Annie dillard quote

Pivot: Making Sense of Your Job Change

PIVOT: MAKING SENSE OF YOUR JOB CHANGE

Climber dangling against sunset horizon.

For the past seven years, I’ve been on a steep climb to adapt my skills and work experience to the for-profit world. It’s been the kind of pivot you’re supposed to make in your 30’s, when you have time to matriculate through Hard Knocks U, to emerge on the other side with a resume of wins and losses, all of which translate into positions with more responsibility and higher pay. And ideally, deeply satisfying work.  However, this pivot I started when I was 47.

While I don’t know where you’re at today, I know this:  Besides an unexpected job change having the power to deal a death-blow to fear (soup chef Jack Canfield has it right: “everything you want is on the other side of fear”), this transition you may have feared could turn out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.

I speak of what I know.

My own journey of job transitions has been more a mission of survival than a roadmap for job promotions, provoked more from necessity than aspiration, more from crisis than career advancement planning.

Nevertheless, because of my stubborn optimism and more importantly God’s grace and leading, I have ended up in jobs that have moved me closer and closer to my calling, even while each assignment has been very distinct from the others.

I will unpack these take-aways in the blogs ahead, but this will give you a fly-over view of the land:

Here are 7 Career Truths I’ve discovered along the way (and hinted at in the thumbnail  photo of the climber hanging off a rock):

Climber dangling against sunset horizon.

The setting sun of the Mojave Desert silhouettes a climber clinging to the edge of a rock overhang in Joshua Tree National Park.

1. Don’t work so hard, and make peace with “not knowing”–it is the path to astonishment.
2. Celebrate each person’s unique wiring, even as you come to understand patterns of personality types that help you communicate.
3. When life events shove you down, push back back really hard.
5. Be willing to do things out of order, challenge the status quo. You can do it, or someone will do it for you.
4. Remember “Career” is a trap–just provide for your family and keep making decisions (some of them small and hardly consequential in the moment) that take you closer to your ideal work, and not away from it.
6. Who, who, who. It’s always about who. While revenue goals are important (we don’t have jobs without them), at the end of the day, it’s the growth in people, among people, through people that matters. Everything else, ultimately, fades.
7. It’s what has been trained into you that comes out–not the goals and expectations that you set for yourself. Therefore, goals need to lead to new ways of thinking and acting in order to have their greatest effect, and thinking and acting the right ways have to be practiced–and practiced.

At the time I didn’t fully appreciate how important this decision would be—to “retool” for new roles in the for-profit marketplace—I did have a hunch. In fact, just one day before I found out I was on a massive list of layoffs at Focus on the Family, I started an MBA. With the downturn of the markets in 2007-08, and plummeting donor funds tracking with that decline, I knew I needed to reposition my work experience (from teacher to pastor to non-profit leader/executive).

The fact is, few of us know when we start out in a career exactly where that path will lead. Thank goodness most of us don’t choose the job we’ll have the rest of our lives, when we are too young to know what our passions and skills and talents and values are (or will become).

That was back in September of 2009, and since then I have successfully worked in head of marketing roles, first at a fast-growing software company and then at a financial advisory services firm, and third in a marketing agency I started (www.MKFStrategicMarketing.com).

And now, once again, I am pivoting.

Pivot. That’s something I did cutting inside an offensive tackle as a quarterback on a high school football field. It was move I made planting one foot, and jabbing the other, on the way to the basket for a lay-up on…a college court in the Philippines one summer (a long way from my UC Davis undergrad world in California), an experience I later came to understand was really about
learning to give my life away, one pair of basketball shoes at a time.  All of that was a lifetime ago.

Pivot’s not really what you have to do when your life is progressing along as planned: degree(s) hanging on the wall, LinkedIn network lighting up like a Christmas tree, Facebook photo updates telling your story of exotic places and interesting people. You with family and friends—and sometimes even with famous people—of fascinating places and fancy dinners and smiling family and beautiful friends. Pivot is sometimes the best you can when you find yourself on a career path headed for a big, giant “Caution: Area Under Construction” sign with no detour marked out.

