Start with Trust

Start with trust to set the foundations of a relationships when a new person joins your team. The first impression you make on them sets the foundation for the rest of your journey together. Before you impress upon them your intentions and objectives as a leader, you should first establish with yourself what you believe to be the foundation of such as relationship.

See also New Hires for thoughts on the three most impactful people in determining the joy, success and fulfillment an employee finds in their job.

As a leader, begin with deciding if you buy into the notion that solving for the team member’s best interest is also in your own and your organization’s best interest. In other words, do you believe that the most effective people are those that love what they do and the more they have passion for what they do, the greater their value to the organization is likely to be. If you don’t believe with conviction that helping your team members (be they subordinates or peers) find and achieve their goals, you will be hampered in your own success and that of your team. They will know the difference subconsciously or consciously.

Lou Holtz also starts with trust


Legendary football coach Lou Holtz, now retired and in the College Football Hall of Fame, had an uncanny ability to turn losing teams into winners. During his college coaching career, he compiled a record of 249 wins, 132 losses, and 7 ties. Holtz’s 1988 Notre Dame team was undefeated and determined to be the consensus national champion.
Holtz too believes you should start with trust. He said that players had three implicit questions about a new coach:

  1. “Can I trust you?”
  2. “Are you committed?”
  3. “Do you care about me?”

This brings to mind two quotes about thinking well of others and the impact it may have on them…Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thinking too well of people often allows them to be better than they otherwise would.
– Nelson Mandela

Start with Trust for Effective Communication

Effective communication is often addressed in the form of tools you can use such as active listening, empathic listening, powerful questions, making eye contact, not interrupting, paying attention, withholding judgement, echoing back, radical candor, … At the core of effectively using any of these techniques is our genuine interest to hear what the other person is saying and to have genuine concern for their well-being. If we’re not genuinely interested, they will know, even if only subconsciously.

Clever Hans (in German: der Kluge Hans) was an Orlov Trotterhorse that was claimed to have performed arithmetic and other intellectual tasks. After a formal investigation in 1907, psychologistOskar Pfungst demonstrated that the horse was not actually performing these mental tasks, but was watching the reactions of his trainer.

Start with Trust Within Yourself

If you don’t believe with conviction, it might help to dig deeper into some of the the well researched books about teams and working with others before continuing here. Note, there have been successful teams built around amazing players such as those described in Tim Grover’s Relentless – From Good to Great to Unstoppable and there is much to be learned there as well, but for that type of team, please refer to Grover’s book.

Hans’ ability to stop stomping out the “right” answer was cued by the audience changing demeanor once he arrived at it. Horses and humans take non-verbal cues as to our intent. All those techniques that serve as cues will come more naturally, be more convincing and effective if our interest in those we lead, live and work with can sense it’s genuine.

Horse Whisperers Start with Trust

In her article 4 Leadership Lessons from Horse Whispering, Praseeda Nair points out…

Studies into human communication reveals that only 7 per cent of any communication is conveyed though actual words; 93 per cent are conveyed non-verbally, through facial expressions, posture and tone.

Horse whispering is all about communicating using non-verbal cues and body language. Natural Horsemen also start with trust. They believe horses are as unique as individuals, so it’s easy to extrapolate this form of communication for interpersonal conversations.

Trainers say that leading a horse only requires three main things: establishing trust, demonstrating respect, and communicating directions clearly. Here are the main leadership lessons to learn from communicating with horses.

Once you have the conviction that you’re solving for the other, you can start to get them on board by telling and showing them that their best interest is in your best interest.

Once you are both clear on your intent, the journey can begin either at the first interview with a powerful question. It can certainly also begin later with a first “real” powerful conversation in your first 1-on-1 (if you weren’t part of the interview process). Towards the end of the first interaction, I like to arrive at asking an employee or candidate to relate a time or experience that fundamentally changed who they are. You often get the most amazing stories, you also learn who they are and what they value, and you feel you should share something in return yourself. Now, you have a foundation of genuine interest in the person upon which a relationship of trust can be built. A question that reveals who they are and what they want in life also provides the context in which more immediate goals can be framed. Now, when you might need to have a difficult conversation, it won’t be a conflict of one opinion against the other in a battle of offense and defensiveness, but rather a mutual objective of getting past the challenge. If the question/conversation is truly powerful, it can lead to a self realization for that person about what matters to them, what gives them energy and clarity on why their near term objectives are important to them. Simon Sinek also believes you should start with trust. He says building relationships is hard work on How to Establish Trust When Building Relationships. As Brené Brown  puts it in The power of vulnerability, in order to connect, we have to be seen.

