What a Difference a Level can Make
There is something that separates the best from the novice; it is found in the senior leadership of your organization, in the top brass of the military, in skilled gamers. It's what separates the level 20 Sorcerer from the level 1…. Experience.
Experience is the reason that Johnny Cash sounds so much more heart wrenching than Trent Reznor. Go ahead, take a moment and listen to both versions of the same song and you'll see what I mean. I love Nine Inch Nails, but when you listen to them sing "Hurt," it comes across as youthful angst. When you listen to Johnny croon the same lyrics you can feel the decades of painful life. What is the difference? Experience.
Growing up in rural Kentucky, my upbringing instilled in me the ideal of a career spent with a single company. Jobs were what you had when you were not going to be with a company for more than a few years; jobs are transitory but a career is forever. A career is the marriage you have with work, and it was to be as till-death-do-us-part as the marriage you had with your spouse. I know this is something that is morphing and changing in modern society but it was the way I was brought up.
With that in mind, I know the upward mobility in my career would be one that required not only that I find the next step forward, but that I find a way to fill in the road behind me as well. If I was to stay with a single company, then my vacating of my current position to take a promotion necessitated that I find and groom someone to fill the void. Ever since I have been in a leadership role, I have always looked for someone to come in and take over for me, knowing I would not forever hold the same position.
I have been in management for years now, and one of the first skills I try to teach anyone I'm grooming as a potential replacement is how to conduct an interview. I will take my protégé to interviews, provide them with questions before hand or topics of conversation; I debrief them afterwards and go over candidate responses and ask their opinion on certain answers. After I hear my protégé's answers, then I will tell them what I thought. More importantly, I will tell them why I thought it.
"What do you think of the Candidate's response to how they would handle an irate customer?" I will ask. And inevitably that leads to, "You're right, escalating to a lead is an appropriate answer. But if you're going to manage this person, do you want the first they do to be escalate? Shouldn't they at least try to empathize with the customer and handle the situation first on their own?
When you go into an interview as the interviewer you must think about more than the surface answers you're getting. So much of what gets said is trite and people are, largely, quite good at reading others enough to know how to give the answer that's desired. You should begin to think about how a personality will play out with the rest of the team, how it will be to manage that person, or if what's being said is what's true. That last may be cynical, but it is still a consideration. Anyone you interview is selling you something - their brand in modern parlance - and sales is not always about 100% truth
I take protégés to interviews with me and grill them afterwards not so I can tell them how often they are wrong about their opinion. I take them so they can get experience. I debrief then so they can get insight from my experience. Most importantly, though, I listen to their thoughts and adjust my own opinions as necessary. I may have more experience than those I take with me, but I know not to discount their views and their own experience in other areas. After all, someone that answers all the questions correctly might still be a bad mesh for the team and the up-and-comers of that team can be closer to the truth of it than their leadership.
It is not just experience where we can draw our parallels this week between gaming and our careers. Just as you’re not likely to be successful in your adventures at the D&D table, you will also need to gather your party for the adventures at work. Teamwork is not just a buzz word, it’s the best way to accomplish the hardest of tasks. Delegate, give everyone their role and ensure they know the value of it. If you’re the manager, show your leadership as the party tank – run interference and keep the aggro off those doing the work. Let your QA/QC team know how important the healing they provide is for every presentation. Give props to your engineers for the long, hard hours they’ve put in.