Daring to Care

The most effective technical leader I ever worked with had a track record for coming onto a project and whipping it into shape. His ideas were not groundbreaking. He was not a genius engineer. He was a smart guy, but not necessarily the smartest guy in the room. He wasn't an expert politician, or a charmer. His superpower was that he simply cared more than anyone else around him about the project's success, and he would not back down when implementing improvements. When he noticed an area for improvement, he just did whatever it took to fix it. He would calmly but with absolute persistence run through his argument with whoever he needed to convince that it was the right thing to do. It didn't matter how many people he had to convince, how high up they were, how difficult it was to convince them. He just wouldn't stop if he knew he was right. No improvement was too small or too big. I remember him saying to me once that he didn't understand why people around him would acknowledge obvious problems, but not fix them themselves. What I didn't say, but was thinking silently, was "because no one else here cares as much as you do."

There's risk that comes with caring about something. If I take the initiative to fix the slow build process, then I'm now responsible for it. If I break something, everyone's going to look at me. I might have to talk to the Infrastructure team. Jeez, those guys take so long to get back to you. I'll have to open tickets. I might have to bother people I don't know well to make my task their priority. The build process works now, right? Yeah, it takes longer than it probably needs to, but it works. Do I really care enough to take all this on?

The individuals who rise to the top aren't always the smartest, the most creative, the most charming. They just give a damn. They care more than the people around them. When someone truly cares, they will find no shortage of problems to solve around them. They will find solutions. They will push through objections. They will argue with people. They will take on responsibility for things they don't strictly need to, things no one asked them to take responsibility for.

The open question is: How do you get someone to care? Why do some people care so much more about a project than those around them? Those people are worth their weight in gold.