Today, for me, it’s a word with layers, metaphorical nuance, metonymy– Career: Path. Pivot: Career change. It’s the word I use because, frankly, it’s the positive angle on figuring out what to do when  there are not any clear paths emerging.

The fact is often job changes involve the raw emotions that come from uncertain career paths and unpredictable life events and unbelievable turns of events and shake us to our foundations. I’m sharing my story specifically because so many of my friends are going through some kind of career transition, some I would even call a crisis. It’s also true that an especially difficult career challenge isn’t a lot different from one friend’s struggle to pick up the pieces to his life following a divorce he didn’t ask for. Or, a relative’s grappling with how much he loathes his state government job, his 3-year target date to retirement more a prison sentence than a race to the finish line. Or, my friend’s continual struggle to pay the bills with a job that will never provide enough income to meet his family’s needs, even though he is doing something he is passionate about. Or the gal who was unfairly and unceremoniously let go simply because the owner couldn’t make up her mind about a business decision. Or, a guy I’ve known for a while whose addiction is coming home to roost while he frantically buys time in his marriage to address his compulsions, take responsibility for the pain he’s caused, and somehow, someway, make sense of the roots of his addiction, a shattered relationship with his father who’s been gone for many years.

In each challenging circumstance, while it might be an analytical way to describe deeply personal challenges, a pivot is exactly what’s needed to create a new direction, with new momentum of hope and purpose.

For me, the circumstances certainly have been unpredictable–messy at times. Even as a tenacious optimist, I have to admit the past seven years have been disorienting: Sleepless nights despite exhaustion. Too often desk-bound and sedentary, resulting in inevitable weight gain. And seasons of being dispirited, my optimism beat down.

After writing The 2:10 Project in 2011-12, my life took a marked turn away from non-profit and ministry work. Instead, I found myself launched like a rocket into 50 to 60-hour work weeks, week-in and week-out a series frenetic sprints of problem-solving and hiring new team members and campaign building and new website launches and email newsletters and trade-shows and webinars and new print collateral and KPI dashboards and innovation retreats and market research reports and spreadsheets and budgets and training employeees and strategic off-sites and PR plans and social media blitzes and senior management discussions—and debates and arguments—and lots and lots of coffee and eating out and late nights and early mornings.

And, for the most part, while I was in it I loved it.

Why? That is something I am thinking and praying a lot about these days. I have a couple of good hunches I’m tracking down. The answer is deep, and it’ll bring vibrant, colorful and distinct images of clarity and insight, that I am sure. Like so many times of transition in the past, It will be what God has been after to change in my life. Primarily, that is what the pivot is for–to figure out who you are on the inside, which is far more important than yours or my next career step.

For now, I am focused on the circumstances, the pivot, and while I can hear God’s invitation to come away with Him to talk about adrenaline and bosses and goals and paycheck amounts and retirement accounts and credit card balances and margin and electronic devices and…and…fruitfulness. At the heart of it all is God’s determination to make me more into His likeness, and to be fruitful and to flourish.

Flourishing.

This career pivot is learning what it really means to grow and bear fruit, to flourish.  What does it tell me about my Creator, who He is and what He is like, that He has created me to bear fruit that is for heaven AND for earth, for the now and the not yet.

And get this, I am understanding that God is really, really practical about all this fruit-bearing.

When I get up in the morning, go to work, and expend my time and energy–the two resources every person has been given in life–am I living for a kind of flourishing that is tied into God’s grand Kingdom epic story of intrigue and honor and adventure and significance? Or, instead, am I living in a default setting that makes the investment of my time and resources all about a my own or even others” “personal value” scorecard that has to do with business accomplishments and profits only.