Start with Trust in the Very First Interaction

Towards the end of the first interaction, I like to arrive at asking an employee or candidate to relate a time or experience that fundamentally changed who they are. You often get the most amazing stories, you also learn who they are and what they value, and you feel you should share something in return yourself. Now, you have a foundation of genuine interest in the person upon which a relationship of trust can be built. A question that reveals who they are and what they want in life also provides the context in which more immediate goals can be framed. Now, when you might need to have a difficult conversation, it won’t be a conflict of one opinion against the other in a battle of offense and defensiveness, but rather a mutual objective of getting past the challenge. If the question/conversation is truly powerful, it can lead to a self realization for that person about what matters to them, what gives them energy and clarity on why their near term objectives are important to them. Simon Sinek says building relationships is hard work on How to Establish Trust When Building Relationships. As Brené Brown  puts it in The power of vulnerability, in order to connect, we have to be seen.

Where should that conversation end?

Ideally, the person you’re hoping to lead or already leading walks away with a feeling of genuine trust that you are going to solve for their best interest together with them. It’s ok if they understand their success will benefit the business and you, but that should be the outcome and not the objective. When they believe your benefit and the business are the primary objective and their success is an outcome and not the objective, you will discover they are not nearly as motivated. Your intent may be good, but it is the impact that matters. In closing, it can be good to ask them if they genuinely believe you are interested in and will solve for what’s best for them. If they don’t, and you might tell by how they say it more than the words they use, you know have something to work on. Until that foundation of trust is there, all other conversations will be much less impactful.

Caveat – What if it doesn’t turn out?

When you hire someone or engage with them as a client, you should be convinced it will work out such that they are successful and you should solve to that end. However, you should also let them know you don’t have a crystal ball, and no matter how how you try to set them up for success, there is no guarantee it will work. Ultimately, if they are succeeding, you have a responsibility to them, others on the team and yourself to recognize that could leave you in a place where you believe that engagement isn’t successful. You should both accept that’s a possible outcome from day one.

At SAS – 37 consecutive years of record earnings–$2.8 billion in 2012.

As CEO Jim Goodnight points out in How SAS Became The World’s Best Place To Work  “the diagnosis from Gallup is just as dire: Fewer than 3 in 10 workers admit to having their hearts in their jobs. This lack of employee engagement will cost business upwards of $300 billion this year alone.” He also suggests Value People Above All Else and Trust Above All Things – The foundation of employee happiness at SAS, Goodnight believes, is its culture of trust.

In a team setting

Start with trust in team settings. You might have everyone go around the room – possibly over lunch –  relating something about themselves no one else in the room knows. This can help the team feel more connected. A fun alternative is to have everyone write their experience on a piece of paper that each person will then pull one to read and the team guesses who it might be. It may help to open by giving an example or two from your own life to provide context for the types of things people might say or write down.

At some of the companies I’ve worked, we’ve also had new hires get up in the company to tell a story that no one knows with bonus points if it’s embarrassing – this too can help provide a foundation for a more human connection.

Trust In the Classroom

When teaching, especially 8th graders, if you want to have any hope of reaching your students, start with trust. It’s hard to make progress in the classroom if there isn’t a connection established. I remember a school event where parents where dumbfounded that their 8th graders were asking me to be in selfies with them. If you can have that kind of connection with 8th graders, you can also help them appreciate that your objective is to prepare them for life and help them learn how to learn.

Show-Personal-Interest-2-1024x541 copy

National award-winning Palo Alto teacher takes unusual approach

In another classroom – Growing Roses from Concrete.

