What Drives Your Behavior at Work?

I’m working on my leadership keynotes and workshops. My primary thesis is that leaders work to change things, first with themselves and then at work. That requires knowing what drives your behavior at work.

I don’t mean your personality. Of course your personality affects your work behavior. I need to talk in order to know what I’m thinking—that’s typical extroversion personality. I also can come to a conclusion about what the right thing is in less than a nanosecond. Some of you are much better at holding your options open. I have to practice that “let’s consider several options for at least five minutes” thing.

Even with personality differences, that’s not what drives our behaviors at work. It’s our personal missions and the principles behind those missions.

I bet you have had vehement discussions about something in your project or on your team in the past year. (I know, that’s an easy bet.) The reason you’ve had these discussions is that how you see the project’s reality and consequences is different from the way other people do. Your mission and principles affect how you see potential outcomes and risks.

I have a mission: Help people do reasonable things so they can ship great products. That mission means I’m not dogmatic about how people should organize their projects. I find much value in agile—and I don’t care if people use iterations, kanban, or both—and I am happy to help people organize their projects in a way that fits for them.

My mission means I focus on how to help people release. I don’t care about engineering “elegance”—I care about whether people can update the product before and after they release. In the past, some people talked about “doing things right” versus “doing the right thing.” I have discovered that if we do the right thing and use all our software engineering skills, we will make good decisions.

I’m not a fan of technical debt. I also realize that sometimes we make a conscious decision to incur debt. I don’t like it. I often push to eliminate the debt so we can update the product at a later date.

Do you know what drives your behavior at work? What makes you go to work every day? Is it the sheer fun of programming or testing? Is it about serving customers? Is it about finding solutions to problems? Is it about creating an environment in which people and teams can thrive? Is it about making sure the company presents a great face to the world in the form of its products?

There is no one right mission. Each of us works for a given reason. My reason is not yours—and that is a great thing. We have thought diversity, which can help us grow and produce great products.

Think about your mission and what drives you at work. Consider your principles when you debate potential risks and outcomes. When you do, you can start to exercise your leadership.

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