It's Time We Develop A New Relationship With Work

I've been following award winner, internationally acclaimed writer and speaker Tanveer Naseer for a while.  His wisdom and insight, put into language we can all understand and act upon, is a gift.  He generously let me post on his site earlier this month and I'm privileged to return the favor.  You can find more of Tanveer's sagacity on leadership and the workplace here, follow him on twitter @TanveerNaseer, and keep up on what he's thinking here.  Thank you, Tanveer!

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It's Time We Develop A New Relationship With Work 

Have you ever noticed how when someone tells us how they've been really busy with work, we automatically interpret this as being a bad thing?  Certainly, no one associates having a lot of work to do with sunshine, love, happiness or any other positive experience.

In many ways, this is a natural product of both our schooling and work experiences, where we're not guided and supported to use our genius, creativity, and talents in order to do the work we should do.  Rather, what is the more common experience is being funnelled through a system that puts us into neat slots like gears in a complex piece of machinery. 

When it comes to work, we've come to accept the concept of 'no pain, no gain' as being the proper route to success and prosperity.  That we need to tough it out in the hopes that – someday – we might finally be able to do what we want to do because we've 'paid our dues'.

To make matters worse, even if we are lucky enough to do work we enjoy, that sense of satisfaction tends to be short-lived as we're rarely given the space to grow and evolve, with the freedom to make mistakes without being blackballed a failure and someone no longer worthy of development or the attention of those in charge.

And so, we inevitably hunker down, hoping that someday our ship will come in as a reward for all the sacrifices we've made, and we'll finally get to live the life we always wanted and do the work that we've dreamed about doing all those many years ago.

No doubt this is why so many insurance and retirement planning companies rely on images of retired couples lounging on a boat off some tropical island, or taking up salsa dancing lessons before enjoying a night on the town. 

In each instance the message is clear – we can live the life we really want . . . but only after we've committed to giving the best part of our lives today to doing work that might not be what we had planned or should be doing.

In this light, it's not too surprising why we've created a negative connotation around the word 'work', whether it's as a verb or a noun.

Of course, there's a truth that we need to come to terms with if we are to truly succeed and thrive – both professionally and personally – and that is that we're not making sacrifices.  We're making choices.  Bad choices.  Safe choices.  Choices that those around us tell us are the 'smart' ones to make, but are often not the best ones for us to choose.

I know I've made a few of those in my past – choices I made to help pay the bills while waiting for that opportunity that I really wanted to show up.  And that's where we fall into the trap, because while we may have accepted these choices as temporary, they soon become the work we do and the life we live because we stop looking for that path that we were meant to take; of reconnecting with the work we were meant to do.  We give up on such dreams in favour of pragmatism and familiarity; of sticking to what we know instead of what we need.

To be clear, this isn't about simply 'doing what we love'.  It's about learning to love what we do because it provides us with a sense of fulfilment.  That our work becomes more than simply a means of survival and living, but a way for us to employ our talents, our genius, and our creativity and drive towards something meaningful and purpose-driven.

While the growing levels of anxiety, fear and stress we see in today's workplaces are partly due to the prevailing uncertainties surrounding the global economy, it is also a manifestation of that disconnect between what we do and why we do it

And it's becoming clear as we move further into this century that this approach to our careers and lives is no longer sustainable; that we've reached a tipping point where people can no longer be expected to feel happy or fulfilled by working to live.  Instead, we need to shift the paradigm to one where people live to work.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the sole reason for our lives is our work; that answering the typical question 'what do you do for a living' serves to define the sum total of our existence.  Rather, it means that we need to be more mindful in ensuring that the work we do is aligned with our internal compass that guides us to finding our purpose and our ability to contribute meaningfully. 

That as much as we're helping our organization to attain its shared goals, we're also performing work that helps us to achieve a sense of purpose – that what we contribute matters and is meaningful beyond our sphere of influence.

In the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egyptologists have found carved in the stone blocks the names of some of the work teams that helped to build this monument.  The carvings were never meant to be seen by others.  Instead, they were made simply to demonstrate the workers sense of accomplishment and purpose that they derived from the simple, but back-breaking work of hauling these large stones into place.

