Understanding What You Have To Offer

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I like to think of people as bottom-less reservoirs of unrealized potential. Sort of like Hermione's handbag in the Harry Potter stories. Her handbag is useful because literally everything can fit in it, from a complete camp site to a huge broad sword.

The reality is that most of us don't see ourselves this way ... as full of unrealized potential. 

We are not even sure we know what we can do well, much less the difference we can make every day.

In this post, we are going to change all that.

Do you have paper and pen handy?

You are going to want to write down some things as we go along.

Change and Transition

Change for most of us, today, is a way of life. It isn't always as we expect it either. In some cases, the change is just the slow decline of all that we thought was good and hopeful when we were younger.

You can see it when people talk about their work. It is something to endure. It is as if the job's purpose and their idealism left them a long time ago. They still get up every morning, drive to work, and go through the necessary activities to do the work. But, it isn't a happy picture of the good life for many people.

Add in a global recession that may become a way of life for many people, and it is easy to understand how we can lose touch with the things that matter. Especially the talent, the skills, the passion and the unrealized potential that is who we are. We carry them around inside of us everyday, just like the stuff in Hermione's handbag, that has the potential of enriching every place we touch,and every person we encounter every day.  

So what do you do when this is not your situation, like it happen to one of my friends, who found himself out of his dream job after 40 years, and is definitely not ready to retire?

These are two sides of the same coin. Both the person who has lost their passion and purpose for work, and the person whose work lost him, need to understand who they are, distinct enough from their workplace, so that a picture of their unrealized potential can begin to be drawn.

The first thing we need to determine is "What do I have to offer to the world?"

Say that to yourself.

What do I have to offer the world?

Say it out loud if you want, emphasizing the "doing" of the offer.

What do I have to offer the world?

Write the sentence down. Look at it again.Think of your hands open extended out in front of you. In your hands is what you have to offer. It is the gift that you give to people, organizations and places that makes a difference that matters.

Now imagine that every day you climb out of bed to offer to the world all the unrealized potential that you have been storing up in the Hermione's handbag of your life. 

We are, now, beginning see that our unrealized potential is not some abstract value, but something real that we have to offer. Something tangible that can make a real difference in the world. We are recognizing here that we have within our own abilities the power to bring change that creates goodness wherever I am, even at work.

To learn what we have to offer is a process of self-discovery. It leads to a realization of all that we have been storing away, out of sight, out of mind, down deep in Hermione's handbag all these years.  It is all we've learned, gained and developed in the way of knowledge and experience over the course of our lifetime.  The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide
Five Questions

, I sat down with my friend who lost his job and talked him through the Five Questions That Every Person Must Ask.

After 40 years of doing the same job, it is understandable that we don't know really know what we know, and we need help getting down into Hermione's handbag to find out what we have to offer.

To understand this is to see that we are not what we do.

We are what we desire to change, the impact that becomes the validation of who we are.

This is what we offer, our gifts, talents, wisdom and experience to make a difference that is an expression of the very best of who we are.

Now, let's answer the Five Questions.

Transition

The first question asks what has changed. If you are out of a job, then the answer is easy. If you are at a dead end in the work you are currently doing, then you need to reflect a bit more on how things got this way.

It is important to see that our lives are a long progression of changes that has an inner logic. To see the rationale behind the changes in our lives is to understand how we are always in transition from where we were to where are going to be.

Write down what helps you to understand what this sequence of change looks like. It is a reference point for understanding what you've been going through. Keep what you write down, and the benefit of seeing this transition will grow over time.

If you are in a hard spot right now, go back in time as far as it takes to that point when you were happy in your work. Because when you were, you were fulfilling some of the unrealized potential that you have. Remember fulfillment is happiness.

Impact

It is a simple question. What is my impact?

It may be the hard to answer because it forces us to look at the world differently.

So, think in terms of what is the impact that you'd like to create? Put yourself back in your old job or back when you were the happiest in your work, and then ask, What is the impact that I had then?

Don't be too analytical. Keep it simple.

Who are you impacting?

You need two lists of people.

Create a list of those people whom you believe were impacted by your work and relationship with them.

