Good Citizens and Mercenaries

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 fulfills 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.

People, not product, will determine the success or failure of a company. 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 GC attributes I look for when building a team:




Comfortable with uncertainty and mystery. They feed off it and enjoy it

Cocky in a kind way










Pointers for spotting a GC:

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 the people they work with and are friends with them

They are rewarded and recognized by their peers

They offer up reference checks from peers and previous 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

The 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 GC?

In my experience it’s the Mercenary. The 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:





“Lone wolf”

Poison dwarf


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 ninkanpoops/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 & 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

It’s them not me

I don’t have the resources

It’s not my responsibility

You need me

I inherited that problem

My team wasn’t big enough

They wouldn’t promote me

I told them, but nobody listened

Give me people a chance to change

Everyone can change, and I’ve seen it happen many times. Sometimes Mercenaries become GCs and even inspiring presidents, but if it looks like a goat and sounds like a goat it normally is a goat.

Happy hiring!


Band of Hackers – The power of collaboration

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants ” – Isaac Newton

Last week we held a very successful hackathon at work. Employees pitched their ideas and recruited team members. Teams had a week to build the idea and then present the finished product on the final day for judging. The ideas were incredible and reaffirmed the belief I have that people who are empowered will self motivate, hold themselves accountable and create amazing results.

Another lesson for me was how fun and creative it can be to have people from different product groups team up and work towards a common goal. It was inspiring to watch diverse teams crouching over computer screens hashing out ideas, debating pros and cons while also having a laugh. Maybe even more important than the brilliant creations were the new friendships and working relationships that were forged during the week.

It got me thinking about teamwork in general. Collaboration and shared memories are so beneficial and integral to building strong relationships. Travelling and exploring a new city with friends is so much more fun than a solo experience. It’s the shared memories that make relationships stronger and are the kindle for new friendships. It’s the same with sport…and it doesn’t have to be a team sport either. It’s more about exploring something with like minded people. Take a yoga class for example. Some of the most productive classes are where the entire class synchronizes. The synchronicity increases the energy in the room and everyone benefits. When someone gets impatient, breaks rank and moves into the next pose before the group it throws off the rhythm of the class and actually fragments the energy. It’s the same as cycling, The pack breaks the headwind and conserves energy…everyone wins.

Individual customization is what everyone is doing right now, we are constantly being asked to create solo silos, and position yourself as an individual contributor. It’s good to remind ourselves about the power of team effort. When there’s synchronization it it’s like adding rocket fuel to the fire…the energy produced is mind blowing.

A group environment will always have challenges and compromises but most of the time you’ll be more productive and more importantly you’ll probably make some great friends, have shared experiences and meet new people along the way who may even teach you a thing or two.