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Who Are You? and What Do You Want?
By Jim Clemmer

A major movement in the Western world today is the search for meaning. We don't just want a job or an existence. We want to make a difference. We want to know that our short time on this earth counted for something. We want more than to just exist or get by, we want to live. We want to be energized. We want passion, excitement, and a sense of deeper purpose.

However, many people are indifferent about what they do and detached from their work. They drift through life, reflecting the attitude on a bumper sticker, "I am neither for nor against apathy." Working with them, or trying to follow their lead, is about as invigorating as sitting in cold drizzle watching your kid's team lose a baseball game

Leadership Lost

In many organizations, management has created a sterile and passionless culture. Their strategies, budgets, and business plans are cold and lifeless. So teams and frontline performers go through the motions, put in their time, and go home. Technomanagers try to energize their people by using "leader speak" and imitating some of the things leaders do. They develop statements of vision, mission, values, "strategic purpose" and the like. However, improvement programs such as reengineering, customer service, total quality, empowerment, teams, or new technology have no spirit.. These programs may build up some speed and even get off the ground. But they never soar.

Morale and satisfaction levels in those Technomanaged organizations has been on a long slide. I hear an increasing number of managers express their frustration with this growing energy crisis. The problem stems from the expanding gulf between rising expectations and the reality of the organization's traditional culture. People want meaningful work in an organization with an exciting purpose. What they get is a job. People hear senior management talk about empowerment, teamwork, and service. What they get are paternalistic pats on the head, motivation programs, and blame for not using the systems, processes, and technology dropped on them and their customers.

Too many managers are dispassionately trying to "do leadership" as if it were just another set of tools to be deployed ("I've done my vision thing"). But a team or organization's Context and Focus (vision, values, and purpose) aren't techniques, statements, or approaches. They're much deeper than that. Focus and Context refer to feelings, causes, and convictions. They go to the very DNA of our being. You can't be dispassionate about passionate issues. Otherwise, while you do your "leadership thing", people on your team and in your organization will do their "commitment thing". So nothing is energized.

Leaders With a Cause
People rally around passionate leaders with a compelling vision and purpose. We're drawn, like insects to the back porch light, by those who are so passionate about their work that they have turned it into a cause. Norman Vincent Peale, considered a burning conviction and contagious enthusiasm to be the most critical factor in successful living and leadership (listening to him speak was an inspiring and invigorating experience). He once said, "your enthusiasm will be infectious, stimulating and attractive to others. They will love you for it. They will go for you and with you". Whether you love him, hate him, or just want to ignore him, strong convictions are why Rush Limbaugh is so popular. It's also why some of the greatest creations or transformations of our time were led by passionate leaders such as Lee Iaccoca at Chrysler, Jack Welch at GE, David Kearns at Xerox, Sam Walton at Walmart, and Bill Gates at Microsoft.

Effective leaders generate action. Leadership is action, not a position. One of the activities of leadership is creating energy through excitement (the pull or gain of what could be), urgency (the push to avoid the pain of poor performance), or some combination of both. This creates focus and harnesses the deep urge we all have to be part of something meaningful - to make a difference. We want to know that we are doing something worthwhile, that we are striving for a worthy goal (which may be to avert disaster).

Effective leaders rally people throughout their organizations or teams, customers, suppliers, strategic partners, shareholders, and anyone else that can help around a cause. They transform jobs into crusades, exciting adventures, or deeper missions.

You Can't Build a Team or Organization Different From You
You can't impassion others about their work unless and until you're impassioned about yours. Creating leadership energy is an inside job. The spark that ignites the leadership energy you bring to your team or organization comes from within you. But you can't give energy if you don't have it. And it's hard to fake what you don't feel. That will cause you to resent your job and eventually the people associated with it. It also sends everyone's increasingly sensitive phoniness meter over the red line. All of this drains even more of your energy and makes your work truly work.

Have You Got Work, or Has Your Work Got You?

If you're going to be an effective energy leader, then your work can't be work. You need a job that isn't a job, it's a joy. When you love what you're doing, you never have to go to work again. You need to either find the work you love, or learn to love the work you have. Get passionate or get out. This is where many "wanna-be" leaders succumb to the "victimitis virus." "How can I do my life work when I am working flat out just to pay the bills now?", they sniffle. Well, if you're current job isn't energizing you so you can energize and lead others, you have four choices: (1) do nothing but wish for your fairy job mother to magically appear and straighten out your life, (2) get out of management so you stop dragging others down to your low energy level, (3) figure out what your personal vision, values, and purpose are and transform your current job into your life work, (4) figure out what your ideal job is and go find or create it.

Basic Focus and Context Questions
I've been involved in too many "vernacular engineering" debates where management teams argue about whether the statement they've been crafting is a vision or a mission, a statement of values and goals, or something else. Often these philosophical labeling debates are like trying to pick the fly specks out of the pepper. Unless you're a lexicographer and your company is in the dictionary business, don't worry about the precise definition of a vision, mission, values, or whatever you may be calling the words you're using to define who you are and where you're trying to go.

What does matter is that you and your team have discussed, debated, and decided on the answers to these three questions: Where are you going? What do you believe in? Why do you exist? I call these the Three Ps -- preferred future, principles, and purpose. They are critically important questions. They're fundamental to leading yourself and others. This is the beginning point of effective leadership. If you're attempting to change your team or organization culture, your answers to these basic questions define the culture you're trying to create.

If you're going to further improve your leadership effectiveness, you need to have thought through and answered these questions on your own. If you have a spouse or life partner, you need to work on these questions together.

What you and your team call your answers to these questions doesn't matter. They can be termed vision, mission, values, strategic niche, aspirations, purpose, and so on. And how snazzy, different, or original your words are doesn't matter as much either. What does matter is whether you give a unified answer to the three P questions? Is whatever you've developed clear and compelling? Does everyone on your team passionately own what you've developed? Do you give these critical leadership issues a sharp focus and meaningful context for everyone? That can only be done through skilled, live communications and behavior that connects your video with your audio.

I was in Washington, D.C., speaking at a quality improvement conference a few years ago. Following my presentation, I had the pleasure of hearing Bill Pollard, chairman of the hugely successful ServiceMaster Company, speak about the management practices that took their organization to more than $3 billion in sales in a few decades. In his address he stressed the importance of clarifying and living principles and purpose. He began by describing a message he'd encountered on someone's answering machine: "This is not an answering machine; it's a questioning machine. There are really only two questions in life: Who are you? and What do you want? Please leave your answer at the tone."



Originally published in The Globe & Mail. Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His recent bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders, Pathways to Performance, Growing the Distance, and The Leader's Digest. His web site is www.clemmer.net.




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