Last week, I posted a review of Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Other Don't, by Simon Sinek. One of the primary tenants of the book is that successful companies have to create environments in which their employees feel safe. Safe to participate; safe to experiment; safe to provide feedback; safe to think outside of the box; and perhaps most importantly, employees have to feel safe to fail and make mistakes. Since reading that book, I can't stop thinking about the time my manager wagered $1,000 that my code would break production.
Some years ago, I had written a migration script that would move user-data and user-provided assets around in production (migrating them to an entirely different storage mechanism). It was terrifying. For me, touching user-data to this extent is almost always terrifying because I know mistsakes can be made and things can always go horribly wrong.
Of course, I tested the heck out of the migration script. And, I had a teammate review it. And we discussed it together. And we both decided that it was ready to be deployed. And then, right before I was about to move the code to production, our manager stepped in and wanted to wager $1,000 that my code would break production.
Now, this wager wasn't just against me - it was also against my teammate who did the code review. If my code ended-up breaking production, both me and my teammate would both have to pay our manager $1,000 out-of-pocket.
The situation was already tense enough. And now, not only did I have the pressure of breaking production and creating a horrible experience for our users, I had the added burden of potentially costing my teammate a significant amount of money. So, of course, I didn't deploy. I didn't feel safe.
I understand why my manager did this. He was incredibly concerned about the potential damage to our user-data and to our company's reputation. So, the wager was his way of illustrating the gravity of the situation. The wager was his way of ensuring that we engineers did everything that we possibly could to create a successful outcome.
The thing is, I already understood that. But, I didn't have a choice. I wasn't moving around user-data because it was fun - I was doing it because I had to. The application we were working on literally wouldn't survive if I didn't deploy this code. The gravity of situation was so heavy, I could barely breathe. I could barely sleep. It was all I could think about. My very identity as an application developer was wrapped up in my ability to create a successful outcome for an application that was at the end of its runway.
And so, two days later, without any pomp and circumstance, without telling my manager, I quietly deployed the code to production. And I watched the error logs. And I watched the system monitors. And I watched the support tickets. And I watched the database. And I held my breath.
And, it worked. The migration script started running; and, just as a thousand tests prior had already proved, it ran as expected. No wagers were made. No money exchanged hands. The application survived and I simply went on with my life, moving on to the next problem that needed solving.
In Leaders Eat Last, Sinek says (paraphrasing from memory), "No company has ever been managed out of a crisis; companies can only be lead out of a crisis." This feels apropos for the situation. I think my manager was trying to manage us out of our crisis. And it ended up feeling very much like "us against him"; even though, I know in his heart, it was all of us against the problem.
When things are at their worst, that's when employees need the most support. When things are at their worst, that's when your team needs to feel loved. When things are at their worst, that's when we all have to believe that we're down in the foxhole together; and that we have each others back, no matter how overwhelming the situation may be.
I don't pretend to know how to lead people. I've never been a manager. I've never had people report to me. But, I do know how to love people. And, when I reflect back upon this experience, it reminds me that in my own way, I can create a safe and loving place wherever I am and with whomever I work.