As in the past, God will uncover for me the “interpretive keys” to this time of my life. And just as He has done in the past, He will heal and strengthen. And I will be different again–in fact, I’ll be more myself than the day before.

So, my pivot now comes after the painful and disorienting experience of the job loss in 2009. And, it comes after parting ways with my last employer, amicably for sure, but not without a conviction on both sides that the relationship just wasn’t what it was at the beginning. This last one happened about 4 months ago.

So now I am back to work 110% and loving the work I have–mainly to be involved in building the follow up to The Truth Project. Compared to the Focus down-sizing, this one’s different. Maybe, it’s that I’m different.

The pivot I made last month was in rejoining Del Tackett for the follow-up to The Truth Project. I’m grateful that this time my return to this work also catalyzes a core calling in my life: helping others find their place in God’s story. That’s what the follow-up to The Truth Project, called The Engagement, will be about. Helping people be right where God has called them—and to live fruitful and flourishing lives, giving themselves away for what is most important to Jesus. No small order. (If you are interested in reconnecting with Del and the TP community, visit www.DelTackett.com, a great site for resources, connecting with other TP folks, and hearing the latest updates for the creation of The Engagement and other resources underway.)

It’s not that the marketing work I was doing in for-profit settings was less valuable than the work I’ll be doing in the days ahead. I am convinced the most valuable work any of us can do is the work God gives us to do—whether that is farming a section of land, or building marketing campaigns for a software company, or working out the engineering specs for a new office building, or laying a pipe, or welding a trailer, or counseling a young couple, or balancing a budget, or serving a restaurant patron, or designing a new brochure, or teaching a class of 5th graders, or… you get the idea… it is God’s gift of work that is the truly valuable investment of our time.

That is some context. Next blog I’ll get on to unpacking the “7 Career Truths I’ve Discovered Along the Way.”

blog if wishes were horses beggars would ride

If Wishes Were Horses

If wishes were horses, the old adage goes, then beggars would ride. The phrase, dating back to the 16th century, of course is a poetic way to say what we all know to be true: you can’t wish something into existence, you have to take action.

If long meetings were new clients…then bureaucrats would run the world.

If meaningless emails were completed projects…then laggards would run the show.

If waxing eloquent with business buzzwords were strategies…then windbags would lead the pack.

dilbert on buzzwords

 

Vision–that is the easy part. In fact, I have yet to meet a leader who doesn’t have a vision of the future.

However, I have also met a lot of leaders whose vision was more akin to “wishes” because they lacked the prescriptive actions needed to achieve that vision. Lots of energy  got channeled into long meetings talking about the vision (read: “wishing”) than taking action–to actually get something done. And, well admittedly, I have to say I too have been that leader at times.

That said, the roles I’ve had over the past 15 years have required that I (along with the team I am on or am leading) must produce results. As I look back, here are a few nuggets I have pocketed along the way–strategies, have you, that have helped to overcome the inertia of exclusively vision-focused discussions. Here they are:

Visualize the steps, not just the outcome.

It’s common knowledge among athletes today that one important discipline is visualization. While the Russians didn’t beat us to the moon, they did discover the power of visualization for athletes. Their Olympic success in the 70s was attributed in part to this new discipline. Some of the research is crazy on this—psychology studies show exponential performance gains when athletes add visualization to their regimen (here is one: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14998709).

But most people make the mistake of focusing exclusively on the picture of the outcome. Athletes more effectively visualize the steps that lead to the outcome. The way that I have implemented this is with the phrase, “Slow down to speed up.” When I slow down—even in the most urgent circumstances—and take time to think through and picture in my mind the steps, I am more effective because I take more of the right actions.

Guard my calendar.

A couple of books I’ve read this year have brought home to me again the importance of guarding my calendar. OK, let me say it more boldly: essentialism-bookbuilding a moat around the castle in which is housed my calendar (read: priorities). Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown and The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller have been good reminders and practical paths to clearing my calendar of all but the most important priorities.one thing thumb nail

Today, I have 2-4 hours blocked out most morning to dedicate to the essential activities of my most important work. There is one requirement for this time: I have to be taking action around my most important goals for the year, the month, the week, and/or the day. Which leads me to my last point…

Review my goals AND my action steps AND the names of the people I have met this year.

Most of us are familiar with the Harvard Business School study that identified the one characteristic 3% of the graduates had that resulted in 10X the earnings of the other 97%: they wrote down their goals with plans to accomplish them, and then reviewed them at least every year.

While I don’t have a Harvard MBA, ever since I read that study, I have been doing a version of that in my own life on the outside chance it works in other settings too (you don’t have to tell me to do the math!).

I also review the tactical action steps I’ve written down over the past weeks and month to make sure that, 1) I haven’t overlooked an action that I have committed to accomplish, and 2) I haven’t “lost sight of the forest for the trees”—which is having the right perspective.

Looking back over the immediate past gives me a perspective on the flow of work, direction of responsibilities, and most importantly, the right context for solving problems, finding creative opportunities, and managing my schedule.

The last thing I do in my portfolio notebook is to circle the names of all the new people I have met over the past few months. This helps me remember their names, reconnect with them if needed, and in general take care of the most important part of my life–relationships with people. While these new business relationships aren’t as important as my family, friends, and close colleagues, there are some people in this group that one day will become friends and close colleagues…if I am faithful to take care of the right relationships in my life.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point out that there are very personal disciplines (read: grace) that undergird these business practices, like prayer and Bible reading, but I leave that discussion for another time.

What disciplines do you have that help you to make sure your strategic decision leads to action?

 

Strategy and Decision-Making: Reflection

Recently I spent a couple of days at our annual leadership team strategic planning retreat at a cabin on Lake Tahoe’s west shore.
This year the gray sky heavy with moisture, the wet snow falling on the cabin’s sky light window, and the icy wind chill all reminded me of the past 16 winters we’d just spent in Colorado—up until a year and a half ago when we moved back to Sacramento for me to join a great firm and, importantly, to be near family.

Lake Tahoe–what an idyllic setting to dream about the future.

So, this strategic planning session is my second time through with this talented and dedicated team, and just like last year, I know that these two days will shape the decisions we make over the next year.

While we don’t have all the details worked out, and likely there will be many pivots in the months ahead, this is the time when we commit. At the end of the day, the most important thing that comes out of a successful strategic planning process is the commitment of leaders:

  • First, we commit to an agreed-upon understanding of today (i.e. what happened this past year that has brought us to today), and
  • Second, we commit an agreed-upon picture of tomorrow (what does the future look like a year, 18 months, 3 years from today).

The strategy is how we are going to get there. At the core, strategy is about decision-making.

A strategic plan’s power is imbued by the commitment of each team member to the core approaches (strategies) regarding how the team will arrive at the destination.screenshot_508

One of the approaches I’ve had as a part of the proverbial “leadership toolbox” has been a decision making approach based upon double loop learning (Argyris and Schon, 1976).

In double loop learning a commitment is made to getting stakeholder(s’) input at every step of the process. Because we have (at times) a lot of leadership involvement in marketing tactics (a good thing as there is 20+ years of experience contributing to successful execution), it’s been important to try to structure the learning process in a way that captures all learning. Before I unpack that, a couple of explanations.

An illustration might be helpful here. If single loop learning is a thermostat set at 68 degrees, the question the thermostat asks to solve the problem is,”What is the room temperature?” Double loop learning, however, asks a different question–“Is 68 degrees the right temperature?” The first kind of learning solves the problem based upon a set of assumptions. The second kind of learning takes into consideration the assumptions themselves.

Which leads us to the heart of this approach: First, you need to recognize the difference between 1) the Espoused Theory and 2) the Theory in Use.