Contact them to discover what it was that made the difference.

Create a list of people whom you know who can provide you connections to people and fields of work that are currently not open to you.

Follow these steps.

Ask, who do I know?

Ask, who do they know that I don't know that I need to know?

Contact your list to set up a conversation.

Share with them the impact that you'd like to achieve.

Ask them, who do you know that you think I should know?

Ask, are you willing to make an introduction for me?

Go to see these people, repeat the process.

Opportunity

When you go talk to people, don't go looking for a job. Go looking for an opportunity to make a difference with the assets that you bring to the business.

Think ... I'm looking for opportunities to create impact.

Your opportunities are not limited to the work and occupations that you have had in the past. By understanding what you offer, you can demonstrate how they can be applied in many more situations than you can imagine.

Obstacles / Problems

Let's be honest with ourselves. Often the loss of a job is the product of our own failure to do what we needed to do to stay current in our field or demonstrate the value of the impact that we bring to the company.  As a result, there may be obstacles or problems that stand in your way of fulfilling the opportunity that you see before you.

Don't sit around paralyzed by guilt and regret. Neither will bring the next job or the good life. Get to work on resolving the issues that hold you back so that you are prepared for the next opportunity to make a difference.

The Offering

Knowing what we have to offer the world is an important step of bringing fulfillment to the unrealized potential that fills our Hermione's handbag. What we have to offer is our gift. When we give it, the impact is magnified because the spirit of the gift strengthens the environment of the relationship and organization.

Our offering of service to create impact distinguishes us from those who are simply looking for a job. By giving of ourselves, we create the conditions for goodness to be realized for the companies and clients we serve, and for our own sense of well-being to be fulfilled.

The steps above are simple. Believing that we have something to offer is hard. I hope that this process is helpful. If you need more specific help, just let me know.


What is Good?

Moran-sunrise -KathrynMapesTurner Moran-Sunrise by Kathryn Mapes Turner

This is the question that was the basis for the only philosophy course I took in college. The course, Philosophy of Art, I had hoped would explore the artist impulse that people have to create. And to be able to define what distinguishes a good piece of art from one that isn't.

Unfortunately, the course was neither about art nor how to distinguish what is good. Instead, it was a course in semantics, of how one talks about art, and why art can't be defined.

It wasn't that the professor spent portion of every class denigrating people who had religious faith. It was rather that we talked around subjects, never about them, and therefore never reaching a point of understanding or resolution.

He would take a seemingly innocent or benign idea, like goodness, and through a process of analytical reductive reasoning show us how there is no true idea of goodness. This simple and effective tactic left most of us in the class scratching our heads about what the class was about rather than questioning what we believed about anything.

For probably ten years, I would occasionally dream about this professor. Dream about us debating in class, and me changing his mind. I don't think the professor was so clever to think that he'd make philsophers of us all by tearing down our belief systems. Rather, I think he was convinced that truth could be understood in the analysis of language. And yet, that truth was not true in a values or universal sense, but true to the use of the words in that context.

I think he was an intellectual nihilist, yet did not live that way. He believed in something, and for him it was his art and athletic endeavors. It was what he truly valued. And I'm convinced they gave him a social context of friendship through which universal values were evident in their interaction.

What I understand today is that my professor's approach to understanding could not produce a kind of understanding that is whole, but rather small and fragmented. 

As a kid, did you ever take a part a toy, and then try to put it back together, only to have some parts remaining? The toy is something whole. Something more than the sum of its parts. Language is something whole, more than grammar and patterns of word usage.  

Say the word tide, and it conjures up a range of images. But you don't know what I mean. If I add high or roll to it, two very different images come to mind. The words are parts. Sentences, paragraphs, essays, chapters, and books are wholes. Not necessarily complete wholes, but some whole none-the less.

Art Loeb - Pisgah trailsTo describe the whole of something, or to describe an object as good, is not to describe its parts, but something else. 

For example, this image is of a portion of a map of the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. For many of you, it is just lines, shading, markers and names. You can tell it is a map, but it doesn't go much further than that.

