It seems easier during the holiday season to remember the all-important truth: It’s not about you. But while writing our book Evolutionaries: Transformational Leadership we found that those leaders who adopt this frame of mind year around in their approach to leadership are much more capable of facilitating transformational change and accomplishing great things.
As people across the country continue to struggle in this slow economic recovery, I see daily posts on social media networks offering advice on how to write eye-catching resumes, better promote yourself, impress recruiters in interviews, and land the job. And a lot of it is great stuff. But I can’t help thinking there is something missing in these messages – that the real secret to landing a great job, excelling at something you love, and reaching your highest potential in your life’s work is to shift your focus away from yourself. I know, it sounds crazy…
As speakers and facilitators, my co-author Randy Harrington and I are constantly asked to write “professional bios” designed to promote ourselves and our topics. We’re asked questions like: “What makes your topic interesting?” and “How would you describe your speaking style?” Even more often, we hear requests like: “Can you make your title more catchy?” and “We want a lot of pizazz! Can you make it humorous and motivational?” It’s easy when you make a living operating in the dog-and-pony-show world of public speaking to focus on yourself – your message, your style, your jokes, your clothes, how you need to lose more weight, and the really big one – whether or not your PowerPoint slides are flashy enough to leave people stupefied with awe and wonder.
I admit that I spent years really caught up in all that stuff. And don’t get me wrong, those things are important. But they are just the icing on the cake – not the cake itself. And definitely not a wholesome and healthy meal! But, everything changed for me, my career and the people I serve the day I re-framed how I saw my “job”. Instead of approaching a presentation, speech or session asking: “Will they enjoy this?” “Will they like me?” “Will they think I’m funny and entertaining?” I started asking: “What do they really need?” “Where are their pain points?” and “How can I help?” Instead of hoping that participants would leave saying: “Wow, she was great! She sure does a lot of cool stuff!” they would leave saying, “Wow, we are great – our team is great! We could do some really cool stuff!” I started to see my job as less about me and more about the audience, the participants, and the organizations.
I noticed the same kind of shift in thinking was present in the Evolutionary leaders we studied for our book. We found that as leaders progressed on the Evolutionary path, they started to pay more attention to the power of facilitating the success and potential of others to accomplish great things rather than to their own career trajectory. In this shift, Evolutionaries begin to think of their role not in terms of “what can I do in this job or for this company” but instead “how will what I participate in now matter several generations down the road?” They started to think in terms of the legacy of an organization or community and were often comfortable thinking well outside of their own life spans. They saw the work they did almost as a part of a great relay race – this life about running only one leg. To look generations backward and generations ahead is to truly understand the way in which one’s lifetime is a very small part of the story that we are playing a role in. And only in reaching our highest potential will we realize how small we actually are.
OK, yeah yeah, that got a bit deep for a second.
Let’s get back to jobs. Job security comes into play here too, as the world will always be in need of coaches, team-builders, leaders and guides for change. You will find that you are offered a constant stream of projects, even in tough times (maybe especially in tough times) because of your strong skills in bonding people together to solve problems, drive innovation and make ideas a reality.
But the biggest shift this sort of re-framing offers is that you no longer think of your work in terms of the “job” you have or the title you hold. Seeing our work as part of a larger, more inter-connected endeavor helps us rise above any job description or position – as what we do becomes our life. In Evolutionaries, we note that this way of being is not the same as becoming a “workaholic,” though it can look similar to outsiders. What it means is that you are always operating in the state of pursuit of your life’s work – you know your purpose and its impact. Everything in life is a teaching and learning moment; all experience is adding to the vast and complex tapestry. You no longer have the experience of fear and intimidation around change. You are comfortable and ready for even the most unexpected of circumstances because you trust your responses to and endurance for change. And most of all, you know “It’s not about you.” You are facilitating the development of others, you are not developing them. You are creating an environment where transformational change is more likely to happen in the world, but you are not a “change-maker.” You are the master of your ego.
Woops, it got a little deep again, sorry…
I’ll leave you with this heartfelt shout out to all of our Evolutionaries and friends of Evolutionaries – Happy Holidays and thanks for reading!