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Stop Being the Hero

Stop Being the Hero


·January 14, 2022


This is great.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how important it is to have someone who makes other people important on a team. I've seen a lot of pseudo-teams where everyone is trying to slay their own dragons.

It's hard to be the guide, though. Some people don't think they need help. Selfishness can be the norm, so people don't learn to accept help. Fake sincerity makes it hard to make genuine connections.

The most difficult part of trying to focus on others, for me, is that people still heap things onto my plate. No one makes time for being a guide or a leader for ICs. Managers seem to be too busy in meetings to focus on people.

Is it feasible to find jobs where this sort of attitude is taken seriously?


The team I worked with at the NASA Autonomy Incubator was one of the most productive and happy environments I've ever worked in. Everyone helped eachother, was brilliant, and the leaders were always there when needed. One of the biggest factors I think was how the sprint meetings were held, and I've asked others I worked with at the time since and they agree.

We would have small team meetings every morning ~5 people, but a whole department meeting every two weeks to go over quad charts. It was the standard milestones, last two weeks and next two weeks. The difference was there was a very strong culture of thanking and complementing the work of everyone who helped on a task. People really went out of their way to help everyone, there was a lot of cross pollination, and productivity was incredibly high because everyone was so happy to be working together.

There were other factors too of course, but it was really magical. Danette Allen ran a tight and happy ship which I'm now trying to recreate at the company I co-founded.


I really wish you had just went into hard selling your startup at the end. All that wholesomeness and then bam!


Honestly I don't read it that way - it seemed more "I experienced a great way to run a team and now Inhave an opportunity I am going to try to recreate that"

I have not bothered to check his/her profile to see what startup they founded so it's not exactly a hard sell.


This is sadly the norm in many companies, especially in NA. Helping each other out is not seen as something worthwhile. It's everyone for themselves. You have metrics to hit!

I can't tell you how feasible it is to find companies that actually value working together and helping each other out. I can tell you that there exist some companies where at least parts of the company do actually value this. I happen to value this and my manager does and some of his other reports and their teams do. I doubt the company overall actually does value it.

But like you say, even if you find such a company, every new hire is a challenge because everyone is just so trained to think that everyone just cares for themselves and that everything must be a ruse. It's hard to break through this. From both sides. I know it was for me. I couldn't believe it and it's hard to let your guard down and just work with others like you're actually friends.


> It's hard to break through this. From both sides. I know it was for me

I wonder, what were some events that affected how you were thinking


I'm not sure if there was ever one specific event that made me 'convert' and stop doubting. I think it was just the amalgamation of everything that happened. I.e. seeing the existing team members interact with each other and myself and across the org. Of course not everything was/is rosy there either but overall it's just not a place where finger pointing happens on the developers level. We work together and help each other out. Nobody is going to say "sorry I don't have time to help you with your problem". You will most likely get multiple people offering to help you out.

The fact that there were no individual metrics to hit for each team member I think also contributed to this. Nobody is going to loose their raise because they spent time helping you onboard or debug with you instead of just making sure they hit their own metrics. Monthly birthday celebrations w/ cake and nobody blinked an eye that everyone was chatting and eating for an hour or two. A perpetually filled fridge and fresh fruit - I never had to bring lunch. Catered breakfast regularly (tho not every day). And the part that I couldn't believe was that this wasn't actually to make you stay at the office for 14 hours or something. Everyone still left at the regular times. This is the part I couldn't believe.

All of this will probably become harder here too as we grow more and more. And some of these perks are gone since Covid but I don't mind getting full remote working. I'll take that over free breakfast and lunch any day ;)


Taken seriously - I’m not sure. That being said; in my experience taking the time to help others out ended up with those teammates and their/my manager(s) talking positively about me, which ended up working out well for me career-progression-wise. There may have been other factors at play but being seen as nice/friendly (and smart) and being liked really goes a long way.


seems to be the opposite of ' how to get promoted'

- Take credit for your work (use pronouns I and Me when talking about your work, not We) and do not allow others to take credit for your work - If it's a teamwork situation with other people on your level, don't do most of the work, because the credit will end up being split 50/50 in the eyes of the bosses even if you did most of it


If you're helping nudge and whisper other people into success, you'll develop a reputation. Managers will want you on their teams and they'll make time for you to do your special magic.

Questions about what you're doing and how to have the effect you'd like are really better directed to a mentor than a web forum. Even if you don't have any "official" mentors, you probably have unofficial ones - people you know who advise you. If you're not sure if you have those, seek someone out, ask them, and get an explicit mentor.


No. People that want to be Yoda are the worst. Actual "Yodas" are amazing ICs and are also Yoda by accident. This is the lesson Yoda is trying to teach the brash young jedi when the charterer was invented.




This is pretty misguided, if benightedly well-intentioned. People working on commercial software projects are ultimately hewing wood and drawing water, albeit with tools perhaps less clumsy and random than axes and buckets, but your project will not be more civilized for having heroes. Quite the opposite. Heroes are a sign of dysfunction and exploitation.

Lest I be accused of objecting to the mere frame of this blog post, I'll say that this post is little more than a regurgitation of numerous corporate training grafts I've been subjected to. By all means, encourage and aid your co-workers to become a bit-driving John Henry. Let their hearts die out in confusion over self-actualization and ROI. What are they but wielders of less-clumsy-and-random axes and buckets, after all?

Better by far than playing Yoda, would be to find solidarity with your fellow less-clumsy-and-random axe and bucket wielders. Consider clearly what you are doing, why, and cui bono.


Yeah well the thing is Gandalf’s quite a hero though. The article doesn’t say “be the Samwise Gamegee”, or “be the r2d2”.

