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A Star is Learned

Programming Leadership: A Star is Learned

Episode 4

Tiger Woods wasn’t born golfing.  He did spend time, lots of time, practicing and he became good at it. People have inherent traits but being good at something takes time, effort, and practice. In this episode of Programming Leadership, Marcus talks about the importance of not solely focusing on things that people are naturally good at. It’s important to branch out of our comfort zones and learn new skills and is it only with practice and learning that we become better at those skills. And through trials and tribulations we ultimately find what we like to do and what we want to do.



Show Notes

  • If you only focus on things you are good at, you’ll never know what you could be capable of doing.
  • Get out of the mindset that you only have to do what you’re naturally good at.
  • Success and failure both give opportunities for people to learn.
  • Imposter syndrome is feeling like a fake in the role that you already possess.
  • Laws of relationships should be focused on rather than laws of power.



Speaker 1:  Welcome to the Programming Leadership Podcast where we help great coders become skilled leaders and build happy, high performing software teams.

Marcus:  Welcome to the Programming Leadership Podcast, I’m Marcus your host, where we help great coders become great leaders and build happy teams. Have you ever been told that you’re not cut out for something? Maybe somebody said, “You know you’re just not a math person”, or “You’re not really cut out for sports. You’re not cut out to be an athlete. You’re not cut out to be a programmer. You’re not going to be a great writer. You’re just not cut out for that. You have to focus on your strengths. Your job in life is to find the thing that you’re naturally good at and for that natural goodness to be the thing that defines you.” I think there’s a tendency with people to try and find their passion and I think it’s kind of a dirty lie. I’m going to be honest, I’ve got three kids, they’re all in their twenties and they grew up with this idea that their big goal in life after high school was find your passion, find the thing you are good at, find what you are great at.

Marcus: Let me pause and thank today’s sponsor, GitPrime. GitPrime’s platform allows you unprecedented visibility into your development team. For too many years I’ve had to guess at the status of projects without any real data to make decisions from. Oh, I have tried everything: StoryPoints, Velocity, burndown charts, burnup charts. You name it, I’ve tried it. Worse yet, I’ve made the mistake of promising my boss when something would be done only to be disappointed. When I dug into things with my team I was always surprised between what the charts show and what’s actually happening. Now, it’s not like anyone’s messing up, but things are happening that I have no visibility of, which meant I couldn’t even discuss it with my team. GitPrime changed all that.

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Marcus:  Now here’s the book I want to recommend you in this episode. It’s a book by Doctor Carol Dweck called Mindset. And it compares, she’s a psychologist, she’s done a mountain of research and I think it’s completely applicable to leadership and management because it compares the idea of art. We have a fixed mindset where we say, “We must do the things that we were born to do, I’m good at math, I’m naturally a good athlete, so therefore that’s what I must do.” This is the fixed mindset that I came into the world with a certain set of traits and then I cannot move beyond that. I am fixed. My traits are things like, how good are you at math? How good are you at reading? How extroverted are you? How good at public speaking are you? Are you a natural leader or not? All of this stuff, so many of us get in our head and we think that is just how we are. That’s our shape. And she contrast that idea with a dynamic mindset, a growth mindset that looks around and says, all the people that I see doing things and I see so many people doing things excellently, all of those are people who learned to do them.

Marcus:  The learning took effort and work, but it was not something they were born with, it’s something they learned. Yeah, I know. I’m really hitting these words, learned and born because that’s the fundamental mindset that I struggled with for so many years. I thought if I didn’t pick something up and wasn’t good at it in a really short amount of time, that meant I wasn’t cut out to do it, that maybe I shouldn’t do it, that God or fate or whatever was saying, “Don’t bother wasting your time over there.” Oh, okay. Well, as soon as I said it, I realized it’s not God or fate. In this case, it’s my dad. My Dad saying, “Don’t waste your time trying to learn that Mark. You’re not a math guy.” That’s fine. The problem is, is I absolutely had to learn how to become a leader. I absolutely had to learn how to do math. I had to learn science. I, in fact, just like you, had to learn that everything is within my reach of learning and that if I take the approach that I want to learn these things and that learning takes practice and time and struggle and pain and of course failure, then I can become much more comfortable. In fact, truthfully, I can learn from almost any experience, both my failures and my successes.

Marcus:  This a really key thing that I teach in the workshop that my wife and I do together. We have people do engineering simulations using Tinkertoys and Lego’s and these really cool IBM Punch cards. And we find that some people can complete the exercises and some of them can’t and they work in teams. The interesting thing is we’re used to asking the question when we fail, well, how could we have succeeded?