Their example serves as a testimony that we don't need to 'have it all' to feel a sense of fulfilment or achievement.  Rather, all that's required is our willingness to no longer play it safe or waiting until later to commit our creativity, our passions and our dreams to that which not only creates meaning for others, but which also instills a sense of purpose and fulfilment within ourselves.

Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and speaker.  He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with managers and executives to help them develop leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development, while ensuring they remain focused on what creates a fulfilling sense of purpose in what they do.

You can read more of his writings on leadership and workplace interactions on his blog at TanveerNaseer.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter - @TanveerNaseer.

Create Career Sustainability One “Tweak” At a Time

I am blessed & honored to have Cali Yost guest blog.  The New York Times calls her “one of the smartest, sophisticated thinkers” and Mashable lists her as 1 of the Top 14 Career Experts on Twitter.  Personally, Cali has helped me achieve work+life fit! Not an easy task and an ongoing process.  I urge you to read her post and buy her book.  It will make a big difference in your life.
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A couple of years ago, Sharon’s financial research team moved to another bank.  It was a difficult and stressful period.  Everyone logged long hours and frequent business trips across multiple time zones.

They did it because what mattered most, at the time, was that their team stayed together and made the transition a success.  But now, as Sharon explained when I met with her recently, “The leadership team is literally falling apart and we are only in our mid 40’s.”

“My two direct reports, who have been with me for over ten years, are having the most trouble.  One has migraine headaches that are so severe that, once or twice a week, he’s either late or doesn’t come in at all.  The other is in the midst of a messy and distracting divorce.”

She continued, “I am trying to be patient. I don’t want to let either of them go.  I’ve already lost too many valuable people. We have been through a lot together and they help me run the business.  I’ve tried to give them the work flexibility they need to deal with their issues.  I am hopeful, but I need a life too.”

“I can’t help but wonder what we could have done differently.  At the time, it seemed as if we had no choice but to give everything we had to work.  Looking back, the pace was unsustainable.  We are all paying the price now.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure what the alternative would have been. ”  Then she stopped and looked at me, “Was there an alternative?”

Sadly, Sharon and her team are not alone.  Leaders in today’s competitive, 24/7, global economy easily fall into an “all work, all the time” trap.  It may seem to make perfect sense at the time.  But, ultimately, it undermines the very career longevity and success they are trying to achieve, personally and for their team. 

The “all work, all the time” behavior of leaders sets the tone for the rest of the workplace.  It makes it difficult for others to confidently take the lead and manage their responsibilities on and off the job.

I explained to Sharon that small shifts in how the team approaches work and life will help them recover from and avoid the trap in the future. 

In my new book, TWEAK IT: Make What Matters to You Every Day (Center Street/Hachette) I share how to build a solid foundation of everyday well-being and order in the face constantly competing demands.  The steps include:

Take deliberate action in the areas that sustain your health, personal relationships, career networks, job skills and life maintenance, or they won’t happen.  Fifteen years ago, before mobile phones and the Internet, you could put in a 10-hour workday, go home and focus uninterrupted on other parts of your life.  No more.  You need to put up the boundaries.  My research shows that most of us still haven’t quite grasped this fact. 

Openly encourage work+life “fit,” not balance.  Say the words “work-life balance” and leaders immediately laugh, roll their eyes and throw up their hands like they’ve heard the most ridiculous joke.  In their minds, a 50-50 split between work and life is never going to happen.  So why bother. 

But work+life “fit” is not only possible.  It is a must.  It’s about finding the fit between your work and life based on your current realities on and off the job.  If there’s a lot of work right now, fine.  In that context, what could you do to get some sleep, eat healthfully, move your body, connect with your loved ones or whatever you need to do to be fresh and your best?  That’s your fit.

Follow the simple, weekly TWEAK IT practice.  It helps you harness the power small, deliberate actions, or “tweaks,” that makes a big difference.  Look at your work and personal “to do s” for the week. What’s missing? What do you want more of, and less of? What do you want to continue? Write the small actions in the areas that matter to you right now on your calendar and priority list.  Get to bed early one night.  Have dinner with your partner and don’t check your phone. Attend a class to learn a new skill, or plan a long weekend away.  It doesn’t take much, but over time, these moments add up.

Communicate with, collaborate with and cover for each other so that what matters at work and in life gets done, flexibly and creatively.  For example, after the team returns from a business trip, take turns working from home one day.  Instead of commuting that day, pay your bills.  Walk your dog.  Catch your breath.  This coordination is especially important in businesses with global clients.  Create a time zone coverage schedule so everyone gets periodic breaks from late night calls and emails. 