Cause these guys, despite having their own fanbase of introverts don’t get half the recognition they deserve.

Helping others is a fine narrative, just make sure you’re the hero in that story, otherwise you won’t get the credit for your achievements…


> The article doesn’t say “be the Samwise Gamegee” ...

I've always thought there is a strong case to be made that Sam is the hero in LOR. He's really the only one that has a fully-developed character arc and who grows as a person (well, as a hobbit).

Of all the characters, Sam's journey most closely follows what Campbell outlined as the classic Hero's Journey.


This video shares your sentiments! He argues for why even Tolkien would consider Sam to be the real hero, while Frodo is the protagonist -


This is an incoherent argument that misunderstands the nature of heroism.

Heroism is an ongoing personal journey, for those who choose it. Heroism supports community by definition. There is no choice you must make between “being a hero” and helping others.

Most screeds against heroism are, I suspect, really about the author wanting to justify his own passivity.


I think you and the author are using different definitions of “hero”.

When I read your comment I think of the classic Campbell hero, a presumed universal archetype also familiar, if slightly different from the ancient Greek or Mahabarata heroes. Luke Skywalker was consciously modeled on this definition.

I think the author, despite referring to Yoda, is referring to the American archetype of hero: the lone white gunman on the frontier. The argument against this is that teams are more effective for large projects and teams done work with such a “hero” (NBA teams are great examples of this).

My comment is not about the coherency, or lack thereof, of the post.


You know what, you mention something that has pissed me off with a recent evolution of American culture by citing two examples I find relevant, so I'll expand.

Star Wars is a 1977 movie. It actually consciously uses the codes (and copies some scenes!) of WWII war movies. What are the heroes doing in it? They are helping a big organization (the rebellion) fight a formidable enemy. Just managing to flee from such an enemy is a heroic endeavor.

Compare it to today. In most, if not all, blockbuster movies, organizations that the heroes belong to are either incompetent, corrupt, are a hindrance when they are not the main antagonist. There is a total loss of the idea that belonging to an organization can make sense and can help a personal journey.

Sheriffs, policemen, journalists, they used to be the heroes of various fictions. Now we seem to refuse to believe that these can be heroes. We refuse to believe that collaboration with a team can be effective. Actually, now it is a trope that if the hero has a trustworthy associate, treason will happen some time in the storyline.

And somehow I understand what it is about: people are disgruntled with their work. They realize the company they are working in is not helping their personal hero's journey and hindering it. But really, the reaction that "therefore I shall do it all alone" is really bad.


Agreed. There are are far too many stories nowadays which say we are living in times where the courage of men fails and we should break our bonds of fellowship.


You're bothered that movies don't seem as authoritarian as they used to be. Do you realize that's what you've said?


Yes, I am using a different definition of hero. It comes straight out of Campbell, who surveyed a huge corpus of world literature to come to it.

My view of hero is the more interesting one. One that helps us make sense of our lives and to live better. But it’s not just different, it still does everything that the people who use the dopey definition need it to do.

Why even bother to analyze or discuss the human experience if we are just going to reduce it to flat cartoon psychology? That’s why I advocate for a better definition of hero. It allows me to heroically (in all senses of the word) navigate my social world.


I put it other way, some people embrace the Viking culture (or others with similar traits) there is nothing more inglorious that not being there for the team and not dying on the battlefield, so they are the heroes chasing burnouts and sometimes getting lucky on product launches.

Others rather take the long road, live to fight another day if at all, so they just put up with the hurdles and when that wall is approaching the locomotive, they move on to happier pastures.

Naturally there is some example missing there for those in the middle.


> Every juicy problem has three layers. It starts with a practical need, turns into an emotional desire, and is topped with a captivating narrative.

Stopped reading there. Reads like an article from a magazine. It started that way too but I decided to give it a chance.

This sort of thing should have its own genre called "Random profound junk for dummies", though I am not married to the name. I am sure there is a single word that means the exact same thing


There is an image of features and benefits in the middle of the article. When I read it, it reminds me these landings with bullet points from "benefits" column: Get more done, Focus on what matters most, Start saving time today, No commitment, Stay on track. This is exactly what makes me confused about what the product is and why I would need it. But if you replace it with items from "features" columns, it becomes much clearer: A to-do list, With priorities, Simple setup, Cancel anytime, Has status updates. If I get it right, the author suggests providing benefits instead of features. Well, this doesn't work for me and for many others, based on previous discussions about vague marketing points like "start being effective today" and similar formulas. They could mean anything, and your problem structure may not match it. E.g. you need tags on your existing todos badly and the product doesn't have them. How could it make you more effective today?


Good points. But it feels like someone who isn't able to contribute to engineering trying really hard to justify a higher salary on some purely functional level. And not that marketing isn't critical, but the article is overselling it.


Kathy Sierra's "Creating Passionate Users" blog really launched that idea that people want to be the hero of their story, at least for product design. The idea that users want to feel good about themselves, and the job of your software is to get them from "oh no, a problem -- I suck!" to "wow, I am kicking ass!" as quickly as possible.

Much of management is creating environments where this happens: commit code on your first day, instant feedback for your commits, supporting people to create success themselves rather than rely on you to save the day, etc.


I'm going to be a bit ornery about this one...

Putting content in a Why, How, What? (Simon S. framework) ex post facto - like this one does with the three layer problem will write mba textbooks for ages...

No, there are heroes... they just don't wear VP capes.

Great products are all of these things innately, not through manufacture. The base is emotional relief that your customer isn't alone in experiencing a problem - it is finally solved - and they evangelize to others that they are now 'healed.'


If you liked this post you should definitely get the book that inspired it!