Marcus:  We have names for that. We call it a root cause analysis or the five whys. There’s all kinds of tools we can use when we ask ourselves, how could I do better next time? But what’s shocking to me is some of these teams step up and they have very much a fixed mindset and they’re good at the task. They knock it out of the park, they accomplish it the first time. These are the teams that struggle to learn. And in some ways it makes me sad because they actually look at each other and say, “Well, we did it right. We accomplished the goal.” What is there to learn from that? I would like to propose right now that there is a tremendous amount to be learned from success. And I don’t mean we’re going to learn how good we are. I mean that we need to really analyze our successes and ask ourselves, where did we go right? Where did we get lucky? What fell into place? There is no perfection, but sometimes things work out.

Marcus:  And yet if we don’t go back and say we’re committed to learn from our successes and our failures, then we’re really missing like half of the opportunities at least, you know if we were to fail and succeed 50, 50% of the time. But I want to go back to this insidious mindset problem because my guess is you are listening to this and somehow your brain for some things has been programmed to imagine that you’re not cut out to be a leader, a manager of whatever, maybe even a business owner, and of course, maybe you know this idea as imposter syndrome. So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to envision a paper doll right now. A white plain paper doll. If you can’t think about what it looks like, Google it, but essentially it’s when a little kid cuts out the formation of a human being out of a piece of white paper.

Marcus:  Now that paper doll, and oftentimes they’re done in paper doll chains, that paper doll is literally cut out of the paper. It cannot change how big or small it is. It has been cut out by a creator, and I’m not going to get all religious here on you, but I have to say, if you are believing that you are not cut out for one thing or that you are perfectly cut out for another thing, you’re kind of saying that God or evolution or something else has crafted you the way you are. I think that you’ve got a lot more control over yourself, your destiny and your life than that. Imposter syndrome is, and I’m sure you’ve heard about this, is when you secretly feel like a fake in the role that you already have. I had this a lot.

Marcus:  I was a team lead of all these developers and they would look at me and they’d say, “Boss, what do you want me to do?” And I’d think, “Boss? Oh, I’m not the boss. Nope, nope. If only they knew.” And that phrase right there got me into trouble. If they really knew, it’s like I was hiding something and I spent so much energy on hiding what I felt I was, I felt I wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t, but I thought I needed to be. I thought I wasn’t cut out for the role. I wasn’t cut out for the role, but I was good at it because I worked at it.

Marcus:  I feel like if somebody had come upon me when I was in fourth grade, put their arm around my shoulder and said, “Marcus, you’re born a leader”, that might have completely fixed all these mindset problems I had, or maybe it would have made them worse because I would have thought, “Oh, I’m a born leader. I should be at the front of the class. I should be the star of the play. I should be the one leading this particular activity.” Some people you know are leaders and step into that because other people have told them, “You’re a natural leader, you’re a born leader, you’re cut out for that kind of work.”

Marcus:  I want you to really grasp all these limiting beliefs that we have about ourselves because frankly, they also extend out to our team. I’m sorry to say this, but I hear this from people who would never say it about themselves and these are managers who say it about their team. The language is insidious. I’ll be honest, these are the places I hear it. So first of all, when you are considering promoting somebody, I hear managers say those exact words I just said. They say, “I don’t think that person is cut out to be a manager. I don’t think they’re cut out for leadership”, and when they say it, it’s a little wistful, it’s a little sad, it’s like, “Well, I wish they were cut out that way, like a paper doll that had been cut out differently.” But darn it, they’re just not and there’s nothing we can do. So we just have to pass them over.

Marcus:  And the other place I see this is when, for example, we get a front end developer and they’re starting to show signs that maybe want to work on the back end and some managers will say and have said these things to me. They’ll say, “That person is not really cut out to work on the back end”, or inversely the backend person who says, “Well, I’d like to be full stack.” The manager says, “Yeah, you’re not really cut out to do the front end stuff. You don’t have an artistic bone in your body.” Every time we put people in labels and piagets every time you use the word cut out, you are essentially saying that you believe that person came into the world in a certain shape and are unable to learn and grow and change. And that’s what I’m so opposed to.

Marcus:  I’m opposed to you believing it about yourself and I’m opposed to you believing it about your team because that world, if it existed, would be a very depressing world and I promise you you would not want to live in that world. And the reason you are listening to this podcast is because you want to live in a world where you can grow and learn. Guaranteed. One fact, if you’re listening and you know how to code, you were not born knowing how to code. Guaranteed. If you were, I want you to write to me and I want you to say, “I came into this world and at six months old, as soon as I could bang on a keyboard, I was banging out Python or Ruby and my parents said I was absolutely a savant and I’ve been able to bang out Python since before I was one year old.”

