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.

Secrets of Success: You're Not Alone

Today, as I was reading the truly excellent OpEd piece on the Business of Fashion site, I was reminded of what always struck me as the stupidest series of questions I almost invariably got when I was a C-level advisor talking with a new client. Here are the two versions of how it went:

Version 1:
Executive: Have you worked in our industry before?
Me: No.
Executive: Well, we're different.
Version 2:
Executive: Have you worked in our industry before?
Me: Yes.
Executive: Well, we're different.
Do you see a pattern here?

The thing that continued to amaze me - and does until this day - is the provincialism and insularity of each industry or company. Everyone thinks that what they're experiencing is different from what everyone else is experiencing.

They're wrong. And if you think that way, you're wrong, too.

Sure, there are nuances that are industry or company-specific. In fact, they're function-specific, if you want to get down to that level of detail - which, eventually, you do.

But to think that you're living in some sort of vacuum and can't learn from other industries about how to get over and beyond humps and hurdles is not only short-sighted, it's dangerous.

Granted, each industry goes through its own version of a set of problems that the industry has to solve for itself. Those within the industry that learn and grow fastest and best are the winners. The laggards either stay that way, have to work WAY harder than before to catch up or go out of business whether through M&A (if they're lucky) or closure.

What's always worth watching is how each industry is addressing, embracing and integrating the challenges it faces. That arc is your lesson.

That's why the Business of Fashion OpEd was so important. It talks about how the "businessmen" in both fashion and media have taken innovation out of fashion. How, by corporate ownership industrializing design to the point of sameness (for which read blandness), real creativity is either threatened, gone or only coming from the really courageous designers or those outside the mainstream industry.

Innovation is everyone's job in every industry and sector. From small, almost unnoticeable tweaks in how you do business to new product or service launches that change the world (or at least your industry), innovation is key to success.

So why wouldn't you read a piece focusing on the threats to innovation written about the luxe industry and fashion, in particular?

If you're smart, you would. In fact, if you intend to succeed, you will.

Don't be insular. Don't think you're different - at least not at first.

Start by knowing that others - before you and currently, in your industry and out - have and are facing the challenges that you face. Then be open to learning from them.

If you do, eventually they'll be learning from you.
Who Watches the Watchmen? (Business of Fashion)

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.

Secrets of Success: Calling It Quits

Jonathan Wright, our Leadership Quantified Expert in Business Development, takes a look at a subject near and dear to my heart: knowing when to cut your losses, make something that isn't working stop and move on to new successes. I've written about it before - and you've been great about commenting. Do the same for Jonathan. Even better, do what you need to do - with Jonathan's help.
When I first started writing what is now this post about calling it quits, I had intended it to be a Leadership Quantified Working Paper providing guidance to you on knowing when to pull the plug on a Marketing or Social Media Campaign. (I'll be writing about that too, but first this.) Due to circumstances, I decided to generalize the topic for any situation - professional or personal.

What were those circumstances? I fired an employee.

It turns out that managing staff is very much like managing a business plan - because the steps are surprisingly similar.

Let me summarize the situation - or at least my actions leading up to the firing:
  • I Coached and coaxed...
  • Met this employee in the middle (or tried)...
  • Reviewed what previous managers had done and how that had worked...
  • Took into consideration personal issues I knew existed that I assumed were part of the situation I was dealing with... 
  • Set myself outside my feelings and looked at the situation without emotion and, finally, 
  • Realized that sometimes you just cannot turn someone around. 
It's the same with a marketing or social media or sales plan. Sometimes you have to trash it all and move on.

I hate to admit that I failed. We all do. But to succeed you need two or more willing participants. If one of those participants is disengaged, you have no hope of winning.

Accept it and don't waste any more time or resources.

But how do you know when that time has arrived? We've all heard the Perseverance speech, the Never Give Up speech and the Try One More Time Even When You Just Can't speech. Yeah, I tried all those approaches and still...nothing.

I'm an eternal optimist - almost annoyingly so. I want so badly to make my plan work that I'm willing to push and push to get it accomplished. That's admirable to a point - until it's not and not taking the necessary steps becomes the problem. Yes, you, yourself,  become the problem - because you're not taking the actions necessary.