Tupac Shakur The Rose that Grew from Concrete

My first assignment as a student teacher was to work with a teacher that had a special class of students with “learning issues.” On the day I showed up, the principal informed me that the teacher had quit the previous day and asked if I’d be willing to still lead the class. I was also told that these were 8th graders that other teachers had given up on being able to manage in their classrooms in a school where most student came from very tough backgrounds. They all later confided in me that everyone of them was in a gang and they figured they’d be lucky to live to the age of 18, and hence, education wasn’t a big priority for them – and education beyond high school was beyond their wildest dreams. So, if I want to develop their talent, how to I establish that necessary foundation of connection and trust?

I remembered a book one of my professors had suggested that she used when she taught at juvenile hall. It was Tupac Shakur‘s book of poetry The Rose That Grew From Concrete.

I bought enough used copies of the book so each student could have once to keep as their own. The students were surprised that I even knew who Tupac was and that I knew lots of his material, but they were really surprised that I had bought them this book for them to keep. They didn’t know that Pac wrote poetry, they had really not expected me to be showing them something from Pac they hadn’t know about. When I next saw them, most of these 8th graders told me it was the first book they ever read. They were proud to carry it around with them, and they had selected their favorite poem. Some had also been inspired to write their first poem after reading it. I could not read any of their poems without tears coming to my eyes – pretty amazing stuff.

Some pointed out that this was cool, and the only other reading of poetry some previous teachers had tried to foist on them was some junk by Shakespeare. I pointed out that Shakespeare just grew up in a different time, in another country and on another type of “concrete”. That tweaked their curiosity, and now a door was open to expand their horizons and awareness.

Know your audience and find a connection is a valid context to find a place to start any dialog. Embrace the challenge, enjoy the fruits of your investments.

See Also:

Handling Interrupts

M IMVU Avatar ParamedicFor any team that is responsible for existing systems that are already in use while also iterating on those systems to enhance and/or improve them there is also typically the burden of interrupts from the existing system. Forward progress is best made with concentrated effort that is focused and uninterrupted. How does one balance these two conflicting jobs of a team?

The first step is to consider an interrupt rotation where only one person at a time on a team fields the interrupts leaving the others to focus. That person may also work on improvements, but is then the only one that should be getting interrupted. A downside to this approach is that if the interrupt falls outside the area of expertise of the interrupt person, they may spend too much time trying to solve the issue whereas the “expert” may have quickly found the root cause and solution. While there is value in digging and learning, there is also a big cost of time and frustration of fruitlessly going down the rat hole.

How does one balance between the two conflicting objectives  of efficiently addressing issues that crop up in existing systems while making focused forward process on iterating on improvements?

Consider the following and tweak as appropriate for your team as your mileage may vary:

  1. Establish an interrupt rotation where one person fields and addresses all interrupts.
    If this isn’t a full time job, devote the first x hours of each day to interrupts office hours.
  2. Have the interrupt person handle each new interrupt as follows:

Is the “house on fire”?

  1. If yes: This interrupt must be addressed as quickly as possible, go distract the person or people best suited to address the issue, and follow the normal communication and escalations processes.
  2. If not:
  • Do your best to dig into the top priority interrupt on your plate and learn as you go about areas previously unfamiliar to you.
  • At the next day’s stand-up, give your update on which issue(s) your working on (if the expert is now on another team, go attend their standup as a guest).
  • As a follow-up to stand-up, if an expert on the team could help guide you to the root-cause/solution, they should speak up.
  • The manager having heard everyone’s update can make a priority call if the expert should leave it at a few words of advice or invest time in helping with the issue that day rather than continue with their previously scheduled program.

Once the issue is understood along either path do either a formal or mental 5-why’s post-morten to get to the core of the right measured and proportional response of…

  1. Understanding the root cause(s)
  2. Fixing the immediate problem and
    addressing the areas that would make the existing system more resilient..,
  3. Adding/improving monitoring to catch things like this (not just specifically this issue) when they start to go wrong
  4. Adding/improving test coverage to prevent (re)introducing issues like this (not just specifically this issue) by any other engineer modifying the code or by changes in underlying systems or environmental factors.
  5. Consider adding self-healing logic such as retries.

