An interesting perspective on what drives people

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This year’s trip to San Francisco marks the 7th time I attended a QCon conference. Unfortunately the editions in New York in San Francisco do not add up, so this time was counted as the 4th time, making me eligible for a nice alumni t-shirt and a pair of socks. Nonetheless, after a slightly disappointing experience at another conference last year, this edition was once again full of little gems. For instance, Josh Evans shared his ideas on how to align the needs of individual engineers with the needs of the business.

The short version is that drive is fueled by autonomy, mastery and purpose. But he really prefers to break this down into three components; passion, grace and fire. Passion is what motivates people to work on a certain thing and usually comes and goes with the topics a person has affinity with. Grace is about one’s capabilities, skills, the experience and character. Fire represents the tenacity with which somebody tries to deliver a solution and make an impact. Being able to embrace those components while forming an organization is something that ownership-focused organization try to do. In Josh’s words, such an organization ignites passion, fosters grace and demands fire.

But is that enough to achieve high-performance teams? No, those are just ingredients in the recipe towards - what Josh calls - fully formed adults. So what are those? Well, according to Josh, these (idealistically portraited) people have reached a certain level of maturity. They are self-aware and always hungry for feedback. They are able to apply that feedback effectively without being defensive about that, and they learn and grow from failures. They also are aware of what the business needs and act as a steward towards them. They are brave, direct, honest and compassionate. Those folks are also rational and data-driven, and right more often than wrong. And because of that they take calculated risks for big rewards. Now if you happen to run into anybody like this, let me know, because I’ve never seen this species before. But pun aside, it seems to be a good model to use while hiring professionals and defining their career path.

But what about being a manager, or more generically, a leader? Josh believes you should keep asking yourself a couple of questions. For instance, do you have a clear roadmap? Do you know what you have and what you will need? If not, do you have a plan to assess the situation and fill that gap? And when looking beyond yourself, does your team or organization have a clearly defined mission and culture? And if so, is the team on board with that mission? And don’t forget to look at the culture as well. Is it even compatible with that mission? And what about the individuals? Is every member of your team a mature, fully formed adult? If not, what changes should you consider? And finally, what opportunities for autonomy can you provide to your team members that aligns with the most pressing needs of the business?

So what do you think? Knowing that I tend to fall in the trap of distrust and micro-management sometimes, this really resonated well with me. What about you? I would love to hear your thoughts by commenting below. Oh, and follow me at @ddoomen to get regular updates on my everlasting quest for better solutions.

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