Wikipedia defines assertiveness as the following:
a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view.
As a Filipino American who immigrated to the United States from the Philippines at the age of 11, I was taught not to challenge authority and not to “make waves”. Throughout my life, including my early few years in my career, I was not very assertive, meaning I was not willing to speak up for myself or others. Few years ago, I left a position because I was very frustrated with my role in the organization. I kept my frustration to myself and looked for another job. After I accepted the job offer, a very good friend of mine who is also part of the management above me was very surprised of my decision. As a matter of fact, he was a little disappointed that I had not spoken to him about the issues I had which led me to leave the organization. I told him I have felt the frustration for years but I felt it was not my place to complain. I was also disappointed in myself for not having had the courage to share my frustration with my supervisor and to the management before I made my decision to leave. Fortunately, I was able to come back to the organization a few months later when an opening came up and I was asked to apply for my old position.
I was talking to a colleague one day and he tells me “You compliment too much!” . I jokingly told him “by the way, your shirt looks great on you!” to which he smiles and says “thanks!”
While some people may view my compliments as something excessive, I really am sincere (except that conversation above) when I compliment the work of others. I think we live in a society that does not compliment enough.
Complimenting the efforts of others who I feel are worthy of recognition is very important to me and it has been a life-long habit of mine. When I feel the person assisting me goes above and beyond what I think is beyond basic customer service, I take the time to thank them.
I lead a team of 20 software/web developers and managers. When I ask my team to do something collectively or as individuals, the answer I expect from them is “no”. It is because of this expectation that when I am delegating a task to any of my staff, I make sure that there’s a good reason behind my requests and that I am ready to offer the reasoning if asked. It’s not like my team does not do what I ask them to do, as they are all amazing people to work with and they are very cooperative and they actually do what I ask them do with no resistance. Most of the time, while it’s not necessary for me to offer any explanations since they willingly accept the task, I make the conscious effort to take the time to provide them with the explanation behind my request.
A developer tells me “the only thing managers do is forward emails”. I knew I couldn’t convince him otherwise so I didn’t bother correcting him. He’s wrong by the way! Managers like me also schedule unproductive meetings and sit at our desks the whole day, thinking of how to make developers’ lives miserable
The developer is right partially in that part of my job is to forward emails. Below are some emails I have forwarded throughout the years:
* Customer’s appreciation of the wonderful job my staff have done for them. I forward them to my team and/or to the staff as well as to my director and those above them. This is my way of recognizing their efforts and building their reputation with the upper management.
* Customer’s questions/requests. There have been many times when my customers asked for my help to move a request forward in purchasing equipments or starting projects.
* Email about why a system suddenly stops working. Sometimes I would get emails from customers and other developers about a system not working. Unfortunately, changes to the system, either through changes to code by developers or network/server settings by IT administrators are made without informing those affected of the changes made disrupting the system
* Emails from upper management about policy changes.
There have also been times when I have had to what provide what I call “value-added email service.” In addition to forwarding emails, I have had to add my perspective/interpretation on the issue in the email. For example:
* Translating technical jargon into words understandable by lay people.
* Apologizing to our customers about an email sent by a tech person which they perceive as disrespectful and accusatory.
* Apologizing to our customers about the disruption of their service caused by an unauthorized change to the their system.
I think every developer (including me) at some point have probably thought that managers are unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. From experience, only when a developer assumes a leadership/management role in an organization will that person truly appreciate the values of middle management.