strong competitive spirit, and looking out mainly for yourself has its time and place (job searching for example), but successfully functioning in a team environment is definitely not it. Let’s turn the tables on the situation. If you were the one that was new and trying to better yourself, would you rather have a role model/mentor to look up to and get assistance from, or a standoffish, information hoarding co-worker who looks down on you and pays you minimal attention? I’m hoping we all agree that we would want the former, rather than the latter. The ol’ golden rule seems to fit nicely here. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Be the Ally
Being an ally, a mentor, or even just someone who is helpful when needed can make a big impact on someone’s career and life in general. For me, the first step is to be observant. This could happen directly and obviously, with someone new joining the team. Or, you may just happen to see someone outside your direct team that is showing an interest in what you do and potentially wants to be a part of it some day. If you have the time and energy to spend, I encourage you to key in on that observation and reach out to that person. Some newcomers may reach out to you, but others might be a little more reserved. If you start the conversation, that can be the spark to making a real impact on someone’s career. Again, there is no ‘one size fits all’ here, your involvement can be varied based on your judgement. It can range from just making it known that you see that this person has an interest in career growth and you are willing to help out and answer questions; all the way to setting up recurring meetings with this person to provide assistance and advice. I assure you that any degree of assistance you give to someone in this scenario will be appreciated.

The Win-Win
Now, this could be seen as selfish on my part, but I see no shame in gaining a benefit from helping or mentoring someone else. Now, if you get into a trend of only providing assistance when you know it will benefit you is another story. No, the win-wins I am talking about here are the indirect benefits you can gain from being that helping hand, and mentoring someone:

  • Teaching something is a great way to help you solidify your knowledge in a concept, and practice gathering your thoughts to present them to someone else.
  • Taking time for others can build upon the image that people see of you. You will be seen as a kind, thoughtful, and helpful person. People will want to share ideas and work with you.
  • To add on to the previous point, your management will see what you are doing. You will be seen as a team player, and maybe even a leader.

Again, try not to get the goal skewed. The goal is to show that you care and are willing to give back, with time and effort to someone who needs it. That might be because someone else did the same for you, or because you wish you had someone like that when you were coming up and now you want to be the difference maker for someone else, that you never had. Either way, the end result is the same. Someone that wanted or needed some help to further their career got it. I just wanted to highlight some indirect benefits that you could see by helping others.

Bert’s Brief
I seem to often say this phrase on the podcast: “just be cool”. What I really mean by that is to be kind, considerate, and helpful. You never really know what someone else might be going through, and you can easily help be a reason that things get better, or at least pointed in the right direction. There are many different ways to help, but I think the most important thing to do is to just start. Don’t wait for someone to ask a question. Be proactive and start the conversation. Share that knowledge and experience, don’t hoard it. Be the ally, not the ego.

Published by Tim Bertino

Systems Architect passionate about solutions and design.

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