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Selfless Superstars

Mike Mangino

December 1, 2022

Those of you that read my writing regularly know that sports play a big part in my life and my writing. I view sports as a microcosm of my larger life – one with shorter feedback cycles to allow me to learn more rapidly. True to form, this soccer season led to an interesting insight.

I’ve been playing adult soccer for the past five years. In that time, I’ve typically played with a group around my age (mid-40s) against much younger competition. During that period, our results have been about what you’d expect. We’re older, slower, and not in the same ballpark as our 20-year-old competition. Still, the goal isn’t to win; it’s to have fun.

This season was a little bit different. We lost one of our players to an Achilles tendon tear in the first game of the season. We ended up adding a college student to replace him. The addition of this younger, faster, more talented player was immediate. We started to win for the first time.

I’ve played with young and incredibly talented people in the past. For several seasons, we played with two incredibly gifted athletes. They had footwork that looked like something you would see on TV. They never got tired, and they could outrun anyone. Somehow, however, this ability never translated to outcomes. It wasn’t until this year where I realized why. As good as they were, they were selfish.

Our young player this season was different. While he might not be the best athlete I’ve played with, he made those around him better. He was selfless. When he attacked, he would draw defenders to him. Instead of trying to make a difficult shot, he would pass to the now open teammate who, while less skilled, had a much easier shot. As a result, everybody on the team improved. Adding one skilled player didn’t make us one person better, it made us seven people better.

As the year progressed, injuries and travel led to us adding another talented player. Yet again, we added a second selfless player. Once again, the addition was more than just a single player. We all improved. I found myself able to do things I had never dreamed of because of the selfless play of others.

We’ve seen a similar effect at TriumphPay as we’ve grown the engineering team. I’ve worked with incredibly bright developers before, but there was a limit to their impact. Recently, I’ve noticed that some of our developers are having an outsized impact on the team around them. Not only are they more productive, but they elevate those that they work with. When we think about a true 10x engineer, this is what I picture. When you elevate your whole team, you can have an outsized impact.

With the addition of these selfless stars, our more junior developers are learning more quickly than they have in the past. Complicated parts of the code that slow everybody down are being cleaned up, leading to an increase in team speed. These stars also lead to a subtle shift in expectations. Without being explicit, those around them want to do better work to fit in.

What’s even more exciting is that this is a virtuous cycle. Once you have a selfless star on your team, you’re likely to add more selfless stars. There are several reasons for this. First, excellent people tend to know and respect other excellent people. That makes it easier to recruit new teammates. On top of that, it’s fun to work with selfless stars. People are drawn to teams that allow them to do great work. Success breeds more success.

For my soccer team, I got something I’ve never had before. You can see me in the image below holding our league championship trophy.


Mike Mangino

About the Author

Mike Mangino is the Chief Technology Officer for TriumphPay where he leads the development and dissemination of advanced technologies that improve and increase business for our customers and TriumphPay. Prior to joining TriumphPay, Mike was the Chief Technology Officer for HubTran where he was responsible for designing and building software to automate back-office payables for the transportation industry and built and managed a team of engineers including software development, DevOps and customer support.