Job and Career Success: Why it's CRUCIAL to Do What You Love

It's not often that I disagree with Alan Sklover. He's the brilliant and dedicated attorney who helps employees level the playing field with employers in his legal practice and through his excellent and comprehensive website, Sklover Working Wisdom.

Today, however, I disagree heartily with him. Or at least with the Wall Street Journal article by Carl McCoy that he posted and supported on his blog.

The gist of the Mr. McCoy's message is that graduates shouldn't be told by commencement speakers to "do what you love." Instead, he offers this:
Maybe there’s another way to encourage new college graduates to think about their careers. Maybe all those commencement speakers would send more young people into the world likelier to be happy in their jobs if the speakers talked about love as a consequence of meaningful work instead of as the motivation for it.
No. He's wrong - and Alan is wrong for supporting Mr. McCoy's thinking.

No matter where you are in your career arc - from new graduate just entering the job market to long-time employee looking at years yet to go before retiring - it is absolutely crucial that you do what you love. After all, you're spending at least a third of your time doing it - year in and year out. And when you're not actually doing it, you may very well be either thinking or talking about it.

Which means that you're spending too great a portion of your life to be doing something that has no meaning to you.

That's not the "meaningful work" that Mr. McCoy cites. Sure, it's great if you can find that. But "doing what you love" isn't about what your job title or career category is. It isn't even about the industry in which you work.

It's about finding a job that allows you to access and utilize your skills to do the things that bring you the most satisfaction. Personal satisfaction.

Doing what you love, as Mr. McCoy as a "starving artist" attests, doesn't necessarily net you a big income. But it does ensure that the vast majority of the time that you sit at your desk or walk a retail floor or work with manufacturing robots, you're always interested in:
  • What you do
  • How you do it
  • What the outcomes are
  • Why what you're doing is important to the person who receives it - whether internal to the organization, out to the supply chain or into a customer's hands and, most important of all
  • How you can do it better.
Job satisfaction comes from engaging yourself. Management won't do it - no matter at what level. That's because no one knows better than you what you're capable of - which, sad to say in most jobs, is far more than is being asked of you.

Doing what you love means taking away the limitations that organizations place on you and fulfilling your definition of yourself.

That's why, when I'm mentoring anyone from graduates to executives and Board members, my message is always the same:
  1. Do what you love in a place that allows you to do it or
  2. Find another place.
The biggest problem that every employee at every level has is the belief that he or she is stuck. That there are no options. That you won't find another job or the ever-popular "better the devil you know" way of thinking.

Free yourself from that thinking and you'll free yourself in your current job. Then, start doing what you love. All the time. When you do, if the organization's management is scared or simply isn't smart and they try to stop you...find someplace else.

Don't waste the most important commodity you have - time - limiting yourself to someone else's definition of you and your capabilities. It's a waste of your life - and you don't have to take it.

Because there really are smart organizations out there that know that having people who do what they love is the only way their enterprise can or will succeed.

Creating Value: Leadership v Stewardship

Okay, let's get the blah blah blah stuff out of the way first.

You not only want to be a leader, you're convinced that you are a leader.

Good for you. You're a leader.

The question is: When it comes to creating the highest levels of value for yourself and your organization, is being a "leader" the right thing to be? Or is there something better?

There is. It's being a Steward of the present and future of your organization.

Yes, I admit, calling yourself a "Steward" isn't anywhere near as sexy sounding as calling yourself a "leader." Nor, for the most part, do people in organizations recognize what a Steward is or does.

Here's the difference:

Leaders do things for show. Stewards lead by doing the right thing.

My friend, Peter Wynne Rees, the Planning Officer for the City of London, explained it to me years ago when he described his role as a Steward overseeing the present and future of the Square Mile.

As he told me, the City of London existed for over 2000 years before he got there. His job was to make sure that he did everything he could - every day in every decision - to ensure its safety and success for the next 2000 years.

As a result, if you Google Peter's name, you'll see that he's considered worldwide a - if not the - leader in City Planning, Development and Redevelopment.

Ask him and he'll tell you: He's a Steward.

Here's what this means for you:
  • Stop sweating being called a "leader" and begin determining the real and ongoing needs of your organization
  • Begin - now - viewing your organization in timeless terms: it existed yesterday (or 2 or 20 or 200 years ago) and it will exist tomorrow
  • Think of the decisions you're making and put them into that timeless timespan - then reconsider whether they are the right decisions for all the tomorrows it's your responsibility to ensure occur
  • Treat your stewardship as a stealth strategy. Don't talk about it...unless you're asked. (Peter only told me his philosophy when I asked him a question that led, over more questions, to that answer.)
  • Do the right thing. Not just for you but, every day in every decision, for your organization and its future.
Because that's the thing about leadership versus stewardship. It's not about you and your success. It's about the success you create for others - and, as a result, achieve.

