Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 41;   October 8, 2008:

When You're the Least of the Best: I

by

The path to the pinnacle of many professions leads through an initiate or intern stage in which the new professional plays a role designed to facilitate learning, especially from those more experienced. For some, this role is frustrating and difficult. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.

The Internet has given us many new words: one is newbie. It means newcomer or initiate. Many professions have formalized status for newbies: doctors begin as interns, attorneys as associates, pilots as co-pilots, and more. Typically, newbie rank is a way to continue your education in an environment uniquely suited to teaching important lessons. You do become a part of a team, but your main contribution is your own education.

Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Stephen G. Breyer

Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. In the 1964-1965 term, Justice Breyer served as Law Clerk to then Associate Justice Arthur M. Goldberg. Justice Goldberg is perhaps best known for his concurring opinion in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), where he argued that the Ninth Amendment supported the existence of an unenumerated right of privacy. It is this case that ultimately led to a chain of privacy-based decisions, including Roe v. Wade, which enunciated the right of women to gain access to abortion services. As Justice Goldberg's law clerk, Justice Breyer assisted in the drafting of Justice Goldberg's opinion in Griswold.

It is perhaps not surprising that Justice Goldberg himself also has a connection to the role of newbie. As a young man, he was a member of a spy ring operated during World War II by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency. In that capacity, one of his colleagues was Julia Child, who later achieved fame as The French Chef in U.S. public television. (See, for example, CNN's article, "Chef Julia Child and others part of WWII spy network".) Photo courtesy United States Supreme Court.

For many, it's a difficult role. Achieving a goal so long desired, only to discover that the path leads through positions of such low status, can be frustrating indeed. Being the least of the best — even when it is also the best of the least — can be a painful reality. Here is Part I of a set of guidelines for newbies, emphasizing the inner experience of the role.

Enter gently
Jumping in with both feet probably won't work. Assume that you'll have to earn the respect of all, and that you'll fail with some. Easing in gently, listening and observing, helps you avoid the blunders that can harden impressions of you prematurely.
Accept your station
However frustrated you feel about being a newbie, accept the reality. Don't try to prove that you're better than people seem to think. Everyone knows you have talent — if you didn't, you wouldn't have been accepted for the position.
Know the value you bring to the team
The value you offer is a channel for investment. Since the team is investing in you for the future, rather than the present, your main job is learning. Demonstrate that you can learn, and learn fast, and you'll impress the people who are responsible for making your learning possible.
Recognize your mistakes and ignorance
See your mistakes and ignorance for what they are: emblems of your newness and humanity, rather than proof of defect. Accept their existence, and do what it takes to plug the holes in your knowledge and prevent repetitions of mistakes. All the competent stars around you went through much the same thing you're going through now.
Learn how to handle feeling ignorant
Distinguish stupidity from ignorance. Is making mistakes upsetting to you? If so, why? If errors upset you, Jumping in with both feet
probably won't work. Assume
that you'll have to earn
the respect of all.
learning will be painful, because much of what we learn comes from errors. If you have trouble dealing with your own mistakes, fix it.

Most important, remember that this stint at being a newbie won't be your last. There will be a first time for you in many possible roles: spouse, parent, Nobel Laureate, nursing home resident, and on and on. Learning how to be a successful newbie might just be the most valuable lesson of all.

In Part II, we'll examine how the role connects to others in the workplace. Go to top Top  Next issue: When You're the Least of the Best: II  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

A portion of the memorial to the Massachusetts 54th RegimentHow to Get Promoted in Place
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us do, judging by the number of Web pages that talk about promotions, getting promoted, or asking for promotions. What you do to get a promotion depends on what you're aiming for.
Timber blowdown in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National ForestCoercion by Presupposition
Coercion, physical or psychological, has no place in the workplace. Yet we see it and experience it frequently. We can end the use of presupposition as a tool of coercion, but only if we take personal responsibility for ending it.
Two redwoods in the Stout Memorial Grove of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in CaliforniaNot Really Part of the Team: I
Some team members hang back. They show little initiative and have little social contact with other team members. How does this come about?
Red raspberriesEgo Depletion: An Introduction
Ego depletion is a recently discovered phenomenon that limits our ability to regulate our own behavior. It explains such seemingly unrelated phenomena as marketing campaign effectiveness, toxic conflict contagion, and difficulty losing weight.
Senator Jeff Sessions grills Budget Director Sylvia Burwell on President Obama's 2015 Budget March 5, 2014That Was a Yes-or-No Question: I
In tense situations, one person might question another. As the respondent replies, the questioner interjects, "That was a yes-or-no question." The intent is to trap the respondent. How does this work, and how can the respondent escape the trap?

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
Two people engaged in pair collaborationAnd on April 28: The Self-Explanation Effect
In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon. Available here and by RSS on April 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.