The map can serve as a guide, an introduction, to what a person can find here on a visit.  Come this summer, you can visit the Fish Hatchery or swim in the cold waters at Sliding Rock or hike up to John's Rock. Each place is represented on the map. Each a place that has meaning for people who visit here.

For those of us who have spent time here, the map is much more. It is a visual connection point to memories and images of places, people, situations and experiences that we've had in locations noted on the map.

For example, just off the map image there is a place call Mt. Hardy.  Seen at the center of this picture.  Mt Hardy from Devils Courthouse 1 On the map, it is just a name of one of hundreds of peaks to climb. Yet, on a June night in 2003, it was a place of fascination and horror, as we watched lightning flash and strikes all around as a group of us camped.

The place on the map represents more than a name. It is something whole and complete, because we experienced it as more than a name on a map. It is a place that will forever stay with those of us who camped there that night.

When we say something is good, we are not trying to analyze its component parts to identify what makes it good. We are saying something about the whole of the object.

I'm convinced that human thought is rationalized emotion. We feel something, and our words provide us a way to connect with those deeper parts of our lives that we know exist, but have a hard to time expressing. We use things like maps and art to provide a connection between those parts of us that are only understandable as something whole and complete.

When we talk about what is good, we are talking about values that capture for us something whole and often times something that is greater than us. These connections, to me, represent the emergent reality that I wrote about here. We are not just our thoughts or just our emotions. We are not just a bank of talent or a fulfiller of tasks along an assembly line. We are whole beings who cannot be understood in any complete way by analytical reduction. Our wholeness rather is understood as unrealized potential within a particular setting. Wyoming When we look at a work of art, like this painting of Wyomng, that I found online many years ago, we can get really close and look at the technique of the artist, the picture fades and the brush strokes emerge. Then step back, and the picture takes on its wholeness again.

What is good about this painting can be described on many levels. There is the technique. The thematic material. The use of color and perspective. But all those are only parts of the picture. When they are all combined together, do they create a painting that we can say is good? Possibly, but it has a lot to do with the values that we bring to the experience.  And our values are products of our interaction with people in society.

I believe that our lives can be like this painting. Excellent in the execution of the brush strokes and use of color, but even more significant because of the picture itself. When we find wholeness in our life and work, we are more than the sum of activities that we do each day.  We become a work of art whose life and work is good. Create Goodness picture

When the Five Actions of Gratitude appeared in my mind one morning driving through northern Mississippi, this is the sort of thing I saw in the fifth action, Create Goodness.  A couple quotes from my Weekly Leader column.

The ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle taught his students that “every action and pursuit is considered to aim at some good….what is the highest of all practical goods? … It is happiness, say both ordinary and cultured people; and they identify happiness with living well or doing well.” By this he means that the actions born from our individual initiative, through our relationships, in our work and the daily course of our lives aim at goodness, defined as happiness or living or doing well in life and work. ...

Contemporary philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in describing Aristotle’s thought on this point wrote,  “ What then does the good for… (humanity) … turn out to be? … It is the state of being well and doing well in being well … . “ The word that Aristotle uses is eudaimonia (eu-day-mo-knee-a), traditionally translated as goodness. Its meaning is much more complex that simply as an adjective for describing a piece of pie or last Sunday’s football game. It touches on ideas related to fulfillment, human flourishing, happiness and completeness. The good person is one whose whole life is an integrated combination of thought, feeling, initiative, interaction, and action, resulting a good life or good work, or a better product, community or world.

What is Good?

It is a life that is complete and whole, fulfilled, meaningful and makes a difference that matters. The good life is a complete and happy life.  It is a life connected to others just as their lives are connected to ours. And when we find that completeness, our lives are like a painting that evokes values that create goodness and elevate the lives of others. We also become like a map which is a reference point, an example, of what is possible, and for those who know that we have become a reminder of what the experience of a complete life is like.


The Subverting of Hierarchy

Emotions - 382031318_17f9632b01
 

A decade ago The Cluetrain Manifesto was released as a prescient picture of what we are now coming to understand as the future that is fast becoming the present.

