predicting career success

I want to introduce you to the competence charisma model for IT career success. This is a model that I created to help understand the two broad skill families that are required for success in IT careers, and if you’ll take a look at this model, you’ll notice that in the lower left quadrant we have people who are neither competent nor charismatic. Let’s define competence and charismatic for the purpose of this demonstration. Competence is your ability to do the technical aspects of your job, whatever it is. If you’re a server administrator, it’s your ability to understand Linux, or Windows, or Unix, or whatever the server operating system is, and to set up the various services that are required. Charisma is your ability to understand, got along with, and influence people.

No Competence and No Charisma

In the lower left quadrant are people who have no competence and no charisma. They’ve given up on themselves. They’ve given up on society, they tend to blame everybody else for their problems. They have an external locus of control. They’re not willing to accept responsibility for themselves. They’re what we would probably call losers, and you don’t want to be in that lower left quadrant.

IT Career Success Model
The Competence/Charisma Four Quadrant Career Success Model

Charisma, but No Competence

In the lower right quadrant are people who have great charisma but no competence. These are people who are great fun to be around, but they don’t bring anything of value to the relationship. In college, they were the people who were a lot of fun to party with, but they never showed up for class, or in today’s world, in an extreme case, they’re a con artist and you don’t want to be in the lower right quadrant either.

Competence, but No Charisma

In the upper left quadrant are people who are highly competent, but who have no charisma. The first character that comes to my mind is the fictional character, Dr. Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory, right? In our world in IT, this might be that brilliant coder that you keep down in the basement, and you’d never let them see the light of day because they’re so difficult to deal with. I came out of the radio broadcasting business, and I remember a chief engineer that we had at a radio station who was absolutely brilliant. This guy could tune an antenna system. He knew audio, he knew RF, but he was so gruff and disagreeable. He was argumentative. Even bad personal hygiene, that we finally couldn’t work with him anymore, and we had to let him go. I think of great athletes who perform brilliantly on the grid iron, but when the game was over they get in trouble with the law for antisocial behavior. One of the problems with people who are in this quadrant is that they underestimate the impact of their bed behavior, and they overestimate their value to the organization. You want to be really, really careful about falling into that upper left quadrant. That’s where arrogance comes into play, and you really need to move past that.

Competence and Charisma for IT Career Success

In the upper right quadrant are the leaders in society. Two names that come to my mind are Bill Gates and Mary Barra. Bill Gates, of course, is the co-founder of Microsoft, along with Paul Allen, and the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a great philanthropist, an innovator, very successful businessperson, and Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors. Both of them came up through the ranks as technical people, Bill Gates as a coder, Mary Barra as an automotive engineer, and they rose to their current positions of great prominence because of their technical skills and their ability to understand, get along with, and influence people.

Here’s the how to use the model. Look at the competence charisma model, and think about where you are on it right now. It doesn’t matter where you are, but just think about where you are, and if you’re like most of us, you’re probably somewhere above and to the right of center. The question you must ask yourself is this. What am I doing every minute of every hour of every day to be a little bit better at my technical skills, my competence, and what am I doing every minute of every hour of every day to be a little bit better at my people skills, my charisma? Recognize that as you work on improving your competence and your charisma, you’re occasionally going to backslide, to paraphrase John Wesley, and you’re going to fall down. You’re going to drop the ball on something. You’ll mis-configure some device. It’ll happen, and you have two choices. You can either dwell on it and live in that bad place, or you can reflect on what happened, learn from your mistake, so that it’s not a failure.

It’s simply a mistake. Dust yourself off. Pick yourself up, and get back to moving toward the upper right corner, the upper right quadrant, and that’s how you use this to build your IT career success. The other thing that you need to know about the Competence/Charisma Four Quadrant Model is that as soon as you get to the upper right corner of the upper right quadrant, guess what happens? It moves, and so, forgive the cliché, but this is not about the destination. It’s about a journey of continual self-improvement. In his book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, Robert Mauer talks about this process of continual self-improvement, always striving to be a little bit better today than you were yesterday, and a little bit better tomorrow than you are today. That’s one of the things that differentiates the people who operate at this level from the people who operate at this level. You want to be great. Make a commitment to continual self-improvement.

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