Don’t seek perfection.  If you achieve 70% of the small actions that matter to you, it’s better than 0%.  You may miss lunch with a friend because of an important work call, but the point is that you made a conscious choice.  You deliberately, and intentionally chose whether or not you will take that call or miss that lunch.  Rather than having it not happen by default. 

If Sharon and her team follow these steps, they won’t fall into the “all work, all the time” trap again and would still get the job done.  In our highly mobile, always on, 24-7 society, business success must include career sustainability.  We create it together one small, deliberate, imperfect “tweak” at a time. 

What small actions matter the most in your everyday work+life fit?

To take the lead and start managing your everyday work+life fit, read TWEAK IT: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day. Track your “tweaks of the week” on your mobile device with the “My Tweaks” tracker on the www.tweakittogether.com site.  

Igniting the Invisible Tribe

I’m privileged to have one of the very first, hot off the press, copies of Josh Allan Dkystra’s new book, Igniting the Invisible Tribe. It is about a new way of business and work for the 21st Century.  It’s a fabulous, must read book on how the world of ‘work’ can, and should, evolve and what we can do, with practical real questions to answer, to make that happen.  4 things are particularly remarkable to me in the book:

  1. The book itself – the physical book
  2. Unusual and powerful analogies
  3. New Rules
  4. Tools

The Book.  Josh’s new book is one of the reasons I think e-books are great, but will not replace the real thing.  The “architecture” of the book drives its message home by its design, flow, breaks, artwork, phrasing, spacing, footnoting style, even the texture of the cover.  It’s not a typical business book and I found myself not only enjoying the “what” of the book but the overall experience of reading the physical book itself.  This greatly enhances the book’s message and importance – it makes the need for changing how and why we work in the 21st Century more palpable and real.

Analogies: I love analogies so perhaps I’m a bit more critical of the usual mundane analogies that get used to portray the need for change in the 21st Century.  Josh’s analogies capture the essence of the shift that is underway and needs to be increased in speed and depth:

  • Revolution as a complete cycle – e.g., a trip around the sun.  If you think of it in these terms, it’s a natural progression of cycles, creating and breaking traditions and evolving beyond the status quo – it’s a revolution that is also a revolution – and if we stop, and don’t complete the revolution, we are indeed stuck in the status quo.
  • Mosaics – the need for the pieces to make the whole, the different ways you see it from up close to farther away – the various perspectives you get when you look at it from different angles and depths highlighting the fact we see it from our own individual and collective perspectives make a mosaic a perfect symbol.  We need every piece of the mosaic to make it whole and complete – no piece, regardless of size, shape, color, pattern is less significant or needed.  This is especially important, and frankly poignant, in Rule 3 (see below).