It's What's In Back That Counts

There's a lot of talk about infrastructure these days.  Whether it's roads and bridges or teachers, firefighters and police - it's all about what's done behind the day-to-day life of most citizens.  It's the stuff we see but don't really notice...until either it's not there or it doesn't work.

Then it's a problem.

It's the same in your organization - only in your case those problems are occurring every day for all your employees. They've just learned to work around them.

That's because the infrastructure they're dealing with is everything from your...
  • organization's structure - which defines communication and information flow...
to your
  • policies and procedures - which directly impact efficiency and effectiveness...
to your
  • training and development - which is, ultimately, what your customers interact with every day...

and that's just hitting the high points.

When you think infrastructure, think about all the decisions you make and have made for your business that no one outside sees directly but everyone in the organization knows are there.

The good news is, when you focus on the infrastructure it becomes easy to figure out and change all those things that weren't working the way you want...because, predictably, the infrastructure became invisible to you, too.

The more you focus on the seemingly invisible, the more quickly and visibly you'll see the positive results in productivity and morale, customer satisfaction, innovation and profitability.

Google, Buffett and Succession - Making It Work

As I've written about before, succession planning is a key aspect of how you should be spending your time.  

Since writing the previous pieces, a lot of things have happened at two of the companies I find most interesting in this regard:  Google and Berkshire Hathaway.

At Google, Larry Page officially took over as CEO from Eric Schmidt.  At Berkshire, David Sokol, the 'prince in waiting' left the company under a cloud - and created an even larger cloud over Warren Buffett.

And, even with that, both companies continue to do an excellent, far-seeing job of dealing with succession - which makes it worthwhile to take a look at how.  We'll start with...
Google was on the way to losing its creative steam.  Not only that, it was losing people - mission critical people - at way too fast a rate.

Why?  Because it became just a bit too grown up.

When Google hired Eric Schmidt to be an "adult" it was the right decision.  Neither Sergey Brin nor Larry Page, the co-founders, knew how nor was ready to run an organization of the size and complexity that Google was becoming.  And that was ten years ago.

Now, however, two things have happened.

First, Schmidt's management style is no longer optimal for the company's next stage.

Schmidt is an 'organization guy.'  They's why he was brought in.  He needed to take an amazing technology and a lot of potential and build a working enterprise designed to design, deliver and grow.

That's exactly what he did.

Over time, however, it became too bureaucratic.  Even with its famous 20% Days (the pure R&D time given to each engineer each week), the decision-making became too bogged.  Especially in a larger culture - specifically the Silicon Valley - that not only prides itself but exists in many ways only because it's so nimble.

The company was losing that - right at the same time that Twitter and Facebook came on the scene. And there went the Googlers.

Second, over the past ten years, the co-founders have honed their skills and grown to be ready to take the company to what's next.

With Page having taken over as CEO, the culture of a start-up is being actively re-energized.  He began that process by restructuring the company so that there are now fewer layers between him and the product/service eco-systems he wants created.

Decision-making will be faster and the speed to market of innovations will increase substantially.

Brin, working to his strengths, is driving and overseeing those new technology developments.  And Schmidt, as Executive Chairman, is working to his strengths in all the outreach for future M&A, government relations at a time when the company is under particularly close scrutiny and building other external relationships the company needs.

This was well thought out, well planned and well executed.  It is succession at its best.

Which leads us to...

Warren Buffett is 80 years old.  He's in great shape but no one lives forever.  Buffett is not only aware of that for himself, but he also takes it very seriously when it comes to his company.

For years, in every Letter to Shareholders, Buffett has alluded to - and eventually directly addressed - the succession issue.  He had to.  It was what he owed his shareholders.

And, at $125K+ per share and a company sitting on, minimally $10bn+ in cash at any given time, I'd say that he was right in deciding it deserved his attention.  Wouldn't you?

In recent years, not only his thinking but also the specifics have been consistently brought to the fore.  In his case, one man cannot take on all the jobs he continues to successfully perform.  So, he's divided up his responsibilities into three (at least) positions.

Moreover, the company's Board is ready to move on whatever needs to be done as soon as the moment arrives - which they all hope will be years from now.

Best of all, in his most recent Letter, he included a memo that he biennially sends the CEOs of all the companies Berkshire Hathaway owns.  In that memorandum he specifically asks them to inform him, personally, of who they want to take over in case something happens to them.

Bravo, Buffett and the BH Board.  Bravo, Schmidt, Page and Brin, as well.

Succession is something you never leave to chance.  There are too many people's lives and livelihoods depending upon your fearlessness in addressing an issue no one ever wants to consider.

Take it on - and then, Bravo, you.


Letter to Shareholders 2010 (Berkshire Hathaway)