Last week, I saw this quotation and loved it. In work and in life, we often find ourselves in a boat with others wondering why and how we got there. This could be a re-organization, or a life event, or anything that is a change for us.
One piece of the quotation that especially resonates to me is the focus on the present–“we’re in the same boat now.” And that’s true about many facets of our lives or our relationships or our families or our work teams because it’s easier for people to spend our energies in a more negative way, questioning and fighting what has happened, instead of re-framing our orientation that the reality is we’re in the boat now.
Say to yourself, “this is my job” or “this is my life” or “this happened to me” and then embrace the presence of that realization.
In time, that realization can turn into motivation–if you choose to accept that you are now in the boat.
You might just start rowing.
I get energy from curious people at work. It seems that from my experience, curious people can typically help you get things done in a better way. Curious people ask the question “why?” multiple times until they understand the root cause of something. Curious people respond when you ask them for feedback on what could get better.
But what happens when your workforce seemingly has lost its ability to be curious?
Curious people ignite the flame of critical thinking and problem solving; not-so-curious people can extinguish that flame.
For me, lack of curiosity typically relates to general apathy. In the workplace, that could mean not raising your hand, or letting someone else raise their hand, or just going through the motions. Your calendar may be full from 8-5, but logging into that conference call to have your name show up in the panel that you were there—even though you didn’t contribute anything to the meeting—makes you feel busy.
It can also point to another sign—that you are too comfortable. This happens after years of steady employment where you’ve been allowed to just go through the motions, show up when you needed to show up, but nothing externally or internally is creating a sense of urgency to do anything different. Perhaps you tried at one point but became de-motivated when things didn’t work out the way you envisioned them to.
One flaw in all of that is that it assumes that motivation can only come externally—from someone or something other than yourself. The boss passed you over for a promotion. The Department reorganized you into a new area. The company decided to continue to invest in the legacy technology that you’ve worked on for decades, so you should be set.
I think there is too much risk to behave this way in the workplace. Leaders are searching for curious people as it demonstrates a different level of engagement. Leaders what to know how to make things better, and curious people are motivated to contribute to that outcome. And finally, leaders need curious people. Without them, something externally will disrupt the situation, without a doubt.
Curiosity equates to motivation. Motivation equates to making things happen on your own terms—not the boss, the department, or the company.
I’ve learned this perspective over time and through experience. I observe people across the entire spectrum of curiosity and motivation. Re-framing to putting things on your own terms, and taking control of your own motivation and curiosity can not only lead to a happier work life, but one that has a higher potential of success and satisfaction.
At one point early in my career, a re-org put workers into two camps. You were either in the “strategic” camp, or you were put into the “non-strategic” camp. I remember feeling like kind of a loser when my name appeared on the non-strategic camp list. Like the right-fielder of the workplace.
So the strategic camp (shortstops) talked about what we “should do”. Here were our problems, and here’s where we need to go, they said.
That was cool, but as time went on, I found myself asking (from right field) “hey, are we winning the game?” It was hard for me to actually know, because we didn’t have a way to measure if the strategy was actually working.
And then it hit me. I had uncovered my own secret to strategy execution:
They are not separate camps–they are one and the same.
Let me explain.
Strategy does you no good if it is not executed. When the strategy “setters” don’t actually play the roles of the strategy “executors”, it’s a recipe for, well, not getting a whole lot accomplished.
The biggest miss that I see is not having an effective measurement system or control plan for the execution of your strategy. Without it, pure strategy setters are more comfortable, because we are not really held accountable to anything that can be measured. But, it can drive strategy executors crazy because we don’t know what we need to do to win.
I want to win; therefore, I need to know what winning looks like (not just feels like). In most other things, like sports, it’s a score. So why not at work? Why at work does one team think we are winning, while another can feel that we’re not? The answer is that it is because you do not have a shared measurement system.
But with an effective measurement system, progress (good or bad) can be regularly monitored and because of that, course corrections can be made. It’s even better if you can ground yourself around one be-all-end-all measure, to rally everyone around the “one thing” that will happen upon the successful execution of your strategy. This can also help you filter out good ideas from mediocre ones by asking how implementing that idea would impact that main measure. . The simplicity of focus on one goal is liberating. You feel energized along the way, dying to see the numbers and progress when you get into work on Monday morning. People who doubted you along the way start to believe, and in the end you’ve executed your strategy.
Teams also get too enamored with what they should measure instead of what they can measure. Too much time spent on speculating about what you should measure will prevent you from even starting to measure what you can measure.
Remember, a Strategy leads to an outcome. An outcome requires a measurement system. A measurement system helps you see if you are making the right kind of impact. That’s the secret–they are all one in the same, not separate camps. Then, rinse and repeat.
Those three words instill fear with some people. Part of a leader’s job is to ask questions, sometimes difficult questions. I think we have to be conscious of how we are asking the questions, but I wonder why people don’t just say “I don’t know” when they don’t know the answer.