An example would help here (coming from one of my previous jobs): At a company where I used to work some 5+ years ago, we talked a lot about a new brand promise, and the importance of each employee’s contribution to the success of the company. The effect was brilliant for new employees especially, as they understood that they were part of “reinventing” this 20 year-old organization.

screenshot_509However, for a variety of reasons, over time the individual team member’s contribution became less and less important. Stifled growth put a tremendous strain on the company’s belief in the future, and an increasingly stressful work environment. This reality is what defined the implicitly stated “Theory in Use.” In the case of this company, it went something like this, “The fear of the company’s future (the company story) short-circuited the day-to-day employees’ experiences, leading to an organizational crisis.

Double loop learning adds an important step to the process of feedback, called “Reflection in Action,” or “Reframing,” and is built upon a very simple notion—that experience is the best teacher (told you it was simple).

A purposeful step back, with probing thoughtful questions, often exposes the mental maps we have, then affords us the opportunity to objectively evaluate them–how effective are these assumptions for making decisions that will help us reach our goals (what we want to accomplish) and will reinforce our core values (who we are).

OK, so some of you have connected the dots: Isn’ this just a fancy, business consultant-speak way of saying, “Look, we are going to approach strategy and execution with a brutal kind of honesty where WHAT is right is more important than WHO is right?” And, well yes, you would be right. This approach–double loop learning–takes a hard run at making sure there is deep learning.

Courageous learning where anyone in the room speaks up to offer a good idea.

Bold learning where past success doesn’t obfuscate the revolutionary ideas of tomorrow.

Passionate learning where all team members are invested in both the process and the outcome.

The key is to reflect on the action in ways that help us see the situation from a different and more effective or efficient point of view—whereyounggirloldwoman we experience paradigm shifts. It is similar to the psychology textbook examples like the young woman and the old woman (included here—you see both women, don’t you, in the same picture?).

Here are the kind of questions we are working through right now:

  • Our brand promise today for our company is, “We serve YOU.” This is a straightforward brand promise, but it prompts discussions about what is the heart of service, the role of humility, the nobleness of serving, and how often the person serving is getting as much or more from the action than the person being served.
  • The Reflection-in-Action/Reframing raises the next set of questions, Are we really serving our clients? If we aren’t serving them every time, why not? Are we serving each other, from the top of the organization down? And, we recognize there is a big idea here, if we give enough space for the process of building it out.

These questions flush out the Espoused Theory from the Theory in Use.

So, as we are building the strategies and tactics for next year’s plan, we are also working hard to make time for and valuing the outcome of Reflection-in-Action. While it requires courage throughout the organization and a dogged determination to align what we say with what we do, it also promises to integrate what we say with what we do, and that is the best objective of all, to integrate, which as the root word implies, at the heart is INTEGRITY. Now, there’s a strategy.

(For more information, see https://hbr.org/1977/09/double-loop-learning-in-organizations)

10 Things Being a Pastor Taught Me About Marketing, #6-10

Here is the second half of “10 Things Being a Pastor Taught Me About Marketing”…screenshot_Henry Ford quote

Taking the time to write out what I have learned at one job as I roll into the next job, or even just reflecting on the things I’m learning in my current job–this has been a great exercise for me over the years.

Here are #6-10 on things I learned that have helped me to be effective at marketing (#6-10 here)–

6. No is also a powerful word: Pastors also have the challenge to help people know how to say, “No.” No to the cultural message that “you can have whatever you want.” No to the “new car purchase that buries you deeper in debt and anxiety.”

Marketing—true marketing—doesn’t appeal to the lowest view of human desire, but to the higher view of the human person. It is aspirational and lends a helping hand to help people by addressing their fears and worries, for example.

Especially in my work at a financial advisory firm, we develop marketing messages that develop wisdom, and don’t play on people’s greed to earn better returns than our competitors.

Instead we tell our clients, “No, no one can guarantee you higher returns. But we can help you choose the right strategy that is aligned to your goals.” No is powerful and it is a key to marketing with integrity.