This approach has several advantages:

  1. Issues with existing systems do get triaged and get some measured and proportional attention with guidance from the manager.
  2. The majority of the team can work focused/uninterrupted on making improvements to the system.
  3. The interrupt person spends some amount of time each day broadening their knowledge to learn new areas and reducing the dependency on a single “expert.”
  4. There is a mechanism to prevent the interrupt person rat-holing into an unknown area for more than a day without other knowledgeable people learning about it and course correcting them.
  5. The interrupts of the focused members comes as a follow-up to stand-up at which point they are already interrupted.
  6. The manager is involved in the priority decision of deciding whether the ROI of investing more resources resolving the interrupt outweigh the investments in focused forward improvements of the system as a whole.
  7. Lastly, note that the principles here could/should also be applied for team-internal interrupts – if one team member is seeking help from another, doing an assessment of whether the house is on fire or if it can wait until tomorrow’s stand-up is healthy in either case as is doing some archeology first to learn a bit, see how far you can get on your own, and offer up good context when you do bring it up…

Interrupts for existing systems not under active development 

Sometimes interrupts show up for systems that are no longer under active development. This can lead to interrupts for people that worked on that system in the past but have now moved onto other projects. At IMVU, we introduced the notion of “Domain Experts” for various areas of the product. There were also backups designated that either also had knowledge of the area or were tasked at helping field issues to be able to help off-load any single point of failure Domain Expert. For interrupts of this kind coming in, the process is not all that different.

Triage the issue to decide if it’s a “house is on fire” / drop everything issue, then essentially proceed as above together jump on the fire or wait until the next day’s stand-up to communicate that you need to decide whether to pause whatever your current work is to a ddress this issue…

I later introduced similar notions of dealing with interrupts to Twitch and then Pure.

Hand-offs between interrupt cycles

One thing to be aware of is that some interrupts require more depth and context than others. For simple interrupts or ones where the in-depth effort hasn’t begun, the hand-off from one person on interrupt to the next makes sense. For more in-depth ones, on the last day on interrupt, the interrupt engineer should mention such issues on their plate and then have a follow-up to stand-up with the manager and next person on interrupt to decide whether they should

  1. Continue with that issue or
  2. Hand it off to the next interrupt person
  3. Pause it and put it on the backlog for the team to revisit down the road.

Motivation for resolving interrupts

Often, people will sigh, moan, whine … when their turn for interrupt duty shows up. This can greatly impact they effectiveness. They often feel they are rooting around in code someone else wrote to uncover what they failed to account for.

There is a certain joy that be gained from solving a mystery. What greater mystery than rooting around in someone else’s code? There are rewards in being the Sherlock Holmes that solves the mystery. As a manager, it’s important to show recognition and appreciation for this and not just progress on the feature currently under development.

One source is start-up early code. It helps to explain that a successful company may not be where it is today had not the early engineers whipped something together to get the company where it is today and pay your paychecks. This train of thought should be less about guilt and more about appreciation.

Interrupts always ending up with most senior person

As startups grow into larger and larger companies, it’s not uncommon to see the more experienced engineers get buried in interrupts from people coming to them to do this or that or help debug something.

Part of this can be reduced by having a good spin-up and mentoring process.

Part of this can be addressed by ensuring engineers appreciate well written code with good test coverage greatly reduces how often other will come and ask them about it and hence creates freedom for them to grow to learn new things and/or experience upward mobility.

However, there are also time where you’ll hear “Why should I give it to someone else to do? I can do it in an hour and it’ll take them two days, and since I know the system, I’ll do it better. Besides, it seems selfish to ask someone else to burn two days of their time for what would take me 30-60 minutes. Right?” At first blush, that might seem right, but it’s actually the wrong approach. By doing it yourself, you’re depriving the other engineer(s) from learning and getting better at it. The organization won’t scale and neither will you if you take that approach, and the new engineers will soon get demotivated if they are never trusted to do anything. Having help experienced engineers see things from this angle has repeatedly resulted seen their ability to work on new things increase and with it their motivation and engagement.

