On workplace "heroes"

medal On workplace "heroes"In the last couple years, I’ve slowly come to an interesting realization about work, and certain types of people at work. Basically, that being a “hero” gets me nowhere, and letting other people be “the hero” is a wise thing to do.

I work in “the internet field”, for one of the largest domain name registrars in the world. I’ve pretty much always worked in a similar environment, one where IT and development were a huge part of the company. I now see that each one of them had this one thing in common, the presence of self-proclaimed heroes in these departments.

These are the people who will pull all-nighters to bring in the project on time, or to bring the servers back up after a disaster. Usually men, at least in my experience, they are the ones who know everything in their domain, and they’ve made themselves absolutely indispensable.

Probably this is not unique to IT/Development, I’d be surprised if it was.

I love these people, I admire these people, and I used to be one of these people. I was the guru, the self-proclaimed master who was too busy to extricate himself from the work to bother documenting what I was doing. I was the unsubtle gatherer of what I thought was job security. But I’m not one anymore. I’m still knowledgeable, and I still work overtime occasionally. But I no longer make a point of volunteering and martyring myself for doing so. Instead, I’ve passed that torch.

I have noticed a couple things since dropping the hero persona. One is that I don’t really receive any less rewards or appreciation, possibly I receive more. Another observation, somewhat surprising initially, is that someone else always appears to play the hero role. I make a point of letting them do so. They love it, and I appreciate their work. My family also appreciates me working fewer hours.

In fact, I now believe that this is the natural order of things in companies like mine. I hope it doesn’t sound too cynical, since I think of it as a positive, maturing process. The young people learn a lot in their self-imposed trial-by-fire. Hopefully they will eventually mature, realizing that they are walling themselves into their positions. You can’t simultaneously be absolutely indispensable and get a promotion. The company needs the “heroes” where they are.

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2 comments to On workplace "heroes"

  • Brilliant Bruce. Well done!
    I think it’s one of those wisdoms that comes with age. I came to a similar realization at around age 41 – now 47.
    Love all the books that you recommend. I think you’d also love books by Eckhart Tolle and Malcolm Gladwell – specifically The Tipping Point and The Power of Now.

  • I’ve read Tolle, actually listened to him on 8 CDs during my commute. He’s great, but I didn’t feel like I got a lot I could use to move forward spiritually. I’m about to read “A new earth”, which I am very much looking forward to.

    I’ve also got Gladwell on my iPod.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting.