I’ve never read a blog post about duty and startups (although I’m sure they’re out there), but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. Some people (founders and employees) have a sense of duty towards the work they do. Others do not. And that sense of duty is one of the elements that separates awesome entrepreneurs and employees from everyone else.
There’s definitely a gray area between “duty” and “responsibility”. In fact you can Google “duty vs. responsibility” and get a lot of results. Here’s an example. I don’t think everything it describes about duty completely applies to a startup founder or employee, but a lot of it does. I also found this article on duty vs. responsibility for CEOs very apropos.
Clearly, we (as founders and employees) have responsibilities. And most people in an early stage startup get their jobs done and handle their responsibilities. But it’s those that have a sense of duty–a higher moral standard that they hold themselves accountable to–that go beyond expectations and really make a difference.
For me, duty is about caring. Or more specifically, caring to a level beyond the norm.
Those with a sense of duty are your go-to-guys, the founders you’ll back over and over, and the employees you want to hire right away when you start something new. It’s cliche, but some guys will take a bullet for you, and others won’t. And I wouldn’t expect most people to take a bullet for you as a founder or fellow employee, but there are a few that just will.
When you find those people, hold onto them.
That sense of duty gives them the ability to take their performance to another level. It gives them the internal fortitude to struggle through all the shit that you’ll face early on with your startup (and later too!) and push through.
One last thing: founders have to be careful about abusing an employee’s sense of duty.
It might be easy to rely on people over and over knowing that they’re compelled to help/work/struggle. In fact, if you want your startup to succeed, you’ll have to rely on those people! But as much as duty is something that comes from within a person, I believe it needs to be recognized, and people’s work needs to be rewarded. In my experience, most people that do have a sense of duty towards the work they do, don’t need a lot of external validation, but they still need some. They don’t need trinkets, baubles, or little perks–they need to know that the person they’re taking a bullet for / following blindly on an insane startup journey, recognizes their value.
Photo courtesy of aeroworks.