7. Your job is an assignment, not your identity: Pastors have to resist the challenge to see themselves defined by the work they do, that their identify as a person is more than their job. Frankly, we all do well to see ourselves first as a brother or sister, son or daughter, husband or wife, friend, etc, than by our role and title at work.

How much easier it is to do marketing when I don’t wrap my identity up in being the VP of Marketing at a successful firm.

8. Servant leadership is the best approach: As a pastor, I discovered Robert Greenleaf’s Servant as Leader essay. And later (like many of you) I found wisdom in Jim Collins’ Level 5 leader profile, a modern version of Greenleaf’s leader.

As I transitioned eventually from pastor, eventually to head of marketing positions in the for-profit world, I discovered that the servant leader model is just as powerful as in the church and non-profit setting. These servant leader principles have guided my approach in leading marketing teams: listening, empathy, awareness, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, building community, etc. I look for leadership teams who are practicing this approach, or who at least are open to this specific leadership model.

9. Core values are the language of the heart: As a pastor, the Bible provides a grid for corecore values-4 values, and importantly it’s the living out of those core values that is the heart of the matter. From this experience, I have learned that people need to live for a higher purpose than just their paycheck. What specifically is that higher purpose?

That’s where transcendent notions become a part of each day: integrity, service excellence, love, freedom, responsibility, learning, collaboration, sharing, giving, courage, innovation, diversity, humility, and many other possibilities.

Look closely at your organization’s DNA–you’ll see your core values embedded right there.

10. It’s not about me: As a pastor, I knew it wasn’t about me. God’s agenda, the people’s needs and hopes and dreams–that part was easy. Well, maybe not easy, but at least straightforward. The tough part was in keeping an eye on my motivations. Self awareness is what the leadership and management gurus call it.

I call it the “It’s-not-about-you” principle of leadership. In this environment, good things grow: honesty, authenticity, kindness, generosity, friendship, and…yep, profit. Self awareness and humility are also good for the bottom line.

screenshot_typing laptopWhat are your experiences? What have you learned from different jobs and roles you have had?  (Email me here: marc@marcfey.com with the subject line: What I learned).

10 Things Being a Pastor Taught Me About Marketing

screenshot_Henry Ford quote

I often get the proverbial “tilt of the head” when I talk about this part of my work history: “And then, for 7 years I was a pastor.”

“You were a pastor?” people ask, the question now rhetorical.

“Yes, and you wouldn’t believe all the things I learned that apply to good marketing.”

Today, I work in marketing, but it’s been the privilege of serving God and people in the role of pastor that gave me the grid I have today for the work I do.

Maybe many of you have also worked in different fields or roles in your career. Certainly, you have worked in different environments, some with strong cultures, others maybe not. And, you’ve done different kinds of work (great fit or not, inspiring or not), and you’ve had different kinds of supervisors (skilled or not, supportive or not). And, you too have learned wisdom along the way.

Taking the time to write out what I have learned at one job as I roll into the next job, or even just reflecting on the things I’m learning in my current job–this has been a great exercise for me over the years. As you read my list here, consider, “What are 10 things being a [one role] taught me about [next role]?” And then, would you consider sharing these discoveries with me? (Email here: marc@marcfey.com with the subject line: What my job taught me).

So, for those 7+ years I spent as a pastor, here are the first 5 (of 10) things I learned that have helped me to be effective at marketing (#6-10 in next blog)–