So, let's take a look at the three steps you need to take to know when to call it quits - whether you're dealing with a staff member or a plan (business, marketing or sales):

1. Review the Situation as It Currently Stands
  • Review the plan as strategized (Note: Every plan must have a timeline to measure against effectiveness)
  • Review the steps taken to implement and look for missed opportunities
2. If Missed Opportunities are Identified
  • Try those options/opportunities with a strict timeline
  • Review to see if the new options/opportunities had any impact
If Yes: Continue on that path
If No: Move to the next step
3. Do One Final Push to Succeed
  • Set a short timeline - no longer than one month 
  • At the end of that time period, review to see if any significant changes have occurred to the positive
If Yes: Revise the plan to adjust and adapt those positive outcomes for growth and expansion and continue
If No: Set a date - no longer than two weeks -  to pull the plug and implement a new plan.
Thanks to the internet, life moves at light speed - both personal and professional. Technology has given us the tools to track, monitor and measure every campaign, decision and post.

That makes wasting precious resources irresponsible - most importantly, time. At the end of the day, you're not helping yourself, your company or your plan.

There are clearly visible warning signs your plan might be failing, such as:
  • No changes in behavior or sales or marketing goals (i.e. 'Likes' on your Facebook page)
  • No willingness to take new direction
  • No willingness to engage in communications that the plan is failing
  • No metrics to measure success or failure
  • No timelines attached to milestones
  • No way to quantify engagement
  • No excitement over the plan or daily activities to execute the plan.
Sometimes a simple, small change in approach or messaging can make all the difference between success and failure. But without a mechanism built into your plan to measure those changes and a benchmark to say This is Success, how will you know if you're succeeding?

In my consulting practice, I'm profoundly confused by some executives' and business owners' refusals to set metrics for success along the way. They're "afraid" to set those milestones because they're afraid of this "new idea" or unsure "how to implement new media." Some flat out don't want to be able to label an effort a success or failure because they see that as a projection of their success or failure.

Not one of those excuses is a reason not to put appropriate measures into place.

Even freshman business students know that there's no "100% Success" plan. One product may have success and another similar product may try exactly the same plan and fail miserably. Hundreds of small details go into the formula and they determine success or failure. Some of them are concrete, but, often, they're gauzy intangibles like "tone" or "response time" or "personality" that there's no definable label for - but can make or break a campaign.

Ultimately the formula is the same no matter the situation:
  1. Make the plan then be willing to follow it. 
  2. If it's not working...take a deep breath and pull the plug. 
  3. After a brief mourning period - no more than a day - begin strategizing a new plan.
What you will find, much to your surprise, is a renewed energy around the situation and that, by knowing what didn't work, you and your team can concentrate on what did and how to build on that in new directions.
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The Secrets of Success: Stop Whining and Start Changing

A few years ago, I was in one of my clients' offices and saw a sign that looked like this:

Nice thought. Not going to happen - unless something changes. People. Processes. Something.

So, let's talk about whining and change for a moment.

The reason that you or others complain (hopefully not whine) is because you don't like what's going on. Things aren't clear or consistent or rational. Priorities keep changing. You don't think the priorities should be what they are. There are too many politics being played out - all to the detriment of the organization...and possibly your career.

It gets worse.

There are innovations that you and others keep talking about that you want to put into place - but no one listens.

There are products, services and ways of doing business that would make the company more successful, your job easier and your life, in general, more enjoyable - but no one listens to that, either.

Okay, here's the thing. If you find yourself - in your head or out loud - sounding anything like what you just read, it's time to change.

Dissatisfaction is an indicator. But it's on you to make sure that dissatisfaction doesn't escalate into misery - yours or others'.

It just means it's time to change. Because you want to. Because you don't want to be dissatisfied anymore.

Sure there are things you can't control - but, let's face it, the higher-ups in your organization don't have a clue about what you're doing anyway...otherwise they probably wouldn't have let things get into the shape they're in. (You hope.)

So, start changing things. Little things. Then bigger things. Don't wait for permission - and, seriously, don't wait for some sort of organizational initiative that promises the world. It won't deliver.

And, whatever you do, don't wait for or count on consultants. They're really not going to solve your problem.

It's on you. Just as you do at home - where you're CEO, CFO, COO, CTO, CIO and more - if you don't like it, change it.

Do it in increments. Try things. Get others to join in the fun.

Every time a whine occurs, say, "Yeah, fine, but what's the answer?" Then, with the whiner in tow, say, "Okay, so, how about if we try...? And, no, we don't have to go ask permission. They may say 'no.' Let's just fix it."

If they're game, good. That's someone you want to stick with. If they're not game, lose them. They enjoy whining. It makes them happy. So, get them out of your way.

Which leads us to the last part of this particular secret: Look at yourself objectively the next time you find yourself whining. Because you may be a happy whiner - in which case, get the hell out of everyone else's way.

You may be happy being miserable, but there are lots more folks out there who are most happy when they're engaged, fixing things and being rewarded for their efforts.