Every now and then, you’ll get a wise old engineer counter: :”Well, what if it’s a hot customer issue, what if the ‘house is on fire’?” They kind of have a point here given the above; however, even here, things can improve. Grabbing that new engineer to observe while they fight the fire (while also verbalizing what they do and why) can also help to bring up new folks to fire fighting. The next step is to have the new engineer be the one with the hands on the keyboard while the senior engineer instructs and potentially dictates. Hands-on-keyboard will still help with learning more than simply observing. The next progression is to stop dictating and start asking, “ok, what’s your next step?” and only helping out when they don’t right away know the answer. This process helps bring up to speed new engineers and helps existing engineers not get bogged down and demotivated…

Another thing that has proven helpful is to create a routine for the person on interrupt duty to check through various sources of interrupts at the start of each day with some sense of priority to plan their day and the sequence of attack.

The Dark Side of Agile

agile yin-yang

Along with the virtues of Agile Software Development also can come some destructive downsides that can erode trust and effectiveness within your company culture.

I recently attended a 3-day Scrum certification class where the founder of the particular methodology was the instructor. He insisted that managers not participate in standup meetings, planning meetings, grooming sessions, retrospectives, or any other meetings where an agile team might discuss their work. When asked why, he said, managers micromanage and lead through fear and intimidation because they control employee salaries, career progression, time-off requests and the decision whether to fire them. I have heard this perspective before, but decided to challenge him nonetheless. I suggested that if any of my managers lead in that manner, they would either need to change, no longer be managers or seek employment elsewhere – I guess you could call that managing through intimidation. When I suggested that managers can and should be supportive of their employees, his partner chimed in and suggested I was describing “Servant Leadership.” The instructor owned up that he had never seen such a leadership style in action and that his entire career had been in a very hierarchical, command and control organization within a culture that was very hierarchical.

I later realized that when Agile Coaches he had trained would come into organizations and spread this philosophy of distrust in leadership and insist managers be removed from team meetings and suggest managers be removed altogether from the organization. Team members can buy into this perspective and it can create a distrust in leaders that can taint every interaction potentially throughout their career. As they say, Trust is hard to gain, easy to lose and even harder to regain.

Certainly, there have been managers that manage through fear, intimidation and micromanagement, but people that buy into the notion that all managers/leader think along these lines must not be familiar with…

According to Laszlo Bock’s “Work Rules!” Google, instead of removing managers from all the significant day-to-day meetings where they can see their employees in action, ask open-ended questions, listen and learn, … decided instead to “cleave the knot by deliberately taking power and authority over employees away from managers

Here is a sample of the decisions managers at Google cannot make unilaterally:

  • Whom to hire
  • Whom to fire 
  • How someone’s performance is rated 
  • How much of a salary increase, bonus, or stock grant to give someone 
  • Who is selected to win an award for great management 
  • Whom to promote 
  • When code is of sufficient quality to be incorporated into our software code base 
  • The final design of a product and when to launch it

Each of these decisions is instead made either by a group of peers, a committee, or a dedicated, independent team. Many newly hired managers hate this! Even once they get their heads around the way hiring works, promotion time comes around and they are dumbfounded that they can’t unilaterally promote those whom they believe to be their best people. The problem is that you and I might define our “best people” differently. Or it might be possible that your worst person is better than my best person, in which case you should promote everyone and I should promote no one. If you’re solving for what is most fair across the entire organization, which in turn helps employees have greater trust in the company and makes rewards more meaningful, managers must give up this power and allow outcomes to be calibrated across groups.

The concern I have with Google’s approach as described above is that it feels like it’s trying to legislate fairness and good leadership behavior. The notion of calibrating across teams and making hiring, firing, promotion decisions with cross-organizational support and buy-in are things that are in service of servant leaders. Legislating it, as this feels, seems more like a tell than a sell, and in my experience, tells tend to get less genuine buy-in and appreciation than sells. Managers often have the best perspective to advocate and make a case for the members of their team. The modern manager/leader, imho, should want to solve for fair practices across all employees. If Google discovers that “Many newly hired managers hate this!” I would worry about an approach where the new managers weren’t sold on the notion of such practices being in service of enabling them to be more effective leaders. Otherwise, I do feel it’s a much better approach than simply removing managers from the majority of team meetings. Google being a place that believes in continuous improvement and the book being from 2015, I suspect Google has since figured it out. The concern is people are still reading the book and looking for a quick and simple answer may take it too literally.