  1. The story is the most important thing: Hospital rooms, weddings, funerals, and many, many times around the dinner table, our most important values are revealed in these places. It’s where the real story happens and gets talked about. Marketing—true marketing—is about understanding people’s stories, what they care about, what they have experienced, and realizing how sacred every person’s story is.Being a pastor taught me empathy, shaped in me a commitment to honor people’s dignity and the mystery of each life. In marketing—true marketing—we bring this same respect to the people we are serving with our products and services, and it makes all the difference in the world.
  2. Commit to truth: I’ve seen pastors maketruth-1 courageous decisions—standing up for the underdog when it cost them a popular board member’s allegiance–and their monthly tithe check. Authenticity, courage, and candid exchanges about real results–I’ve learned these are the only meaningful bricks on which to build a strong foundation. Marketing—true marketing—avoids posturing and posing, and instead digs deep into the data to find out what is really happening, honoring that truth every day.
  3. Give—always: The vast majority of pastors I have known in my life are really good at giving, First, from a salary standpoint, pastors typically make 50% of what they could make in the for-profit world. They share their time, their dinner table, and many holidays with folks who might not have anywhere else to go. As a pastor I learned to– give credit to teammates, give compassion to employees who are going through a tough season in life, give time to others by looking them in the eyes–to really listen.books-3
  4. Value creativity at every step of the process: I was amazed over the years in m role as pastor what incredible talent and creativity resided within the church community. Artists, children’s workers, thespians, singers, musicians, and poets—I was blessed to lead in churches rich in creativity, and to serve on leadership teams who valued this creative energy.As a result, I saw the transformative impact of creativity on otherwise normal ideas and activities. Marketing—true marketing—values creative input at every step of the challenge, not just at the conceptual stage but through to the problem solving, optimization stage.
  5. Yes is the most powerful word: A big part of the life of a pastor is getting people to say “yes,” and, for the right reason. Yes to volunteering in the youth ministry, yes to contributing to the financial needs of the church, yes to reaching out to less fortunate members of the community, yes to living for others instead of oneself. These are important challenges, and frankly, are the key to ushering in a new way of seeing and experiencing life. For wise pastors, helping people say “yes” was about helping live in a story larger than themselves.There’s an art of helping people say “yes” for the right reasons. It’s a big skill I use in my work today in marketing–carefully honoring each person’s own motivations and values. Maybe marketing 20 years ago was about manipulating people (remember all those discussions about subliminal advertising?). Today it’s about serving people with the products and services that fit them.

Here’s the preview for #6-10…

6. No is a powerful word too

7. Your job is an assignment, not your identity

8. Servant leadership is the best approach

9. Core values are the language of the heart

10. It’s not about me:

screenshot_typing laptop

What are your experiences? Consider sending me your answer to this question: “What are 10 things being a [one role] taught me about [next role]?” (Email me here: marc@marcfey.com with the subject line: What I learned).

Brilliant Ideas Need Actions–the Right Actions

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, and magic and power in it. Begin it now.” – Goethe

 

idea generation typewriter

 

If words birth an idea, action animates it, making an idea a real, living, breathing organism. The right actions give an idea a place in the world, forever changing both us and our world. It’s a powerful notion—that we bring an idea to life with our words and our actions, and the world is not the same again.

Arguably, this is the realm of the entrepreneur, and although I am entrepreneurial, I am certainly not an entrepreneur.

My entrepreneur friends are a breed of their own. Most are bold and brash idea-generators who are “believers of the first order.” They see tomorrow as clearly as you and I see the sky at dusk. They are quick to enlist anyone and everyone who will listen and believe with them in the merit of their idea. These audacious entrepreneur friends of mine also live under both the blessing and the curse of being idea generators who “make things happen.”

These entrepreneurs have taught me a lot about the miracle of giving life to an idea—many times through the exhilarating experience of the generative process. These entrepreneurs brilliantly bring together creativity, practical need, and action.

entrepreneur image

Of course, you don’t have to be around entrepreneurs very long to also know that “it doesn’t always work out like they thought. Some of the ideas end with “fire and brimstone,” the crash and burn outcome when ideas go awry. Sometimes these ideas don’t work out because of bad timing, sometimes due to the entrepreneur’s own weaknesses and leadership limitations, and still other times because the idea just didn’t have the horsepower to make it a reality. And therefore, these entrepreneurs’ ideas have the power to turn us into a hero or a goat. All of this is connected to how and why good ideas become a reality.