Many people feel that talking their way through an answer, even if they don’t know the answer, is better than just saying they don’t know the answer.
I disagree. I believe it’s much better, and not a sign of weakness, to just say you don’t know.
I remember my Mom telling me that you don’t have to have a good memory if you always tell the truth. I think Mom was onto something.
We often are coached to be confident. I would argue that confident people can say they don’t know the answer to something. When faced with this situation, ask yourself “why” you would be inclined to “wing it” instead of just saying it. Then keep asking “why?”
Why #1: Why won’t you just say you don’t know?
Answer 1: I’m afraid that I’ll look stupid
Why #2: Why are you afraid that you will look stupid?
Answer 2: Because I think my Boss thinks I should know the answer
Why #3: Why do you think your Boss thinks you should know the answer?
Answer 3: I don’t know.
Bingo. In this example, the core issue might be expectations between you and your Boss. Have a discussion with your Boss about expectations, and level of detail you should have in your role given your scope. Likely this conversation will be enlightening in that your assumptions of what your Boss expects do not actually match what your Boss expects. Having this conversation saves you from losing credibility when you try to “wing it” but inevitably admit to not having a clue.
If we were all much better about being open and honest about this type of thing, then we can be liberated, and not fearful, when responding to a question for which we do not know the answer.
“I don’t know, but I can find out.”
A community leader was sent a letter after a town hall meeting where the leader indicated he was hopeful that they would get rain to help the farmers’ crops which had been experiencing a drought during the late summer months. Farmers cheered at his support.
The next week he was sent a letter from a resort owner asking why he had expressed his desire for rain? Didn’t he know that it had rained all spring, adversely impacting the overall resort business? More rain would mean one of the worst resort seasons in recent history!
It sure is hard to please everyone. How often do you have good intent, but someone in the audience assumes the opposite? I’m sure this community leader was not wishing doom on the resort business, but how telling it is that the resort owner assumed as such. We all get so entrenched in our own perspective, from our own lens. We’re all resort owners, to some extent.
As leaders, our words matter. Choosing the right words and understanding all of the perspectives can make the difference between a happy farmer and a disgruntled resort owner.
So what did the community leader do the next time he mentioned the weather? He said, “I’m hoping that in the next few weeks we all have favorable weather.”
Recently, I was disappointed that my personal blog did not seem to be generating any meaningful metrics, and my spirits were lifted when I remembered that one day I had shared this story out loud, and something cool happened afterwards:
As I got out of my car this morning, I looked down at my shoes. “That’s not something you see everyday,” I said out loud. On my left foot, I had a black shoe on. On my right, a brown one. All I could do was laugh. Didn’t get upset. Or mad. Just laughed. Perfect shoes for an imperfect moment!
My 1st grader has become somewhat of a permanent roommate in a sleeping bag on the floor of our bedroom. He even refers to it as “our room” in his conversations. Pretty soon he’ll start to tape up posters on the wall, I think.
Since he was still sleeping, I put on my shoes in the dark (obviously!), and didn’t notice until I got out of my car. So to solve the problem I went to Marshalls–not open yet. Daytons? Nope. How about that fancy new shoe shop in the skyway? Guy in there drinking coffee, but door locked. So I went to Target. Meronas for $25 saved the day. Sometimes life throws you a curveball–how you choose to deal with it is up to you. Today I chose to just roll with it, make fun of myself, and share my story of imperfection with you today. At least now I have a spare pair of dress shoes!
The most powerful comment or “like” I ever received was neither a comment nor a like. It wasn’t even out loud. Someone told me privately that on this particular day, their spouse was having a real hard time. He said he shared my story with her to let her know that everyone has things go sideways from time to time. She laughed when he showed her my picture and subsequently recovered. He wanted me to know—personally–that my words helped.
That was pretty humbling to me.
I am a fledgling blogger. For any others out there starting to share your stories and work out loud, don’t get caught up in the number of comments or likes. Your impact through writing can’t always be measured.
A lesson I have learned recently is that your present perspective is just one of many. But think about how current issues can demand much of our time, emotion, and energy. We can be so focused on the here and now that we forget that in a couple weeks it will be the there and then. Disappointment 2 weeks ago that something you wanted didn’t work out becomes the liberation that you might be destined for different things.
I think in life this happens to us more than we think. Often we have a belated appreciation for things. The same experiences, people, situations look so different with even a slight change in our circumstances. That tough and difficult boss now seems appropriately demanding; that stressful and never-ending project seems to have stretched you out of your comfort zone; that difficult and flagrant co-worker now seems to have challenged your assumptions and biases. Ideally it would help if in the midst of whatever is happening we could remember that the present perspective is just one of many.
(Inspired by the Daily Reflection–Fr. Don Talafous, St. John’s University)