Good citizens vs mercenaries

Contribution from Mark Bartels, former CEO Stumbleupon.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight.” A Good Citizen properly fulfils his or her role as a citizen.

A mercenary takes part in a battle, but is not a national or a party to the conflict and is motivated to take part in the hostilities by the desire for private gain.

In business, people, not product, will determine your success or failure. You can have an excellent product and fail because you’ve assembled the wrong team. Building a business at scale is hard. It’s fraught with uncertainty, highs, lows, wins and losses. It’s an emotional roller coaster. Good citizens roll up their sleeves when there’s work to be done. They pitch up every day and are in service to each other. Mercenaries leave if it’s about anything but themselves.

The list of Good Citizen attributes to look
for when building a team:

  • Compassionate
  • Collaborative
  • Curious
  • Comfortable with uncertainty and mystery.
    They feed off it and enjoy it
  • Cocky in a kind way
  • Gritty
  • Impatient
  • Kind
  • Loyal
  • Persistent
  • Pragmatic
  • Polite
  • Persuasive
  • Zen

Pointers for spotting a Good Citizen:

  • They use “we” and “our” a lot when talking about solving problems.
  • They laugh at themselves.
  • Pedigree & degrees don’t matter. It’s about what you can offer now and in the future.
  • They have a history of execution and getting things done.
  • They listen more than they speak.
  • They are self-aware.
  • They are black belts in verbal judo. The best answer always wins the tussle.
  • They ask for feedback, welcome it, and act on it.
  • They have detractors. Probably a couple of bullies they’ve stood up to in the past.
  • They respect their colleagues and are friends with them.
  • They are rewarded and recognized by their peers.
  • They offer up reference checks from peers and former investors/partners.
  • They treat interviews like a two-way street and ask questions about the team, motivations and product.
  • They seek you out, vs. running away from their current role or company.
  • They have hobbies outside of work.
  • Ad hominem is not an option.
  • They are comfortable making decisions with incomplete data.
  • They understand the importance of luck, timing and preparedness.
  • They are always learning, experimenting, tinkering & tweaking.
  • Titles don’t matter.

So what’s the opposite of a Good Citizen?

In my experience it’s the Mercenary. They are seductive, because they get things done, but don’t be fooled – when the going gets tough and it’s time to contribute to the greater good and sacrifice something… they leave.

Attributes that pop up time and time again:

  • Bully
  • Blamer
  • Bitter
  • Charming
  • Lone wolf
  • Poison dwarf
  • Rude
  • Short tenures and long stories

How to spot them:

  • They use “I” and “they” when describing their current role and company.
  • They describe past and present colleagues as nincompoops/clueless/tone deaf/opaque/idiots/blind/wrong/lazy.
  • They hold grudges.
  • They “get things done” through coercion and intimidation.
  • They stereotype people and roles.
  • They don’t believe in luck and good timing. It’s all about talent and A-players.
  • They are “Remember whens” – “remember when” is the lowest form of conversation. They dwell on the past, live in the world of what was instead of understanding that things change and you need to move forward. (The Sopranos – Season 6, Ep 15).

Listen for phrases like:

  • They don’t listen to me.
  • I inherited that problem.
  • It’s them not me.
  • My team wasn’t big enough.
  • I don’t have the resources.
  • They wouldn’t promote me.
  • It’s not my responsibility.
  • You need me.
  • I told them, but nobody listened.

Give people a chance to change

Everyone can change. Sometimes Mercenaries become Good Citizens and even inspiring presidents, but if it looks like a goat and sounds like a goat it normally is a goat.

Happy hiring!