Along with many other modern approaches to leadership that have long put the notion of leading through fear behind them. An effective, trusted leader is better able to provide guidance and coaching to her/his team if they can observe them in action. I’ve sadly heard of interactions that include bullying, demeaning and disrespecting fellow team members in meetings where no leader is present. Certainly, one objective of a leader should be to make themselves redundant and create atmospheres where “supervision” isn’t necessary, but without any guidance or coaching, and a good dose of distrust, good cultures can erode…

Going back to the original Agile Manifesto, we are reminded that Agile was intended to solve for individuals and interactions over process and tools. No where is there mention of having distrust in managers…

The Agile Manifesto

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”​
© 2001-2019 Agile Manifesto Authors​
This declaration may be freely copied in any form, but only in its entirety through this notice.​

P.S. Another point that was raised in the training and by coaches trained in this style of scrum was that individuals should never change teams. I said that I understood frequent changes could disrupt the flow of a team, but why the notion of “never?” The answer was clearly stated that too often upper management sees effective teams and decides to break them up to spread these effective employees around. I asked if his point was that employees shouldn’t be treated like chess pieces. I agreed and asked what if after a year on a team, an employee mentioned she/he would be very motivated to another team… Should we hold them back? His answer was “of course not!” I asked if he realized that his disciples hearing him preach about never moving employees between teams have fervently fought against letting employees change teams in such cases because the edit had been stated in no uncertain terms. He said he didn’t realize things were being taken so literally.

Luckily, so far every place I’ve been that turn to the dark side and took these principles on too literally as dogma and demonizing employees eventually came around and recognized the possibility of managers being contributing leaders.

Hence, I’ve always been an advocate of being clear what you’re ultimately solving for and letting that supersede any strict adherence to dogma or rules. I long ago arrived at the notion that the only thing you should be religious about when it comes to Agile is to not be religious about anything 😉

5 Flavors of Agile at the Lean Startup

At IMVU (aka The Lean Startup) there was a point where I was managing 5 different teams that were each implementing their own tweaked versions of Agile. Each team ended up with a form of agile that didn’t come straight/religiously from a book, paper or blog-post, but rather from what best suited them and their particular situation.

  • We had a team that was heavily laden with handling interrupts, and they needed to find a way to plan their sprints to incorporate significant unforeseen work and to frame the tasks/stories around interrupts in a user-centric ways with measurable impacts.
  • We had a mobile team that needed to take into consideration that between release to Apple and actual availability to customers could take three weeks – so, we needed to implement more change-control and triaging of changes and heavier testing at the end (very different fro IMVU’s typical push-often, learn-fast, fail-fast approach to web-based releases).
  • We had a team that was collaborating with Pivotal Labs doing their flavor of extreme agile with extreme pairing (that exposed some challenges in a team that wasn’t composed of T-shaped engineers).
  • We had a green-field team working on a new system in a new architecture where story-pointing was very difficult, and they arrived at a form of Kan Ban that worked for them.
  • We had a team that mostly worked in typical scrum-agile manner with tweaks to account for IMVU’s approach of pushing changes to production every 10 minutes, including multi-variant experiments and matching hypotheses. It did, as I recall, include a remote worker that also led to some adaptations to the more traditional scrum-agile.


The Path to Enlightment
From a key-note talk I gave about how to introduce Lean Startup Principles into existing organizations. The one thing to be religious about when it comes to agile is to not be religious about anything.

See Also:

If you’re interested in my perspectives on leadership independent of whether it’s within an Agile organization or not, see: TalentWhisperers.com/LeanOut

Why are 10xers so rare?

Why are 10xers so rare? Where is Waldo?

Why are 10xers so rare if so much thought has been given into what makes a 10xer and what cultivates a Growth Mindset. Why are these Waldos so rare and hard to find?

If we imagine that excelling, succeeding, finding happiness is basically a choice, then why aren’t we all enjoying being there? Perhaps because it’s scary, daunting and even overwhelming to imagine it’s all on us. Super CEOs, athletes, scholars, movie stars, etc are not super humans born with some innate qualities that we simply don’t have. If we can all excel beyond where we currently are if we wanted to enough to work at it, then where is our excuse?

