Until a few weeks ago, I had never given much thought to the concept of “what I stood for” in life. In a training session for 140 people, I was forced into thinking about it when we were each asked the question and told we would share our answers publicly. While, I have no problems talking in front of a group of people, sharing a thought as personal as “what I stood for” in life, was not something I was eager to do.
The facilitator allowed us ten minutes to decide the one thing that we stood for, above all other things, to share with the group. I quickly made a list of things that were core to my life and beliefs then; I agonized for the remaining eight minutes over the priority of the words. What was the one thing that stood above all others? Was it creativity, or trust, or directness? Was it something spiritual? I just wasn’t sure. Then, out of nowhere came a memory of a conversation with a friend.
A few months prior, I was sharing that I learned early in my career that I enjoy creating and building new businesses, processes, or programs, and I dislike the mundane details of the day-day-management of the things I’ve built. Although I can make myself manage those things for a while, I usually get bored and frustrated, and I look to hire someone quickly who loves those daily details. Frankly, it allows me to keep my sanity. I need variety in my work and life to maintain my motivation.
After hearing my story, my friend asked what he thought was an innocent question, “What is it you like most; the act of creating or building something new, or seeing the finished result of your hard work?” The question took me off guard; I think of myself as an introspective guy, yet I had never asked myself this question.
A few minutes passed before I answered, “The act of creating and building things is what motivates me most. When I build a table, for example, the fun for me is in selecting and cutting the wood then, assembling the seemingly disparate pieces into a functioning table. Once it’s built, I may walk by a couple of times and admire my handiwork, but then I move on to the next thing. What drives me is, ‘what could be,’ not necessarily ‘what is.’”
This memory helped me realize that above all things, I stand for the “possibilities” in life and work. The possibility of something yet to come stirs a passion and drive deep inside that propels me forward. To have the ability, however, flawed at times, to see life or work in a way that allows me to envision the picture on the top of the puzzle box when others can only see the individual pieces of the puzzle; to create something new where nothing exists is exhilarating. Unlike most, the possibilities of life or work do not scare me; instead, I thrive on what might be and push hard to get there, if only pause shortly before moving on to the next thing.
As wrote the word “possibilities” at the top of my list, our 10 minutes were up. We stood and moved into a circle to share our “stands” with each other. As each person told their stand, I almost immediately looked at them differently; as if I had a better understanding of the way they thought about new ideas or responded to the challenges of change. It was literally as if a light bulb went on above my head. I have long known the backgrounds and perceptions of others influence their actions and decisions, but I had never before heard someone sum up their life’s motivation in one word—their public stand.
I realized then my stand is both a gift and a curse. I’m fortunate that I can often see the big picture or goal, even when imperfect at the start. I am also blessed with ability think in detail, so I can design and take action on the steps necessary to reach that goal. There are times, though, when I see the top of the puzzle box so clearly that I push others too hard without considering how their own “stand” might be guiding them on their journey. Instead of helping them on the journey, I push them forward before their ready to go, causing some aggravation and frustration at times.
For those who are wondering, I have been working on holding my tongue until others are ready to hear what I have to say. My success varies, hourly.
Since that training day, I’ve thought that life would be much easier if only we knew the “stand” of everyone we love and work with each day. Would it make a difference if we simply stood up from our computer at home right now or walked into our office tomorrow and said, “I stand for [insert your stand here]” to our family and co-workers? After they get over the shock of the public proclamation and you explain what you’re doing, I believe it would make a difference.
It seems to me that understanding just one more thing about someone we work with or someone we love makes all the difference in how we can relate to them. This new understanding becomes a gift because it not only changes our lives; it changes theirs.
Go on. Do it. Now. It’s easy. I’ll even go first.
I stand for possibilities.
Want to take it step further? If you’re on Twitter, I encourage you to send a tweet after you read this with your stand (“ I stand for…”) and the hashtag, #takeapublicstand.
I’ve helped facilitate change most of my career and I’ve come to recognize the people within organizations who have been shackled by “Golden Handcuffs.” Golden Handcuffs, if you ‘re not familiar with the term, is typically defined as the financial incentives designed to keep an employee from moving on until the organization believes it has recouped its investment in that employee. I define the term a little differently, though. While I do see Golden Handcuffs as a strong incentive to stay with an organization, I believe it is driven by employee desire for financial and life stability and not the organizations desire for a return on its investment.
Long-term employees of an organization gain greater financial security with their tenure. At defined points in tenure, vacation days increase, bonuses may get bigger, and there may be vesting in retirement or stock incentive plans. Organizations plan these incentives to retain their best employees yet, what they ultimately get at about 10 years of tenure is a pool of employees who have been with the company too long to leave without affecting their individual lifestyle. So, they stay on the job doing what little needs to be done to maintain their place in the organization until retirement. Sadly, an employee who joins the company at 30, and is shackled with the Golden Handcuffs at 40, will likely be a mediocre performer for the next 25 years.
It’s no wonder we have a crisis in leadership in many of our larger corporations and nonprofit organizations. Those incentives designed to keep the best and brightest employees end up being the very thing that weighs down the organization. In the largest of organizations, where significant numbers of these employees may hold senior positions, their resistance to change can be so deeply anchored in the current culture, that they effectively prevent the organization from achieving desired and necessary change.
Golden Handcuffs eventually create what I call, “Golden Anchors”; employees who are too vested to leave, too secure in their current position and responsibilities, and too comfortable with their personal lifestyle. Beware of these Golden Anchors, for they are the quiet saboteurs of any change initiative within your organization.
Although not all long-term employees become Golden Anchors, it is critical to identify those who have become anchors to the way thing are (or were), so that you may pull them up when you need to pilot a new course for change. Golden Anchors are easy to spot because they typically have three or more of following characteristics:
- Tenure (usually 10 years or more)
- General resistance to any change in their work or home life
- Noted naysayers to any new idea, process or procedure
- Tagged as “difficult” by others
- Subtlety undermine organizational initiatives in their daily conversations with peers and direct reports
- No desire for additional training or education to further their contribution to the organization
- Performance often just barely meets your expectations
Once you have identified them, you have the difficult task of determining how to eliminate, or at least minimize their impact. Whatever you decide, one thing is certain: You must address, not ignore, your Golden Anchors if you have hope to facilitate change. Golden Anchors are the greatest challenge to effective leadership that exists in organizations today.
Featured Image Source: Alan English from flickr.com under CC License.