I received a back reference check this week from an entrepreneur looking to hire a former colleague of mine. I had many positive things to say about him: he was smart, analytic, had strong skills for the role, and very relevant experience. But I had one concern: he had a tendency for what I call “default to neutral”.
I know no single setting of the work-life volume knob fits everyone, nor is it the same for every phase of someone's life. I am also not an entrepreneur who misses their kids’ birthday or big games (although I will confess to having brought a laptop to a game more than once). But I also believe that great accomplishments come from great effort, and when it comes to building a company, you need nothing short of absolute commitment and hard work from the people that surround you.
As a young manager I found I could sometimes manage up the performance of talented “default to neutral” people. One of the better engineers with whom I worked was a person who would have been content to knock off work at 5 PM each day. But I found ways to inspire and motivate him, and he was able to rise to the occasion for the time we worked together. But not long after we stopped being colleagues, he had gone back to his default setting: neutral.
I’m not sure what drives some people to relentlessly want more faster, and others to be content with a best effort. A quote from Maria Cirino in a recent Boston Business Journal article sort of captured it best. She said: "I always felt like I was one decision from living in a box on the side of the road. And it’s been like that for my entire career.” That statement speaks to the soul of my being.
Maybe it is either in your or it’s not. Maybe you either feel a relentless drive to do more faster, or you feel content to put in a good effort and call it a day. I suppose the world needs both types of people. But if you are trying to build a company, you need to surround yourself as many of the former as you can find. And when you find these people, you will want to keep working with them over and over again.