A Job is Not Necessarily a “Thing” to “Do”

Normal thought generally fits normal language.

In normal language, the subject of a sentence, as in “my job needs me to do X”, is considered to be a person, place or thing. Given that a job isn’t apparently a person or a place, “thing” is the category remaining in which to hold it.

To think of a job as a “thing” is to set up a very poor relation to what is possible in the “job”. It also calls on you to be slave to the concept or idea of the “job”– concepts and ideas go readily with the thing-like territory.  Imagine dealing with people as “things” and note how fixated, narrow, and conceptual one’s relation with them would be. (This does indeed happen — as in dealing with a waitress as a “waitress,” or a CFO and a “CFO.”)

Once the negative alchemy of turning a job into a “thing” happens in normal thought, there is a cascade of grammar and concepts that turn you into “the kind of thing that would do a ‘thing-like’ job.” There are “things to do” to satisfy the job. There are qualities to have to satisfy the job. There are models for how to do the job well, and models for how to fail at the job. There are standards you can have for how you ought to measure up to the job, and you can succeed or fail at those. You can suffer about what is and isn’t getting done in the job. You can even suffer needlessly (not necessarily helping the “job” to get “done”) about aspects of the job no one has asked you to do nor even expects you to do.

Our normal language and our normal culture asks you to “Do Your Job”. And that seems like a common sense intention and a rightful expectation. After all, you do get paid for just that, apparently.

What if this is all superstition? What if the job is neither “there” to be “filled” nor a “thing”? And what if the best relation to have with it is not “get ‘er done”?

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Development Is Not an Item

So much to say. So little room to say it.

Development (personal, organizational, evolutionary — and maybe those ought not be separated) winds up as a noun in normal speech. Nouns wind up as things (as in “person, place or thing”, as if those were similar categories). Development, however, is not a thing.

A friend of mine used to speak of nouns as “slow verbs” — an evolving activity that looks to have continuity (much like a “tornado” whose winds and forces keep changing and yet the image of a funnel seems coherent and “thing-like”.)

At the low-end, I would be willing to consider development to be a “slow verb” that unfolds over time. The problem with this approach is that development then gets considered to be an activity. And the source of power for development isn’t within activities.

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Skip the Resolutions — Take On Consistent, Timely, Development Instead

New Years resolutions have a weak reputation. Few would stake their lives on it. Even so, many stake a piece of their future on it.

And yet, a fresh year does seem to call for something to mark the changeover.

I suggest a trade-in and trade-up of the New Year’s resolution routine for something more developmental, timely, and long-lasting.

There are two parts to the trade up.  They are both essential to shifting to a more reliable and developmental way of living. (This way of living can displace a more presumptuously willful way of living that tries to take on untimely but seemingly important outcomes based on easily dispersed “will power.”)

My first suggestion is that you use the year-end/year-beginning rollover to take stock of what has been accomplished as well as what has been altered over the past year. Take the time to appreciatively savor what has been achieved, and then put it to rest. It may or may not be fitting to continue building on that exact path. Putting the past year to rest provides room for a fresh year and a fresh look at what is calling to be addressed now.

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One Size Fits One, Once

The more masterful one is with one’s work, the less one is attached to and reliant upon one’s favorite ideas, methods, and even orientations. One’s work evolves and stays creative, being adaptive and appropriate to audience and situation and timing.

The opposite also holds true. The less competent one is in one’s field, the more fixed ideas are held as lifelines, and the more one’s methods are considered to be the correct and only effective pathway.

Let’s explore different levels of mastery in the area of developing people as an example.

At the lowest level of competence, ideas are held as rules. “This” is the “way” that “it” “is.” All clients get treated to this particular truth. All situations apparently call for it. All arguments are considered avoidance. Why can’t people just see that this is the Truth and the Way? (“All people should take responsibility.” “Everyone has a choice to make.” “Communication is always the answer.” “Always keep learning.”)

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What is Worth Leading?

Can we really sensibly discuss leading as if where we pick to be headed isn’t of central importance?

All directions and outcomes are not equal. People respond with a deeper “resonance” or sense of inspiration to the call of certain kinds of contributions than to others. How can “leadership” be discussed in general terms as if “What” is being led isn’t of primary importance? Is it true that “In the Beginning is leading?” Or is it more sound to consider that “In the Beginning, there is a call to contribute to something considered worthwhile?”

Let me note and have it sit there for a minute, that there is a hypnosis regarding “leadership” that makes it a thing to provide and a quality people want to be seen to have. That is a self-aggrandizing approach to the conversation regarding how accomplishments are called up to happen. Concentrating on the kinds of leadership moves or conversations without regard to what the leading is in behalf of purposely ignores the most difficult and mastery-requiring aspect of leading. What requires real discernment, real listening, real perception is being able to crystallize from all the potential aims and accomplishments that one which galvanizes one’s people and resources in a way that something new and deeply worthwhile is called into reality.

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Right People, Right Place, Right Time with the Right Stuff

It is a matter of common sense that work and productivity go better if the right people are in the right jobs. Too bad common sense stops short of saying how one might go about telling who is the right person for the job.

Common sense will retreat to those qualifications that “everyone knows” are important — education, experience, attitude, “soft skills” such as communication ability, “people skills” if those seem to fit the job. And yet, with this laundry list handy, organizations do a relatively poor job of having the right person in the right job at the right time with the right stuff. This is clearly known yet not openly talked about (see below).

