Leadership Lessons from Soldering a Broken Laptop
I wrote a short post earlier this week on LinkedIn. The post attracted more reactions than usual, so I thought I’d use this week’s blog article to expound upon it. But first, I’ll share the post in its entirety:
Repaired a laptop with a soldering pencil today.
Still got it.
I teach a digital literacy course through our homeschool co-op. One of my students couldn’t do his homework because his laptop was broken.
He came to me for help.
The socket for his ac adapter was broken off internally. Together, we opened it up, soldered the connections, and put it back together.
Voilà. He was back in business.
Yes. I spend all day working on digital strategy and various transformation initiatives.
But it still feels really good to fix a broken laptop.
There are a few lessons here that apply to all of my readers, even those that aren’t good with a soldering pencil. Let’s walk through them.
The cooperative system
Let’s start with the context. My wife, Wendy, and I homeschool our four children. Wendy does 99% of it, and I help when and where I can. Homeschooling is hard work, and many homeschool families band together in cooperatives to share the load and leverage each other’s specialties.
I find it fascinating because a lot of the similar drives and challenges that surround the agricultural cooperative system also apply to the homeschool community. I’ve written more about the leadership lessons from agricultural cooperatives in this article. Please check it out. I enjoy working in the cooperative system both at work and at home.
The next generation
I teach a digital literacy course in our homeschool co-op. I take advantage of my company’s volunteer time off program to teach 14 middle and high school students.
While I have a self-interest (two of my kids are students in the class), I also believe in raising up and equipping the next generation of technologists. I am acutely aware of the talent shortage in the technology sector. It makes my work as a tech leader very difficult at times. I must make investments very early in the talent pipeline. Those investments won’t bear fruit for another 5–10 years. But if we don’t make them, it’s only going to get worse.
Whatever you do, find a way to invest in the next generation of technologists. The challenge seems insurmountable, but if we all do something, we can conquer it.
I originally got into the technology field because I enjoyed doing for others what they could not do for themselves. A little effort on my part would often yield tremendous productivity gains for others, and that motivated me.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been a computer repair technician. About 21 years, to be precise. But once you learn how to fix computers, the skills never really go away, sort of like riding a bike.
When my student approached me with his broken laptop, after a quick diagnosis, I was confident that we could fix it. I didn’t have my soldering equipment with me, so we scheduled a time to do the repair later.
I could have had the student drop off the laptop on my doorstep, but I wanted to seize the opportunity to teach. I asked him to join me in the repair process. I showed him my tools. I explained how they work.
I showed him the broken parts. I verbalized my troubleshooting process, rather than keeping my thoughts to myself. We tried some things, tested, adjusted, and finally completed the repair.
Fixing it was not only fun, but it was also confidence-inspiring. Today, I don’t do any hands-on work with technology. It’s simply not my job. I lead teams and I truly enjoy every aspect of it.
Some days, the doubt creeps in: What have I become? I am just a useless paper-pusher? If I lost my job for some reason, do I have any real, tangible skills anymore? Am I obsolete? Most of us don’t verbalize these questions, but I’m pretty sure we all ask ourselves these same questions from time to time.
I must admit, fixing a broken laptop with a soldering pencil gave me immense satisfaction.
Those are my leadership lessons from this simple interaction. Let’s all find a way to work together to raise up the next generation and teach them. It’s not just for them, but it’s also for us.
Don’t move on in your day without thinking about how you can take advantage of similar opportunities that are relevant for you.