Rules:  Josh has 5 rules for the new world of business,

  • Rule 1: Start with Why – rarely do we question why we do things (makes me think of us as sheep – just following the shepherd blindly).  Why do we work? To make money – why? To buy the things we need and want.  Fundamentally, we should be working because it “is valuable to us and valuable to society.”  If we feel our work is valuable, it will energize us and fill us up instead of sucking the life out of us.  Stop and think – would the world miss your company if it weren’t around?
  • Rule 2: Build a Mosaic – we have spent the last century breaking things down into micro-level parts – like atoms, neutrons, etc.  This isn’t bad as long as you can still see the whole – but we haven’t.  The reason for many of our ‘wicked problems’ today is that we’ve focused on the micro instead of the macro – we’ve lost sight of the big picture.  The pieces have owners but who owns the whole?  The new economy’s value is in the mosaic – in seeing how the pieces connect and interact.  It’s in the blending of the science of deconstruction (or destruction?) with the art of recombination – what I call innovation.  It’s an AND, not a false dichotomy of either/or.
  • Rule 3: Dignify the Detail Doers: Respect and Dignity pretty much sum up how we should treat people no matter what.  Let’s face it, we may be friendly to janitors but do we really view them as equals? As ‘as good as’ us? What about people who are very different from us? They are ‘interesting’ – but, nah, not ‘as good as’ us.  Each person is a potential collaborator and a human being – maybe it’s time we started to view him or her accordingly.
  • Rule 4: Make like a Shark and Swim – this rule really hit me.  We are all in businesses where the market or customer segments we serve are changing all the time.  So how is it that we haven’t thought to change how we are structured to align ourselves with these markets and customers? Amazing when you stop and think about it, isn’t it?  Josh uses the example of a book – we don’t re-read a page, we read the next one and next one.  But for some reason, we’ve kept on the same page in business.  The fact is, humans resist change so organizations do too.  And because of that, they not only resist, they aren’t organized to absorb and adapt to change.  Guess what? The Gen-Y & Z’ers expect change – it’s all they’ve ever known.  We better get with it or they’ll never share their talent with us.  Life and work and business are an eternal experiment – we have our hypotheses, we test them, learn, apply and iterate, if we are successful.  Otherwise we die.  That’s the theme of the Lean Startup movement as well.  So see, the Scientific Method still applies.
  • Rule 5: Be Connected, Human and Meaningful – as a Network-o-Phile, I love this rule.  We need to connect to others inside and outside our organizations – at all levels – with our partners, suppliers, customers, their customers etc.  And we need to be human – not super-human, not artificial, but genuine and authentic.  Bill Taylor challenged us to be more human in his BIF8 talk this past September.  And finally, work has to have meaning – it must benefit someone in some way at some point instead of merely be a means of making money - even if you are ‘just’ the janitor.  Josh’s discussion of giving our discretionary time to our organization reminded me of Dan Pink’s “non-commissioned work” BIF7 talk – that for 2 physicists led to a Nobel Prize.

Tools: Josh concludes the book by providing 6 tools to help us create the new world of ‘work’.  Again, a few of them were significant for me:

  • Architects & Builders: instead of leaders and followers, which imply hierarchy, power, authority and subservience, what if we called people architects (designers, ‘big thinkers’ etc.) and builders (makers, doers)?  We need both – equally – and using this language starts making the inherent need for human and customer-centered design front and center.  It applies to virtual and physical, it lifts both up to their true value without diminishing their roles.  I love this!  The change in language is so very powerful, symbolic and visual
  • G-d is in the Details:  A parody on the Devil is in the Details to stress the positive side of details – we need people who worry about details, they matter.  Even little ones can make a huge difference in an organization’s culture and environment – just think of what you are saying when you have to put a code into the copy machine? When you have parking spaces reserved for the C-suite?  And imagine if you had people who worried about making it easier for you to do your job? Amazing, huh?  One of the huge ‘ahas’ for me in this tool is the natural vs. ‘forced’ shift to focus on leading indicators instead of trailing indicators.
  • The Pyramid vs. The Bridge:  This image was visceral for me.  The pyramid is a great work – created by a dictator (Pharaoh) and executed by slaves.  Talk about command-and-control!  It’s pretty much up and down.  A bridge on the other hand provides more flexibility in terms of design – there are many ways to design and build a bridge.  It spans different locations, cultures, organizations, encourages Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects (RCUS), and relies on all parts contributing to the integrity of the bridge.  It’s a place to bring people, ideas, solutions together, collaboratively.
  • Drawing Better Lines: All the lines we’ve drawn have been linear, predictable and clear.  No more.  We’ve measured outputs – like revenue and profit, not outcomes – like “customer WOW”.  Josh points out that our organization’s budgets reflect our organization’s values and morals (just like our calendars and checkbooks reflect our personal values).  We need to draw the lines so they encourage value creation – at individual and organizational levels.  This is far far from trivial.
  • Fewer Armies, More Orchestras: Josh proposes a new type of organizational structure that can quickly adapt to and leverage change, led by a conductor, just like one for an orchestra, who conducts the Builders and the Architects.  Imagine the music that could be made!  Have you noticed, when you’re at a concert, you’re usually not (or shouldn’t be) doing anything else but listening, and if you enjoy that music, you’re enthralled with and in it? What if your organization could make that same kind of ‘music’ for your customers? What if they were enthralled – Wowed – with and in it? Big difference huh?

Well, I didn’t mean to go on quite so long in this book review, but I couldn’t help myself.  This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time – on many levels.  It’s a simple and profound read – one that should hopefully encourage you to look at your own organization and see how you can make “work not suck.”  Think you can? You’ll never know if you don’t try.