Achilles Heel

In Greek mythology, when Achilles was a baby, it was foretold that he would die young. To prevent his death, his mother Thetis took Achilles to the River Styx, which was supposed to offer powers of invulnerability, and dipped his body into the water. But as Thetis held Achilles by the heel, his heel was not washed over by the water of the magical river. Achilles grew up to be a man of war who survived many great battles. But one day, a poisonous arrow shot at him was lodged in his heel, killing him shortly after.

In the workplace
We use 'Achilles Heel' in the workplace as a metaphor for the single most critical weakness that will likely prove to be one's downfall. Unlike Achilles, we are in a position to assist one another and our staff to identify our 'Achilles Heel' and therefore remedy that otherwise fatal weakness.

Listed below, are some of those fatal weaknesses that I have observed as somewhat recurring patterns in the IT professional arena. The more able we are to recognize these issues in others, or ourselves, the faster and more effectively we will be able to help start to work through a remedy.

Go to the icebox, get the cheese
This challenge exists where people are only willing to take on tasks where others lay out the steps, and even then, they do not think through the steps and apply energy to ensure that the desired result is achieved. This can result from a combination of being lazy, undisciplined, unengaged and entitled.

It is our challenge to engage others, not in the steps, but the outcome, then, no matter what level of instructions are offered, they will undertake to ensure that the steps they follow are complete, accurate and coherent and truly engineered to deliver the intended result.

You didn't ask me that
This challenge if very similar to the previous one. If the individual is not vested in what is ultimately trying to be achieved, then they will only think hard enough to meet the minimum criteria towards satisfying the question. This is a far cry from giving a thoughtful and complete answer, which is still short for first understanding the context for the question and what the ultimate objective is, and then giving and answer that is truly intended to ensure the objective is meet.

Again, it is our challenge to engage others, not in merely giving an answer, but taking ownership in a successful outcome, therefore endeavoring to truly be of assistance with an explanation that we support the intended outcome.

I don't have an issue
This perspective presents a huge challenge because it presents a "you can't get there from here" paradox. What happens is, largely due to insecurities and lack of trust, the individual is totally unreceptive to constructive criticism. This lack of receptivity creates a total impasse in terms of growing and evolving, let alone quickly resolving critical issues in terms of behaviors and skills.

It is up to us to go through the steps to forge trust to a degree that level of trust will override the insecurity trigger response to become defensive and shut down all receptivity in others. This takes time and effort, there is not shortcut, as pushing harder, or even threatening will only heighten the very barriers that we need to address first.

'Tunnel vision' and 'target fixation'
'Tunnel vision' (the issue of maintaining too narrow a perspective, and therefore not being able to see the full spectrum of opportunities) and 'target fixation' (the issue of fixing our vision on an obstacle, as if in terror, and thereby constraining our ability to see the way around the obstacle) are very similar issue. This is a result from a lack of experience where an individual has self-identified this challenge and/or a reluctance to employ the measure needed to address it.

We need to help others recognize their tendency towards this sort of issues and how to invoke the discipline of stepping back from the challenge, gaining a fresh perspective, and perhaps collaborating with others to break out of our tunnel or target. If we truly wish to excel, and not be impaired by this challenge, then we should be willing to do whatever we have to do to overcome it.

I don't need to take notes
You can easily cleave and group of people into two by nearly any criteria. For example, in a meeting, you can easily identify those that are more mature and successful by the fact that not only are they are taking notes, but the way they are taking not that is oriented towards actions such as, information I need to relay, commitment I need to follow-up on, something I need to learn more about and so on.

When we are conveying information to peers and staff, unless they have been endowed with the gift of an eidetic memory, they should be taking notes, especially where action is needed. This is a result of a lack of discipline, maturity, responsibility, engagement and ownership plus a lack of pride and sense of commitment. We need to help others recognize that issues occur as a result of their shortcoming in this regard, and that is not acceptable, but even more so, from a personal sense of pride, don't they want to show up as a top notch professional that is full engaged and ready to absolutely deliver?

