I think at least three quarters of anything good that ever happens that could be reasonably attributed to me has more to do with will than it does with talent.

Think about that… while I’m a formidable software engineer and coder, my efforts to create and/or repair and/or inform are going to be limited by the capacity of one person to do a lot of hard work.

On the other hand, hard work, especially remaining undaunted and just doing the hard work in the face of a challenge, has a virtually limitless ability to enable and inspire others. Whether it’s a hard bug that nobody has wanted to tackle for years, a creeping performance problem that has gone long unchecked, unhealthy organizational practices, or something else entirely, there’s something about seeing the will to fix it once-and-for-all that inspires others to action. And that is what gets things fixed.

I was speaking with a colleague about writing high quality tests the other day and I found myself concluding that it was easy to become paralyzed thinking about how many mocks were going to be necessary — but I never came at it that way, I always knew I could write any given mock and so I can write them all. Faced with this situation, my reaction is likely to be “hmm, we need 200 mocks? Hold my beer.” and before you know it three other people will jump in and write 50 mocks each and suddenly a huge problem has been solved.

It doesn’t have to be mocks and engineering. There’s hard work all over. It’s everything from cleaning up the dog poop to getting important legislation passed. Many things require the will to start and the will to see it through and when people see that will, they rally behind it. Otherwise it’s too damn easy to say, “it’s always been like this, it’s unfixable.”

If you like, you can see it as “Be the change you wish to see in the world” often ascribed to Gandhi (but probably he didn’t say it like that). Or you can go with Edith Hamilton’s “Happiness is the Exercise of Vital Powers, Along Lines of Excellence, in a Life Affording Them Scope.”

Any way you slice it, the onus of leaders is to show others the way to success. Especially success they cannot yet see for themselves. You don’t have to be a manager to do this, you just need to exercise your vital powers.

Written by

I’m a software engineer at Facebook; I specialize in software performance engineering and programming tools generally. I survived Microsoft from 1988 to 2017.

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