If you have been a long time “individual contributor” you may wonder why you should accept the un-requested “promotion” to role model within your organization. You have concentrated on doing your job, developed great proficiency at it, and now they want you to share your secrets with a couple of punk kids. Why can’t they develop their skill set the same way you did?
It is hard to recall a good western movie where the alpha cowhand worried about the next generation unless it happened to be a son or a nephew. We have been taught to revere the “self made man” and think everyone would be better off if they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps.
Perhaps those classic films need epilogs added showing what happens to the star after he rides off alone into the sunset. Chances are the results are not exactly what he was hoping for.
There are benefits from being a role model that go beyond a job title and a few dollars more in the paycheck. The harsh reality of life is that we only have a short time as the “top cowhand” and the long term success of any organization depends on having institutional knowledge flow efficiently from generation to generation.
I worked in shops where some of the old hands would not teach anyone anything. They were often fearful of being shown up by others. Sometimes they worried about job security. In their minds, they were self made men and that knowledge or skill was theirs, not a company asset.
Many of them found out the hard way that they were not irreplaceable. Others got shoved out the door with the obsolete machines they refused to teach others to run. With rapidly advancing technology, some found that no one wanted to teach them how to use the new programs or methods and their skills fell behind.
There is an old saying that you cannot consider yourself a master of any skill until you can teach it to another person. Teaching may be frustrating on occasion but it revitalizes your knowledge of a topic by forcing you to remember how you first learned it and then developing ways to help the student feel comfortable with it.
These days, much technical teaching involves adapting old methods to new computers and more complex programs. You do not want to be stuck in a “2D” world when everyone else is using “3D” integrated into stress analysis programs. Giant dinosaurs who could not adapt became extinct.
Finally, even old fossils can learn new skills while sharing their old ones. Many of the tasks or calculations you dreaded over the years can be a lot more fun with the powerful computer technology available today. Who better to help you pick up those skills than the “kids” you kept from being “a hazard to navigation?”