We All Have a Calling

What is most rewarding about having a career that helps other people find the right career for them? It seems somewhat paradoxical but I could also say that my greatest passion is to help others find theirs. Or, I could say that my mission has been to help other people find and follow their mission. Certainly there is tremendous satisfaction in seeing the satisfaction and joy that those I have had the privilege of coaching and supporting have found for themselves.

 The most important aspect of career development work is that it is about aligning passion with work. It is not a “job” (an antiquated and low level notion of employment), but the ennobling and personal reward of doing meaningful work – meaningful to you, the individual. My favorite word for what we are discussing is “vocation,” from the Latin word for “call” – voca. I believe we each have a “calling” and, the better we answer that call, the happier and more fulfilled we will be.

Now, not all “callings” are to help others or to save the world. There are many that involve hard labor and many that require technology. Some are about inventing and discovering and yet others about trade and commerce. All have meaning and all are worthy of admiration. Somehow, however, everything eventually leads back to someone having the enthusiasm to do something great with it. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once penned – “Nothing truly great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

Growing up in a small farming community in Rhode Island exposed me to many different kinds of work, some tough and dirty and others more refined and thoughtful. I went to college on a Pell Grant (named after the Rhode Island senator who instituted it - Claiborne Pell) and quite by chance, fell into studying theater in time to not flunk out and go to Vietnam. I fell in love with it and told my father on his death bed about finding something I loved, and his last words to me were, “That’s great! Now I know everything will be alright.” Through the many twists and turns over the last 50 years, that thought has guided me in the work of helping others find their passion, their vocation, their calling. 

How to Ensure You Have the Right People in the Right Roles

Right person in the right seat. This metaphor from Jim Collins’ now famous book "Good to Great” talks about your company as a bus and you as the bus driver. The bus is at a standstill and you need to get it moving in the right direction. This metaphor begs two key questions – “How do you know if a person is the right person to have on the bus?” and more importantly, in the self-driving bus of 2018, “How do I know I even have the right seats on my bus?”

Collins gives us five questions to ponder on the “right person” inquiry:

1.    Does the person share your organization’s core values – or at least have a predisposition in that direction?

2.    Does this person “get it” so they don’t need constant management?

3.    Does this person have exceptional ability – the potential to be one of the best in his or her field?

4.    Does this person understand the difference between having a job and holding a responsibility?  You want folks who think three steps ahead, feel a sense of responsibility – and if they see a hole, they fix it.

5.    Knowing everything you now know about this person, would you hire them again?

There is an additional, very important question – “Does the person love what they do? Do they have the passion and enthusiasm to stay focused and weather the challenges of change?”

Do we have the right seats?

The problem with Collins’ metaphor is that the bus itself is changing faster than the seats. Today’s fluid, interactive teams require flexible seating as well as flexible people. In many cases, people occupy several seats on a series of mini-buses and we can’t afford to have them buckled in to just one seat. We need to experiment with new, more multi-functional seats.

Do we even have the right bus anymore? Does the metaphor of a bus still work? One obvious challenge is that the bus can change a great deal in a relatively short period of time.

It can get bigger, for example, or it may be added to a bigger fleet or it may transform into a hovercraft! As Doc says to Marty in Back to the Future – “Roads? Where we are going we don’t need roads!”

How to Approach Difficult Conversations

“Don’t see me” our niece used to say when she was a toddler. The same message seems to apply in adult conversations when the prospect of having a difficult conversation arises. It’s certainly not easy to have these conversations and the habit is to hide from it and wish it away, but that only escalates the problem.

We’ve all been there. We may have been overlooked for a new opportunity. The prospect of a raise doesn’t happen, and it goes to a colleague who is seemingly doing the same work. A new leader comes on board and minimizes the efforts that went into setting up a new program. The list goes on. It happens to us personally, as well, when others take advantage of us. Why does this happen? Is it the fear of not being liked, or is it because the other person is too assertive? Are we feeling stifled by the corporate structure and if we interject change, we may receive some kind of backlash? We often tell ourselves that the worst is going to happen when the reality is the opposite.

