Shields down | Seth’s Blog


Michael Lopp helped coin an important term. When you’re a skilled craftsperson with high market value, there may be recruiters knocking on your door. An employee who has ‘shields up’ doesn’t even bother to answer the door. When shields are down, you’re open to at least hearing what’s on offer.

In a follow-up post where he offered silkscreened shirts with your shield status as a fundraiser, he said that it might not be a good idea to actually wear the shirt to work.

That’s almost as fascinating as the shields up phenomenon.

There are good reasons to go shields up. It saves you a lot of filtering time. It increases job satisfaction because you’re not always comparing the reality of today with the imagined perfection of tomorrow somewhere else. And it creates a better relationship with your colleagues, because mutual commitment leads to trust.

And there are good reasons to put your shields down. You owe a debt to tomorrow–to use it in the best way you can. Too often, we let Resistance hold us back, instead of taking a hard look at what’s possible.

Why not share your status?

Tom Peters used to write about leaders who ran resumé sessions for their employees. Skeptics asked why on earth you would encourage your team to understand and demonstrate their value in the job market. He pointed out that it was better to work with people who wanted to stay, when the alternative is working with people who believe they’re stuck where they are.

There’s a long-time tension between the factory owner and the worker. The factory owner wants to take the maximum amount of labor in exchange the lowest amount of compensation. The worker often responds by playing defense and not letting the boss disrespect them.

Bosses invented employee loyalty, not employees.

The fear, if you wear your shields up shirt, is that your boss will ask for more. And that if you wear your shields down shirt, your boss will stop trusting you and start scheming to replace you.

Perhaps there’s an alternative:

The boss should act as if everyone has shields down. Assume you need to re-earn engagement and loyalty every day by offering respect, significance and interesting opportunities.

And the employees could act as if they have shields up, simply because it’s a powerful way to spend your day in flow. You can always change your mind tomorrow.


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