Single threaded
Even many of our individual contributors no longer have the luxury of single threading their tasks. We all need to employ the discipline of some sort of a task list, maintaining it and applying our efforts appropriately throughout each and every day based on what is on our list. The only thing that varies with seniority is the size and complexity of our task list and the further challenge that our day is sliced into greater slices of smaller bits of time that we still need to effectively apply to our task list.

This challenge is related to the previous one in the sense that you must first establish a task list and properly record tasks. But it in this case, we need to help people understand how they can apply various techniques to ensure that they do not become solely absorbed in a single task without properly designing how they are going to attack their task list. This is definitely an issue of discipline and maturity. As we move through our career, if we have not already learned to multi-task, we will have some long-lived habits to overcome via a daily planning exercise, with that plan revisited whenever new factors arise throughout the day.

'I sent them an email' and 'I tried'
These scenarios are not uncommon, and a bit not unlike 'you did not ask me that' in that there is minimal effort applied just to the point that an individual believes they now have a valid excuse to not have worked any harder. But these excuses are far short of success, and success is measured in a binary manner (i.e., you either were, or were not successful, nothing in between).

We need to help people understand that these sorts of postures on any task reflect a lack of maturity, integrity and are totally unacceptable. We need to help them understand just how pathetic this sort of response is, and that is illustrates either an unwillingness or inability to think around even the most trivial obstacle…. Is that really what they mean to project about themselves as IT professionals?

It's not my job
This attitude is infuriating to the mature IT professional because we know that it is all, all of our job, to be successful together. There is no being successful on our own. There is nothing wrong with holding others accountable for their part, but we cannot stand by and predict, or even observe their failure in the meantime.

We have to help them see this big picture, but we have to manifest it in our everyday practices by celebrating success together and also bearing the weight of our failures as a team, and holding those accountable, who had the responsibilities, or had the opportunity to help ensure success, and did not do so.

Shinny Ball
Many of us lean in one direction or the other, towards the routine, or that which is new and different. Whether we are distracted by the new shinny ball, and do not fulfill our routine duties, or whether gravitate towards that which is known and comfortable, instead of conquering that which is unknown, in either case, this gets back to discipline, maturity, and work prioritization.

Regardless of your preferences, we probably all have parts of our job that we really love, and parts that we do not enjoy so much, yet, we have to find the strength to get it all done properly and on time. Anything short of this is a failure, and if we recognize this, then we are likely on our way towards applying the discipline necessary to avoid this sort of failure.

Promises, Promises…
We so often find reluctance towards making a promise, recognizing that the needs to be a commitment made or even worse, not realizing that a promise is implied, and therefore, failure is imminent.

We need to help other to recognize how this occurs and how they not only can, but must, negotiate till they are setup for success, and then absolutely positively deliver on that deal.

Problems don't get better with time!

All of this depends first, on our ability to identify the issue(s), and secondly, our skill to help others recognize it in themselves and to see value in addressing those issues. The question of WIFM (what's in it for me) must be answered or there will be no effort applied towards a resolution. A mature professional will more likely recognize the issue more readily and also see the value of the remedy on their own. A less mature individual, or someone who is challenged with 'I do not have an issue' will have a harder time arriving upon the Ah-Ha moment and may also have a harder time seeing enough value in the remedy versus the effort that it will take to affect that remedy. This is part of our challenge.

My department's management team has read 'The Power of Positive Confrontation' together. From that book, we have learned how to more effectively deliver a constructive criticism. Armed with that skill, and the greater clarity of the classic 'Achilles Heels' that most commonly challenge our staff in their ability to be the top notch professionals that they all have the potential to be, it is incumbent upon each of us to more quickly and effectively identify these issues, clearly and directly WAC'em, and then coach, mentor and guide them through to remedy.

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