Inspiration as a Shield

Leadership Moment: Shields Down

Talking with a startup CEO recently, they shared the story of one of their principal software engineers who had just left to join an even earlier stage startup. On the surface, it seemed like a reasonable career choice: after learning that they had what it took to be a key contributor and work the crazy hours of a startup, they wanted to be a part of the founding team.

In a conversation about why the engineer was leaving, the CEO uncovered that there had been a minor argument between the engineer and the colleague, and the engineer was frustrated. That night, they accepted an invitation from a long-time colleague to talk about a startup … and their path changed.

Michael Lopp writes about Shields Down as a concept; that your team has a lot of opportunities available to them, and they are constantly being bombarded with inquiries from friends, recruiters, former colleagues, and random strangers. While some of those opportunities aren’t better than their current gig, many of them are. So why do they stay?

Basically, inertia. They’re content, and it’s a lot of work to change jobs. The constant bombardment actually inoculates them to the opportunities – if opportunity only knocked once a year, you’d stop and listen, but at multiple times a day? You keep your shields up.

But all it takes is one moment to drop those shields. in this case, it was a colleague’s actions. But often, it’s how you treat other staff. A layoff right after a major release, where everyone worked long hours? The people remaining recognize that there is no loyalty downwards, and become open to work (and your competitors are almost certainly headhunting in the people you kept on board).

Your goal is to demonstrate enough continuous downwards loyalty, to keep those shields up even in the face of external events.

One Minute Pro Tip: Develop Without Obligation

Our employee engagements are often so precious, that we try to maximize the value the company gets out of them. We focus on not wasting our team’s precious time and energy. In doing so, we think that our efforts will immediately result in positive outcomes. Why don’t they always succeed?

We might be wrong. We might not know what our team needs. Worse, we might be almost right, but miss the mark by enough that our team feels undervalued by the approach.

Where we are really wrong? In signaling to our team that their broader development isn’t of value to us.

Often, it’s better to bring in opportunities that don’t have obvious direct benefits, and let our team members grow without pressure, or obligation to improve on some nebulous metric. Let team members develop in their own manner, and they’ll find the synergies to use their development to increase value.



July 2, IL: Cyber over Breakfast: Nine Truths Your Buyer Needs


July 16, NYC: CISO Dinner with Valence and AIM Security

Aug 8, BlackHat: Book signing: Code Resilience in the Age of ASPM, Cycode’s Book & Breakfast

September 24: HOU.SEC.CON