The Cluetrain authors, in a revolutionary style reminiscent of Martin Luther's 95 theses nailed to the Wittenberg church door starting the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, posted 95 theses on the nature of organizations, markets and life in the age of the Internet. The entire book is available free online here.

The seventh Cluetrain thesis - Hyperlinks subvert Hierarchy - makes a point about information flow and access to that flow. A hyperlink like this one takes you to some other place in the online world. In this case, the main page at Wikipedia, but it could be any one of a billion different places. This ability to access information places power in the hands of people that we previously did not have.

Recently I heard Manuel Lima speak on the visualization of networks. You can follow his exploration of this topic at his blog Visual Complexity

Manuel Lima - VC - human knowledge

In his presentation he compared the French Encyclopedia of the 18th century with Wikipedia. As you can see from this slide from his presentation, the growth of information in our time is staggering. This growth of information and our access to it is forcing organizations to change.  From this one picture you can see how we now truly live in the Information Age.

Hyperlinks may subvert hierarchy but that is not replacing hierarchy. Reading Clay Shirky (See his recent book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations) may lead to the idea that we will see corporations go away, though he doesn't say this. In its place, we will all be self-organized into online social networks linked by our own hyperlinked profiles and communication means. This is already happening, but it is not replacing the traditional hierarchical organization.

For example, the free e-book, Managing Morale in a time of change is a product of the very phenomenon that both Cluetrain and Shirky identify.

The larger picture is something a bit different from simply being the end of formal organizations and the rise of communal structures. Instead, we are seeing a shift towards social influence that is more significant than simply the subverting of hierarchy.

Since humankind began to create communities and stop wandering as hunter/gatherers, hierarchy has formed as the power base of all organizations. Read Homer and the Old Testament history of the early Hebrews, there were always persons who held power and authority in a hierarchical structure that secured power and created order for their society. The difference between one lord and another lord was often (1.) the strength of their military defensive power and (2.) their moral vision that created either a just, prosperous society or not.  This is what we know of as organizational hierarchy up to this very day. It is the nature of hierarchical power that is at the center of the debate about healthcare today.

What Cluetrain, Shirky and many others point to is the realization that hierarchy's claim upon our lives has been loosened. I characterize this change as the end of a kind of institutionalism that is rigid and not adaptable, followed by the rise of social connection as the organizing principle of organizations. The hierarch doesn't really go away. It is rather transformed from within, and has been for at least a generation as the complexity and speed of life in organizations has grown.

Hierarchy of  Structure
Hierarchy creates order from top to bottom. Power resides in a graduated scale with greater power held by the few at the top, down through the organizational structure to lesser power held by the many at the bottom.

These vertically integrated structures existed for millennia on the control of the lower levels of organization. Control of access to information, resources and opportunity were some of the ways that hierarchy functioned.

In a time where most people were undereducated to their potential, and where the skills required to produce things were simple and repetitive, hierarchy worked. It is what made the industrial revolution so productive. In this instance, the worker in a hierarchical structure was only as free as their income allowed them to be. Dreams of wealth and advancement were not most peoples' privilege. Yet, beginning in the 15th and 16th centuries this began to change as exploration of the world, and tools for communicating ideas began to spread to the masses.

In our day it is hard to imagine a world without easily available reading material. However, prior to Gutenberg's moveable type press, the cost and time constraints on the production of printed information was such that the vast majority of people across the globe were functionally illiterate. As literacy and education became more common, so did the range of opportunities available to the average citizen grow.

Yet still, hierarchy ruled because there was not the means for any other kind of  organization. Over the past generation this has begun to change. Today, collaboration is fast becoming the norm in how business gets done.

Hierarchy of Relationship

Collaboration is the ability of people to communicate and coordinate complex work processes in an efficient and effective manner.

It is dependent on the ability of members of the collaborative group to work together, to communicate effectively and share in the rewards and responsibilities of the project.

Many collaborative groups function not by hierarchy, with one person in authority who delegates the tasks of the project. Rather many groups are lead by the "first among equals". This view also known by its Latin form, primus inter pares, treats the organization of work from the perspective of whomever has the knowledge, experience, expertise or responsibility is the leader. From this perspective, leadership is not a role, but the contribution we make within the social context of work.