In our coaching practice, we get asked consistently, how do I start? To work with a challenging employee or boss, you need to know what you contribute, or not, to the conversation. Self-awareness is key, which is the first step in the emotional intelligence framework. Our manual for managing these conversations and becoming more self-aware is the Birkman Method. Quite often we gravitate to thinking that we don’t like the other person because they have a different approach than we do. If we step back and assess what’s going on, we may be able to see beyond that particular mindset and see the difference as an asset rather than a liability. Understanding our strengths, challenges and behaviors helps to handle these difficult conversations with a more confident approach.

One of our favorite models to use for setting up these difficult conversations is the FIJA model. F stands for Feelings. Start by describing your emotions using “I” statements – I feel angry, concerned, frustrated, etc. I is Information. Relate the facts and observations as clearly as possible. J is Judgment. Share the conclusions you formed as a result of your emotions and observations. A is Action. Define specific and concrete steps that you would like to take.

By being more aware of your approach and utilizing a trusted tool, you can feel more confident and move from “don’t see me” to “I’m ready to be seen and heard.”

Work IS the Conversation and Conversations are Important Work

It is time to change the conversation about work and realize that the work is the conversation. Our focus is on helping individuals, teams, leaders and the entire organization shift from the old world of minimal conversations – keeping your head down and grinding away at tasks – to the new world conversations – diversity of perspectives, engaging and synergizing each other’s strengths and passions, searching for innovative solutions to old world problems and shifting management principles to leadership vision for a rapidly changing world.

In a 1993 article named, What’s So New About the New Economy?, Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company, pointed out that work has become conversation. The bit that really caught me was – “Time was, if the boss caught you talking on the phone or hanging around the water cooler, he would have said, “Stop talking and get to work!” Today if you’re not on the phone or talking with colleagues and customers, chances are you’ll hear, “Start talking and get to work!”” 

The challenge is to learn -- or unlearn old habits -- how to have powerful conversations with a wide range of people and also to know what to have conversations about! Whatever the topic, using a good story to illustrate your point is usually a great way to get the other person (or persons) to open up a bit and share their own story. Asking open-ended, facilitative questions is also a powerful way to get better conversations cooking. Try asking, “Wow, that’s interesting! What happened after that?” or “How did you get to that point?”.

Eric Schmidt of Google fame has said that we come into contact with more people in a day than our grandparents did in a year! With today’s technology driving us ever closer together and the Knowledge Economy fast becoming the Human Economy, we already have to run to catch up. Come and join the new world conversation with us!

Change: The Difference Between Managers and Leaders

Leaders and change go together, because change is what leaders are there for. Otherwise the organization can just be endlessly "managed," because yesterday's practices could simply be replicated. But conditions change and yesterday's ways of doing things no longer fit today's conditions. They require change.

That's why the leader sets up a task force, and that group puts together a plan that lays out what needs to be done, when and by whom. When they have done that, all that seems to be left is for the organization to implement the plan. Many leaders imagine that to make a change work, people only need to follow the plan's implicit "map," which shows how to get from here (where things stand now) to there (where they'll stand after the plan has been implemented). "There" is also where the organization needs things to be if it is to survive, so anyone who has looked at the situation with a halfway open mind can see that the change isn't optional. It is essential.

But then why don't people (in the immortal words of Nike commercials) Just Do It? And what is the leader supposed to do when they Just Don't Do It? When people do not make the changes that need to be made, when deadlines are missed, costs over-run the budget, and valuable workers get so frustrated that they resist? Change doesn’t happen easily.

It is essential for the leadership team to be exemplars of change and transition in order to be able to effectively implement and lead the rest of the group through this process.  As Gandhi said “Be the change you would like to see.” Do you or the leaders in your organization need help setting that example? It may be time to explore leadership coaching for your organization.