You must just have the touch

Over the years, I’ve found my professional maturity to be a growing entity. One piece of evidence of this is how I react to being the most knowledgeable person in the room. Now, understand I’m not being arrogant, I mean, “the room,” literally. I might be in the room with someone who’s technical knowledge is minimal and they are asking me a question about my specialty.

But I digress. Early in my life the prospect that I might know more than everyone is was exciting. It was a feeling of power and pride. This was the phase of my life where I truly enjoyed it when others would be incorrect about something or failed to understand what I was trying to tell them. This sounds terribly immature, and it was. It didn’t take long to begin to see the consequences of this attitude. I should have noticed that people didn’t like it first but, to be honest, the first thing I noticed was an overflow of requests to fix this or show me how to do that. It was a humbling experience because my withholding of knowledge made it so that no one really knew what I was good at so I began to fail to complete the tasks put in front of me. On a couple of occasions I actually made things worse. This is when I began denying requests entirely or abiding by the rule, “if you’re good at something, never do it for free.”

Now, I realize that I’ve moved on to a much more positive stage of professional maturity. I actively admit my ignorance but keep my sense of pride in the things that I do know. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is how rewarding it is to pass on what I know to others. Empowering them is so much more beneficial than hording knowledge and then you don’t get people saying, “you must just have the touch.”

I enjoyed that phrase years ago but now it really bothers me. I’ve stopped thinking about it as a compliment and have begun to see it as a cop-out. When someone says, “you must just have the touch,” instead of, “how did you do that,” all they are really saying is, “I don’t care to learn and I’m happy to make you the permanent owner of this from now on.”

Updated

Two years have past since I wrote this post and phrases such as, “you must just have the touch,” still bother me. The one I hear most often this year is, “he performs magic.” In addition to my feelings expressed above, I’ve come to see these phrases as a fundamental misunderstanding of a person’s limitations and/or the refusal to accept the possibility that they will make a mistake. The people around me who claim I can work magic are the same people who will drop month long projects on my plate with a one week deadline or attempt to task me with work outside my skill set, such as web development. They also look at me crazy when I ask them to validate my work, review my code, or in general participate in testing.

Even the best and brightest of your employees have limitations and understanding them is key to success and their morale.

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