Being the Point Man–It Takes a Special Breed

A friend of mine was recently talking about our time in the military. He said something along the line of, “Very few people have the personality, the skills, and the experience to take point.”

His statement brought back many memories of my time in the military and some recent job experiences in IT.

I spent a great portion of my time in the military working in the jungles of Central and South America. Breaking brush and working the point was extremely hard work, and very few people can actually do it. To work the point, you have to be at the top of your game. Every now and then, somebody thinks they know enough and are good enough to take point. This meant that the second guys that are on his flank really need to step up their games to not only do their job but watch the newbie point person to make sure he didn’t stumble into trouble.

For example, I watched a newbie point person brush up against a Acacia tree while on a patrol. The Acacia tree is usually a fairly small tree that is really more like a tall bush with thorns. The thorns are an issue in themselves, but what really makes this tree a huge concern is that the thorns are hollow and the plant has a symbiotic relationship with ants that have horribly painful bites. In this case, the ants swarmed out to defend their home and crawled all over the newbie point person and the people trailing behind him (he led them right through it). In moments, clothing and equipment fly off the everyone as they try to get the ants off of them, and you have naked soldiers running through the jungle screaming out loud and cussing. For those that don’t know, it is hard to be stealthy and do the job of a top notch military unit when some of your people are running around naked and screaming in pain. An experienced point person will see an Acacia and stop, point it out to everyone around, and proceed carefully around the Acacia without touching it.

There are many potential problems that a point person needs to know about and be prepared to stop others from stumbling into them.

The same is true in IT. Senior IT staff have the experience of stumbling into problems in their past and are able to help an organization work around potential pitfalls. An organization can’t just throw anyone into a senior position that doesn’t have the proper skills, experience, and personality to really lead the team through and around potential pitfalls.

You really don’t want IT people running through the cube farm naked and screaming. It is bad for morale.

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