Marcus:  I want to know about that ’cause I’ll say I don’t believe it. And so with that in mind, everything that got you to where you are now was because you learned it. Sure. There are intellectual traits, emotional traits, characteristics that make learning some things easier than others. If you’re intelligent, it makes learning some things easier. If you have a big frame and you have a certain kind of body mass, it might make athletics easier for you. Maybe you were born in a household with a lot of art, maybe you grew up learning to appreciate art and color, that might make front end work easier for you, but I am 100% convinced and I feel like I am living proof that this mindset that we get in our head that we’re not cut out for something is a lie.

Marcus:  I am terrible at math. Awful. I did not take calculus in college. I have no college degree. I’m actually back in school right now trying to get a degree in psychology. I have taken math classes repeatedly in order to pass them. And what I was told all through high school was, “If you’re not good at math, you’ll never be good at computers.” I was great at computers. It turns out that they were wrong because computers were interesting and exciting to me. And then when I became a manager, I remember people telling me, “Well, you’re not really cut out to be a manager ’cause you’re not an extrovert.” No, I’m not an extrovert. But guess what? I learned public speaking and right now I have been doing the last year a live show and I’m turning it into a podcast and I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to talk into this microphone having no idea the look on your face and the fact that I can’t see you, which makes a live show a lot easier for me.

Marcus:  This podcast right now is hard. It is a hard in a way that I don’t even like to admit to you as hard and every part of me wants to quit and say this was a dumb idea, but I am committed to learning how to talk into this mic and help people using my voice. In the last four years, I have learned to do things like write, write books, write articles. I have learned how to market and sell. I have learned how to do things that I never thought were possible. And so truly, when I tell you that no one comes into this world being in a particular shape and everything you see people around you accomplishing is due to learning, I am walking, living proof of that. My producer on this podcast is going to kill me, but absolutely it is true. I have stopped this recording at least 25 times to try and go back and fix things.

Marcus:  One of the laws of power is trying to make everything look easy. I think that’s an old fashioned idea. I think that what we should be focusing on is the laws of relationships, and the laws of relationships say it’s more important to be approachable, to be real, to be human, to be flawed. Those are things that bind us together in amazing ways. I hope if you are listening to this and this hasn’t put you off too much and you might even listen again, would you actually write me a note. Again, Marcus at Right now as I sit here in my house one evening at 8:23 PM, it’s quite unnerving and I just have to say I know exactly how you feel as you get up in front of your team, as you lead a team meeting, as you sit with your boss and there is that voice in your head wondering if you are cut out for this.

Marcus:  Don’t let that voice win. Pickup Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, read it. She has practical advice for how you can see the world as a beautiful, huge place of opportunities for you to learn, for you to take up the mantle of being the mindset person on your team and for you to help your team stop thinking that they are only cut out for certain kinds of things. I want that for you and I want that for them.

Marcus:  All right, let’s take a question that came from last week’s show. John writes in this week and he asked this. “Marcus, what do you mean by programming leadership? Are you trying to be cute?” Well, hey John, thanks for writing. Again, if you’d like your question to be answered, you can write at Marcus at Remember that’s also where the mailing list is. Yeah, John, I guess I was trying to be a little bit cute, but I was trying to really emphasize exactly what this episode talks about.

Marcus:  The idea that we learn how to do things and in fact we learn how to program, but in many ways, if we consider our brain a computer, learning is programming. So I want to emphasize that the way you become a leader is by learning leadership and the way we learn is something akin to programming our brains. So that’s why I chose the title of this show. It’s because when we are programming our brains to become better leaders, we are just as we program a computer, intentionally shaping ourselves. We are saying that we can become more and different than what we are. I believe so much, as I’ve talked to you about already, in the power of people to change, in the power of one person to help another person change, and the key aspect that I always come back to when it comes to changing and learning is the realization.

Marcus:  If you ever come to one of my workshops, you’re going to be told a lot of stuff. I do about an hour of telling across a three day workshop, which for a workshop isn’t a whole lot, but the whole thing is I guarantee you’re going to have realizations about yourself. Realizations are like a mirror being held up and then you see yourself differently. You see other people differently. That is when you then say, what do I do with this? How do I change my programming to adapt to this? What experiment, and we’re going to talk soon about working in experiments, what experiment can I use where I can try something different and see what the outcome is? So yeah, the title of the show’s kind of cute, tries to be at least, but it’s all about the idea that we program our heads and that’s how leadership occurs. We’re going to dive into a lot of other topics in the coming weeks, but I so appreciate you. Thanks for listening. Have a great day.

Speaker 1:  Thank you for listening to Programming Leadership. You can keep up with the latest on the podcast, and on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever fine podcasts are distributed. Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you next time.

Speaker 3:  This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.


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