When I was consulting with large organizations I would challenge the General Manager and the Human Resources Manager to give me $1 million if I found 5 people in the wrong (but important) jobs (that they had placed there) within five days. I noted that over the long-term they would save much more than that by realigning their staff into appropriate jobs. Then they would not lose over time the productivity and coordination that gets sacrificed when the wrong person is in the job.

Interestingly, the GM and the HR Manager knew each time not to make the bet. Apparently, at some level they knew they didn’t have the right people in the right place. It was also apparent that they weren’t about to do anything about it barring a catastrophe. Why was that?

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From What Perspective Do They Live?

Many conversations take place without regard to something of central importance. And that missing awareness is regarding the central perspective of the person or people being addressed.

If you were talking with a child, you might naturally bring the conversation to a level of vocabulary and complexity that fits them and their level of maturity. Or if you were talking to a teen, you might shape the conversation with an awareness of what they can relate to given their hormonal state and level of life experience. However, once someone reaches adulthood, are there not stages of maturity of perspective that are as different from each other as those considered in addressing a child or a teen?

In my experience of working with adults regarding accomplishment and fulfillment, I work with people directly to evolve through differing states of development that could be considered varying levels of maturity about one’s place in the world. While these levels aren’t a recognized  or well-discussed part of the general culture, they are indeed useful in assessing why certain challenges work out well with some people and not with others. I propose these perspectives as being of key importance in building relationships and organizations that work at higher levels than normal.

Let us say that people have a certain “center of gravity” about what kind of self they are, and that they tend to return to this center of gravity. It is possible to inspire people to act beyond it, but once the inspiration passes, gravity takes over. The key to evolving an organization is to evolve the “center of gravity” of the kind of selves people consider themselves to be. Doing so will give a qualitatively different kind of world of action and outcomes for those involved.

So, what are these different levels of self that wind up centers of gravity determining people’s world and identifications? Let me name four of them.

The first is what I call the “You Flow“. This is where people consider the world as it effects them individually and personally — them as a person. It is “me-centric”. In terms of Steinberg’s famous New Yorker cover that views Manhattan as the center of the world and other existences as smaller, distant, and few, the You as a center of gravity views everything in its relation to oneself, and importances are assessed in relation to “what’s in it for me?”

The nasty underbelly of this perspective that is rarely mentioned in polite company is that “others aren’t very real” to a “me-centered” person. They are the other actors in the play, but peripheral and only important in regard to what they provide to “me”. Developing an organization or relationship with people centered in the You Flow requires speaking to and managing the sense of ‘what is in it for them” consistently. And the level of mutuality, the level of identification with the whole of the company, and the concern for others and their expression is low and tenuous.

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Are People Big or Small?

I have been struck by how often developers, leaders and managers come down on one side or another of this issue of people’s basic nature — mostly as a matter of belief rather than of observation.

Those who want people to be big, honorable, self-motivated, and self-directed often speak to people’s big side. They want to inspire people to be their best — to go for it, to dream big, to commit large. They want people to see themselves as forces for the good.

There is a difficulty here. Those developers and managers of others who take this tack are often let down and have to explain it somehow. People get frightened; they get tired; they sell out. They explain away their failings. They justify their failures. These things are normal occurrences — not always, but surely not never.

If one believes the positive “people are big” proposition, then it becomes incumbent upon the developer or manager to try more inspiration, more heartfelt motivational talk about how big the person is, and about how trusting themselves and giving it one’s all will carry the day.

Sometimes the new inspiration works for a while. Inspiration, however, is often short-lived, especially when “received” from another rather than self-generated. The number of ways and opportunities to sell out on the inspiration likely exceeds the external and internal support for fulfilling the inspiration — unless the environment is quite unusual. Continue reading

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Chief Development Officer — M.I.A.

Everyone knows there must be a Chief Operating Officer overseeing the major projects and activities of a large company. Why isn’t it also obvious that there needs to be a Chief Development Officer, at the same level of power and oversight, to ensure those same stretch projects through developing the human capability to accomplish them?

The best insurance for productivity is to have both positions and viewpoints. Why?

Any major increase in operational outcome requires a concomitant development of the people involved. The major increase calls for a new way of being that invents new levels of efficiency and effectiveness — whether through better communication and coordination, through inventing an innovative technology, or through inventing an innovative methodology.

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Do Organizations Have An Unconscious?

Many psychologists are quite comfortable with the notion that individual people’s actions are often less than rational. They say that this can be accounted for by “unconscious” drivers. The nature and scope of speculations regarding the so-called “unconscious” have gone through many iterations over time — whether by Freud, Jung, or modern brain researchers– though they remain in discussion after more than 100 years.

Regardless of the theoretical base associated with the “unconscious,” what remains as evidence of the influence of ideas, images, and emotional notions of which we are unaware is the repeated effectiveness of uncovering these invisible drivers and robbing them of their power to distort behavior by recognizing them in the light of day. Resolution of unconscious drivers seems to free people to new actions and orientations that weren’t available when the unconscious driver was operating effectively and invisibly.

Could the same principle apply to organizations (an entity comprised of people)? Could there be an organizational “unconscious” providing invisible lines of force that shape activities and outcomes in ways that are less than rational and often less than ideal?

And could making the unconscious material conscious and aware dissolve its power to negatively shape active business orientations and outcomes?

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