If you add to that, that we all have had experiences and encountered people that have put us down and set us back. To be a Rose that Grows from Concrete, we need to persevere in the face of challenges. Being a 10xer is hard work. You need the desire to get up when knocked down, even when it’s likely you’re likely to get knocked down again. Is it not easier then to stay down?

It’s not a free lunch

There is certainly also the danger of growing up believing you can have it because you want it – that belief can lead to disappointment and even depression if that message/belief was not also accompanied with the understanding that can require tremendous effort and involve lots of failures. Simon Sinek certainly also has a perspective on Why You Don’t SUCCEED.

Likewise, there’s a danger in believing you need to love taking risks as a 10xer. A hunger for challenges and willingness to take new approaches needs to come with a tolerance for risk, but not a hunger for risk. Not appreciating that distinction can lead to failures that will be hard to recover or learn from.This too can contribute to the rarity of 10xers.

Similarly, those with a growth mindset need to be willing to overcome adversity, they don’t necessarily need to have failed. Leaning over the tips of your skis to be better able to turn and go faster, but No Fear can equate to No Brains. Growth and success are hard to find if you’re not willing to step outside of your comfort zone. You must experience failure to succeed – the chances to grow and succeed do not continuously increase as you get further and further away from your comfort zone. As Andy Rachleff suggests You Learn More From Success Than Failure.

Looking at our role models is daunting by the hugeness of their sacrifices and success. Their achievements should inspire us. Be curious to find your own passion and drive instead of being humbled by their achievements,.

What should we do?

If your objective of is to become a 10xer, you are setting your goals way to low. We can go well beyond having a 10x impact on this earth if we build team, classrooms, businesses by inspiring, motivation, mentoring and developing others to go beyond a 1x impact to 2x, 3x, …10x. If we can help 10 people become 10xers, then we’ve just done a 100x. What if those 10 people inspire others… This is how teams win world championships and businesses excel to unforeseen heights. This is how students rise to make this country and world a better place. We should be inspired by people we encounter to achieve new heights as individuals. We can also multiply that affect can also be multiplied many times if we inspire those around us.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves,  Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson’s A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, Harper Collins, 1992 (Pg. 190-191). Also, used in “Coach Carter” Often misquoted as originating from President Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration Speech.


Why are 10xers so rare? Often, as leaders we don’t cultivate, nurture and reward the characteristics, curiosity and hunger that’s needed. We don’t allow for “failures” to be seen as opportunities to grow and learn.

See also:

Making Rules

My first early childhood education exercise was to go to a pre-school where a teacher was having particular trouble with three very disruptive boys she could not get under control. She hoped just to get a day of relief by having me take them for the day. I approached the boys and told them that I hoped to be a teacher some day and that they could help me. They were surprised to hear that from me. I asked them to tell me what made a good teacher and a bad teacher. They said they didn’t like their teacher because she had all these stupid rules. I acted very surprised and asked for an example. They said, like no playing ball inside the classroom. In shock, I asked why on earth would a teacher tell them that? Playing ball is fun!!! I probed further to get them to tell me why a teacher might have such a stupid rule. After some thought, they suggested the ball might break something. I said, oh wow, yeah, that might make some sense. One by one, I had them give me rationale as to why any teacher would have any of the rules that their teacher was imposing on them. They came up with some great reasons.

The next week I heard back from the teacher who wasn’t sure if she should ask what I had said to the boys because they had somehow become the best behaved children in her class. Later I learned that one approach to establishing rules that students would adhere to is to have them come up with their own rules. It would take longer to arrive at a good set than it would if the teacher dictated them; however, the students observed would consistently adhere to the rules they came up with far more than those a teacher dictated.

When interviewing engineering manager candidates, I like to ask them: “If you had to choose just one tenant of Agile Software Development Methodology to be “religious” about, what would it be?” I get some interesting responses, but the one I tell them I am religious about is to not be religious about anything. Every situation is slightly different and the most effective process is adapted to the situation. More on that in another post. My next favorite answer is to have Retrospectives where the team analyzes how the last sprint went and determines what to repeat, what to improve and what to not do again. In essence coming up with their own rules for how to best development software.