Just One Thing—The Hard Work of Pivoting To Purpose

Just One ThingA good number of individuals I know are battling professional adversity in one of its many forms. In these particular cases, circumstances converged to push them to embark upon personal quests.

One is responding to an unanticipated career interruption to pursue what she believes is her true calling via a start-up business.

Another has had enough of workplace toxicity and is writing a book to help people victimized by bad bosses.

A third person is shifting her focus from pushing the top-line as a leading sales representative to pushing the development of others as a sales trainer.

Whether it’s a life-stage issue or a sign of the times, I seem to regularly run into individuals who are active in pursuit of vocations that focus on helping others. They are pivoting to purpose.

With the view gained from decades in the work place, I believe that too many (most) people stop short of their life’s goals. Like so many Hollywood movie scripts, time takes them far away from the “change the world” aspirations and dreams that propelled them through their early years. The goals and aspirations give way to acceptance of something far short of those original goals. The memories of these dreams remain safely tucked away, occasionally surfacing for a moment in the form of, “What if I… ?” or, “Only if I had… .” thoughts. Those thoughts are painful and are silenced quickly by rationalizing them as the silly dreams of youth.

In conversations with each of these individuals, I hear common themes. The mission is exciting. The end-goal is tangible. But obstacles are everywhere. Forward progress is measured in small increments. One feels like he’s trying to run with his feet encased in cement. Another describes herself as feeling as if she’s perpetually running uphill against the wind.

Ask them if they are going to quit and the reaction is fierce and immediate. “Heck no,” or some colorful variation of that answer was what I heard from each individual.

“This pursuit has given new meaning to my life,” offered one.

“If I quit moving forward, I feel like I’ll wither,” said another.

Change is always difficult. Changing ourselves…our situation…our livelihood is extremely difficult. It’s easy and tempting to stop. For many, the idea of pivoting away from what we know and what we’ve done and who we are (at least in our own minds) is unthinkable. It’s too hard, too abstract and too risky.

For those who wake up and dust off those dreams and then pivot to pursue them, it’s your time. Keep moving. You inspire us.

Read more in the “Just One Thing” series.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Just One Thing—Think Big(ger)

Just One ThingI confess to having cultivated a strong affinity for Big Thinkers in my advancing years as an executive. The flip-side of this growing affinity is my creeping impatience and dismissal of small thinkers. Given the scale and scope of the challenges in our world and in our industries and firms, small thinkers are a drag on the drive to change. And yes, life and our careers are too short to think small.

Big Thinkers see unlimited opportunities presented over a stream of endless tomorrows. They are unencumbered by the shackles of the status quo and the narrowness of their own experience.

In prior generations, the Big Thinkers would have been arctic or sea-faring explorers or inventors challenging the boundaries of dogma and human experience. In our time, they’re the ones found rethinking everything in a world where the pace of technological change enables everything to be rethought. They’re app developers solutions architects and entrepreneurs and researchers and the business professionals stomping all over the philosophy of: “But we’ve always done it this way.”

And while ideas without actions just take up empty space in the universe, the Big Thinkers I admire revel in the view to the future while promoting actions in the here and now. They are Big Thinkers and Big Doers. Consider:

  • There’s the senior product manager who watches his customers run their operations and identifies an opportunity to save tremendous amounts of time and money by adapting off-the-shelf technology in a way never envisioned by the technology’s creators.
  • There’s the sales manager who sees the market declining over the next few years and immediately begins building an all new (to the firm) approach that will open up new customer segments.
  • There’s the engineer who takes on the de-facto industry standard technology for high value applications with a radically different and dramatically less expensive approach. But it wasn’t just the technology, it was the established dogma and the ecosystem surrounding the old technology that had to change. He won the market.
  • There’s the senior manager who tires of the price and feature battles with competitors and reinvents the firm as a systems integrator. When he presented the idea to his Board, they laughed. They’re not laughing now–they’re too busy helping govern a growing firm.
  • And there’s the customer service manager who grew tired of what she describe as, “managing reduced expectations,” and built a team that rethought what it really meant to “serve customers.” She changed the fate of the firm in the process.

In each of the examples, these Big Thinkers stared down complacency, overcame the powerful gravitational pull of the status quo and convinced others to try something new and different and even frightening. They looked up from their desks, pushed their view beyond the one from the conference room window and embraced the philosophy of: “What If? and Why Not?”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The real leadership issue of our time is to find and engage and help the Big Thinkers who are Big Doers. If you’re a dreamer and a doer, you’re in the right place at the right time. Small thinkers need not apply.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

Just One Thing—The Future of Work Now Arriving

Just One ThingThere’s a must-read article at Fortune from the November 1, 2015 issue, entitled: “Every Aspect of Your Business is About to Change,” by Geoff Colvin (author of the excellent new book: Humans are Underrated.) The article reads a bit like some fantastic pulp magazine view to a future of work and business, with one major exception: this future is already here.

From radically changing business models to rampant creative destruction driven by digitization and globalization to a world where ideas are the primary form of capital and the purveyors of ideas move freely through this friction-free environment (think: gig economy), this emerging world of work and career has little resemblance to the one of even a mere decade-ago. Change is truly changing, as Gary Hamel suggests.

In a world where Apple is classified as a manufacturer (but doesn’t actually directly manufacture anything itself—it’s outsourced), and the world’s largest purveyor of rides doesn’t own a single car, the idea of building a company to scale with just a few employees isn’t far fetched. Former Cisco CEO, John Chambers, known for calling future trends fairly accurately, suggests, “soon, you’ll see huge companies with just two employees—the CEO and the CIO.”

