A Wonderfully Simple Principle

joe —  Tue 2-Mar-10 — 12 Comments
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You know those little pieces of advice that you love to tell others but forget to use yourself? I have one of those that recently made all the difference in the world for me and my family.

I was in a mentoring session with a dear friend when they explained to me that they weren’t feeling fulfilled in their role as a manager. After going through countless, complicated stories of unhappiness, I told them that there is a magic formula that I employ to determine if I am in the right job.

“Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.” – Steve Farber, The Radical Leap

No sooner had I uttered those words then the sound of something similar to 2000 pounds of brick crashing to the ground rang through my ears. I had forgotten to use my own advice. When I finally did, there, in perfect three part harmony stood the source of what had been brewing inside of me for the last several months.
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Do What You Love

This is what has been drilled into us for a long time. How do you know what you love? I love riding my bike, but I am pretty sure that I am not capable of doing that as a career. The one thing I have learned is I love doing things that align with my talents – the things that I do naturally well that others may struggle to do. This is the topic for a week’s worth of columns. If you don’t want to wait for those columns I strongly urge you to go out and pick up a copy of Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham. This will get you well on your way.

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In The Service Of People

It is my firm belief that we are called to serve. Servant leadership is in some form or another at the heart of all that I practice and teach. When you truly serve others you cast aside many of the things that tempt you to misuse your authority. When you serve others you take doing a good job to a whole new plane. You feel connected and of value to the world.

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Who Love What You Do

This is often the kicker. This doesn’t mean only work for people that love you. This means go find opportunities that when the job is done well is of demonstrable value to the person or company that you serve. To each of us this can mean many different things. The key is you have to see evidence that the recipient loves what you do.

In order to have this fulfilled you have to know who the people are that you are serving. This may be your team, your boss, your customer or all three. The key is that there must be an intimate link between the people you serve and the ones that love what you do. You get to define this. It is your happiness after all.

So I put the test to my past job situation.

  1. Do what you love – check.
  2. In the service of others – check.
  3. Who love what you do – hmmmm, not so much.

I was a part of a team that was created by a former leader that was no longer with the company. He viewed our role as critical to the success of the company. He truly loved and valued what we did. Once he left it became clear within a couple of months that his vision was not shared by others.

There is nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, when my former boss left we were having significant challenges as a company. I would hope that new leadership would want to change things. Of course we all want things to change in the direction of our interests and this was not the case in this instance. While I fundamentally disagree with discounting the value of what our team did, I do appreciate that changes needed to happen.

So when I finally took my own advice and applied the words I had often given, it was obvious. Two-thirds of a precept was not enough. I really needed that last piece. It was then that I knew I needed to change things, and I have – all because of this wonderfully simple principle.

Guess how I decided that the next job was right for me?

Today’s question
What litmus test do you use to know if you are being fulfilled in your work?

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  • http://reora.com Paul

    that’s really great. thanks!

    in my last ‘job’ situation my role was changed (i had no say in it) so i no longer loved what i did even though it was in service of others and they seemed to appreciate what i was doing. but i wasn’t happy and had to leave.

    i really like how you broke it down into the 3 component parts here.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Wish I could take credit for it. It’s one of a couple of really good points in Farber’s book. He does have a couple of really hit home ideas. I’m not a huge fan of the parable format that so many like these days, but the content is a home run.

  • http://www.andrewfuqua.com Andrew Fuqua

    That 3rd part is why I left ISS and Allure.

    What litmus test to use to know if you are being fulfilled? You need a litmus test? It’s always been pretty obvious to me I can feel it: unsettled, unsatisfied.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Good point. I think the reason this test works for me is it helps diagnose which part is broken. That way I know what is still working and start from there.

    • http://reora.com Paul

      Hi Andrew. I think we do need a litmus test, because sometimes it’s something internal to us and NOT the job… some people won’t be happy no matter what. :)

  • Rich

    The unsatisfied feeling is the tipoff for me too or just general crankiness about how my “silly” (insert yer own adjective) company is doing things. But, I like this breakdown approach since it provides a diagnosis that points towards solutions.

    I figured out that #1 wasn’t working for me at ISS. Then wandered to a situation where #1 and #3 were both broken. Escaped that, but #1 is still a challenge. #1 for me seems to have shifted over the years and now I need to hunt it down. Sigh…

    Thanks for the thoughts – maybe this framework will help sort things.

    • http://www.TheStrandedStarfish.com joe

      Rich, that is why I get frustrated when I see people in jobs that clearly don’t have #3 yet they don’t feel compelled to do something about it. Often it is as simple as changing groups. The opportunity cost of staying in a role that is not valued is high. It kills the spirit and all the potential that it holds.

      I love that crankiness is one of your markers. I find that my wife is a better judge of that than I am. She can see it much earlier than I see it in myself.

      Regarding #1 – I highly recommend the book by Buckingham cited above. It’ll give you a code to take an assessment about what your strengths are. I have worked with dozens of people that have taken this and the results have been quite powerful in their lives. I’d be happy to help you through the process if you decide to take that path.

  • Morey

    Makes alot of sense Joe. I’ve always boiled it down to “do you feel like you’ve accomplished something”. At the end of the day… literally & figuratively… I think people want to feel like they’ve spent their time working on something that is a tangible outcome… and be recognized for it either internally or by others. I think this ties into why it’s so important to have interests outside of your work… especially if you work in the sometimes intangible technology field. You can’t expect one thing to constantly provide that sense of accomplishment, so the diversification of interests helps to balance the ups and downs we all experience. The red flag for me is when the stuff you recognize at the end of the day has less and less to do w/ work.

  • http://reora.com Paul

    another job ‘assessment’ i heard years ago is: do you like the ‘work’, ‘people’, ‘money’? 2 out of 3 is reason to stay. 1 out of 3… move on.

  • http://www.chriscarpinello.com Chris Carpinello

    Daniel Pink’s latest book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” does a superb job of articulating a litmus test that I’ve unconsciously adopted over the years. He breaks it down into three categories: autonomy, mastery and purpose. It’s perhaps the most important book I’ve ever read and would recommend it to all executives, managers and workers.

    Dan Pink’s preso at TED: http://bit.ly/amsh7I

    I second Joe’s recommendation for Buckingham’s “Now Discover Your Strengths”. Definitely worth the read and performing the exercises.

    One other book I’d recommend if you’re contemplating a job change is Seth Godin’s “The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches When to Quit (And When To Stick)”. Easily read in an hour or two.

    • joe

      Excellent – I love the new recommendations. I´ve had Drive on my Kindle for a while and need to get down to reading it.

      I love Godin but I hadn´t heard of The Dip. Sounds like the next purchase.

      THanks Chris.

  • http://www.pricebonus.com/ Amy

    another job ‘assessment’ i heard years ago is: do you like the ‘work’, ‘people’, ‘money’? 2 out of 3 is reason to stay. 1 out of 3… move on.