In a collaborative project, with one person's client, the lead will be taken by the person who has the information or skills to address the specific need of the client. So, if a planning client of mine needs assistance on employee pension plans, then I bring in the expert on that area, and they take the lead on helping my client establish the best approach for them.

In hierarchical structures, leadership is a function of position, authority and power. In collaborative structures, leadership is a function of the character and influence of people in a social context. Personal character, communication skills and the ability to share power are keys. 

Network-Hierarchy Image

While this may seem rather mundane and ordinary for many of us, it is revolutionary in the context of hierarchy. It is so because it means that leadership is not held as a private privilege, but rather shared as a common responsibility. It is this way of work that is creeping into the hierarchies of organization as changing them from within.

It would be nice to think that this is all a very rational, forward thinking process, but typically it is not. Instead, when hierarchy breaks down, and goals and standards must be met, the last resort is to call a meeting to see who has any ideas for getting out of the mess.

What is pushing the acceleration of the adoption of this approach are many causes. However, at the heart is the access to information and tools for communication that the internet provides. The e-book Managing Morale in a Time of Change was the work of 36 people from 11 countries on four continents. The conversation we captured in the ebook took place over 12 days, and the production of the e-book a little over a month more. This is a model of the future in miniature.

What needs to happen is for companies to embrace the subversion of hierarchy in favor of social collaboration and allow for their businesses to grow from within at all levels.

I don't think that hierarchy will ever go away. It remains an efficient way to create order for the production and distribution of products and information that do not require high levels of interaction and collaboration. It It will lose its hold on society as people realize levels of freedom and opportunity that come from their social connections to one another.

Yes, subvert and elevate hierarchy to be an incubator of shared collaborative leadership.

This is the future that would have scared Agamemnon, Caesar, Henry VIII, Hitler, Stalin and all the little dictators who use hierarchy to subvert the interests of their people to their own private ones.

It is the future. Embrace it now, and learn to lead to strengthen hierarchy through its subversion to a more socially connection environment for work.

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Managing Morale in a Time of Change can be download here.

Photo Credit: Flickr #382031318_17f9632b01


Freedom to Initiate

Leadership begins with initiative. A personal decision that leads to action. Now would it surprise you that our environments either make initiation easier or harder, or, take it another step, may even determine our whole philosophy of leadership.

Watch this video by Polly Labarre, co-author of Mavericks at Work and CNN contributor, then read her report about IKEA in her Mavericks blog post.

Where do you work best?

For me at home or at a coffee shop. This morning between 4 and 8 I produced a committee newsletter and composed the first draft of a strategic plan for a group. I then went and took a twenty minute nap, and now I'm back at my computer, blogging, and getting ready to work on a column, before heading out to a luncheon.

What Polly's report points to is not just that our environment matters, but the systems in which we work matter. Some people need more structure than others, and along with that they need more direction. Others need a more open environment to create.

Underlying these human behaviors, I'm suggesting, is something deeper. That the environment and the systems of organization that we must work within dictate to us the nature of leadership. With cubicles, corner offices and penthouse suites came the clear impression that some people were leaders and others were not. These more open environments provide a work setting that is more dependent upon personal initiative. With that personal initiative comes the opportunity to be more creative. When we create, we create change and impact, and when we create impact, we lead.

In my home, I have a tiny corner of our family's schoolroom, where I can work for hours without thought of any human necessity. There is nothing attractive about it. It is cluttered with books and paper, maps, DVDs, and office supplies. It is just a place where I can sit down and know that I don't have to move until I want to. There have been many mornings when I was up at 3 or 4 working away and looked at my watch and realized that I needed to shower, pack up and travel 30 minutes to a meeting, and I had only 45 minutes to do it.  OOPS, gotta run.

Think about where you work, and where you feel most creative and motivated to work. Realize in that place you are at your best, and your leadership potential is being tapped to a greater degree than just about any other place.

Leadership begins with initiative, and where we feel free to initiate is the place where our greatest value to our company's is found.