While it’s exciting for all of us to have a front-row seat on all of this change, it’s important that you don’t just observe, but that you participate. If your expected career span is measurable in something beyond a few years, it’s essential for you to remain current, remain relevant and remain open-minded in a world where what you know and what you experienced is increasingly just nostalgia. Your first and most important job is to develop yourself.

Running in place in this world is tantamount to moving backwards at the speed of change. Keep moving.

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

There’s Greatness in this Younger Generation

Just One ThingThe “Just One Thing” Series at Management Excellence is intended to provoke ideas and actions around topics relevant to our success and professional growth.

In a recent program with experienced managers, the inevitable and mind numbing and stupid topic of how difficult it is to manage the younger workers surfaced and people jumped on this out-of-tune bandwagon like they were giving away free money. Complaints of poor work ethics, preoccupation with devices and not caring swirled around the room like a hurricane. Every generation looks at the differences of the generations coming up behind them and focuses on these differences as negatives. It’s cliché and yes, it’s stupid.

Spend some time reading the current “40 Under 40” issue of Fortune magazine and you will come away energized by the energy, creativity and world changing endeavors and accomplishments of this younger crowd. (And if you’re over 40, it’s reasonable for you to wonder why you’ve been slacking off while these people are changing the world.)

I also loved Fortune Editor Alan Murray’s four takeaways from the “40 Under 40” profiles in the latest issue of the magazine:

  • Bet Big
  • Have a Purpose
  • Failure is a Good Teacher
  • Have Breakfast with Dad

The last one, “Have Breakfast with Dad” was offered by artist, Taylor Swift. As a Dad, it caught my attention. She describes the advice her Dad gave her to “think about your actions,” and translated it into the dilemma faced by a teenager who might prefer sleeping in to taking advantage of this breakfast invitation. “As an 80-year-old looking back, you go to breakfast with your Dad.” Wise woman…and successful!

I spend a great deal of time with people under 40 and a fair number of them in their early to mid-twenties in one of my teaching endeavors…a leadership program for young working professionals pursuing their college degrees that repeats with a new group several times per year. I find their views on the world every bit as energizing as the individuals profiled in Fortune, and working with them as a teacher is truly a privilege.

While my students aren’t the ones who have made millions (yet), they are individuals holding down one or two jobs while serving as parents…sometimes single parents, and attending school. Many are navigating severe illnesses or family tragedies. One remarkable individual recently lost a limb to amputation and never missed a beat in class.

In addition to their fierce tenacity for working through life’s obstacles, I find that most in this youthful group reflect and aspire to Murray’s takeaways above. They are purpose-driven, they have an incredibly mature and refreshing view on what great leadership looks like and they often reflect the views on life and pursuing your passion that Steve Jobs so effectively outlined in his now famous Stanford Commencement address. I wrap up every term with these remarkable individuals just a bit more confident there’s greatness in this younger generation and it’s our job to help it emerge.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If you’re an experienced manager lamenting the sorry state of the youth in your workplace, I encourage you to look in the mirror. In most cases, you’re the one who needs to change.



Choose to Work in a Culture that Brings Out the Best in You

Just One ThingThe “Just One Thing” Series at Management Excellence is intended to provoke ideas and actions around topics relevant to our success and professional growth.

I’ve worked in cultures like those ascribed to Amazon.com in the recent and controversial New York Times article, “Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace.”  These battle-zone firms exist and they can be very successful. And for the adrenaline junkie career climber, these cultures are perfect.

For the rest of us who like our excitement and adrenaline rushes to come from something other than eviscerating our co-workers over stupid ideas and stepping on heads and necks and hands on our way to the promised land of more restricted stock grants, these environments aren’t so great. They’re toxic to our souls.

I don’t find Amazon’s alleged “bruising” battle-zone culture either bad or good, it just is. It’s no longer my cup of tea, but it might have been at one point in my career.

I’m a recovering suffer-no-fools, take-no-prisoners and follow me-or-leave professional who managed to gain control of this personal Jekyll and Hyde battle a long time ago. I remember the game however, and I remember liking it. Ideas flowed, action was the order of the day and strength decided what got done. As long is it worked, your power grew.

While I don’t recall that the work as playground environments so often written about today, existed back then…think nerf gun fights, zip-lines in the office and tree house conference rooms, if they did, I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of these ideas. I cared about stomping my competitors, serving my customers and clearing the dumb-asses and bumbling bureaucrats out of my way so that I could execute. (My heart is racing a bit as I type this. It was work as an adventure.) The idea of work as mere playtime would have been preposterous.

My conversion of sorts to the kinder, gentler side of work occurred after I misread the culture of a new employer and found myself immersed in a genteel environment engaged in a form of internecine war. It was a corporate Game of Thones and it was the wrong kind of war game for me. I was looking for something different…something that would win in the market while positively transforming people’s lives. I was looking for a culture that built people up, without having to break them down first.

It took me eighteen months to unwind that mistake, yet it was an important step on my path. While I didn’t find the promised land of great cultures, I found one where we worked hard to build a culture that brought out the best in people. We appreciated warriors on the front-lines but warfare in the workplace wasn’t how we got things done.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There is no perfect culture. Even the kinder, gentler kinds have some serious downsides. Think: passive-aggressive behavior, complacency born of comfort or widespread naivete on the realities of winning in the marketplace. Nonetheless, we are well served to match the cultures where we choose to invest our time with our own values and aspirations for ourselves as citizens of these organizations. Choose to go to work in a culture that brings out the best in you.

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