With that, here are 5 learnings, along with potential action steps, to make your brilliant idea a reality:

1. Give your idea the right words, then give your idea to the right person/people. Great entrepreneurs are really good communicators and have an innate ability to connect their idea to the right people. They start by giving others a reason to care about their idea and how the world would be different if their idea became a reality. They do this by telling stories and using powerful action words, so that a person can see himself in the story, too. At some point, ownership is shared, when a person can clearly see their own place in making the idea become a reality. The very best entrepreneurs are really good at sharing ownership of the idea, thus enlisting others’ commitment, passion, and influence.

Action step: Take some time to articulate your own good idea. Give it the right words. Then schedule 3 appointments with people who are able to you make your idea become a reality. Meet with each person, share the vision, and importantly, define each person’s role in helping you bring your idea to life. Tell the story and make it clear each of them has an important role to play. Then, evaluate–how did it go?

2. Be brutally honest about the costs. Good ideas are a dime a dozen. If you do the math, that makes each idea worth less than a penny (right?!). Instead, great ideas have real costs, and the likelihood of an idea becoming a reality is directly tied accurately evaluating the cost. I have been around my fair share of entrepreneurs who aren’t honest about the costs. Either with themselves, with others, or both. These leaders are some of the most dangerous to be around, by the way. But, for the leader who is honest, who shares the costs candidly, as part of the invitation to sacrifice for the mission, these leaders are often the most inspiring because they are not afraid to ask…and they know what the cost is to the people they are asking to sacrifice.

Action Step: Build a chart to map out the expenses of your new idea in these categories: $ costs (what are the hard costs to get started), time costs (how much time are you asking for), talent costs (what expertise you need), emotional costs (how much emotional energy are you asking for). Then, ask one person to put words to the chart–where are the real risks, relationally, emotionally, and otherwise.

3. Don’t let overwhelming costs (read: “impossible”) be the reason to stop developing your idea. The effective entrepreneur is brutally honest about the costs, yet also finds ways to “push forward” in the face of the “impossible.” The reality is that good ideas are a dime a dozen, but great ideas are special, and are worth overcoming what might appear to be “overwhelming” costs.

Action Step: Write down the end of the story—how will the world be different if you and your team are able to execute on the great idea. When we have a clear idea of the value of a great idea made a reality, when have the hope and expectation to overcome the overwhelming costs.

4. Clarify the “why”: A brilliant idea has obvious value, but every idea, no matter how brilliant, must also answer the “so what?” question. Simon Sinek says that you have to “start with why” (see the TED Talk), pointing out that “everyone knows what they do, many know how they do it, but few articulate ‘why’ they do it.” The world is awaiting the inspiration of a great idea that clearly articulates the “why.”

Action Step: Watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on answering the why (http://bit.ly/1j0lJVm). Then, with your core team, answer this question together, and put your answer up, somewhere where you will see it often.

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5. Give: Generosity is the currency of ideas. I’ve observed that the most generous entrepreneurs are often the ones with the best ideas. Is it because collaboration is their “default setting” and therefore they are always putting new ideas together in creative ways? Or, is it through their willingness to contribute to others’ good ideas, they also receive the good will of others?

I am not sure what the exact correlation is, but I can tell you, my generous entrepreneur friends very often have the best ideas. So, when you are starting out with a new great idea, the temptation will be to horde resources and hide your idea. While there is a legitimate reason to protect the intellectual property of your new idea, I have found most ideas are in more danger of being squandered than they are of being stolen.

Action Steps: Especially while you are developing your own great idea, look to participate in at least one other strategic engagement for an idea other than your own. This may be formal or informal. By participating in someone else’s creative process, you will not only express generosity, but you’ll also see how this same process will help you in your own iterative process.

What are your best ideas? What have you learned from being an entrepreneur? Or, from your entrepreneur friends who have taught you about idea-generation?

Brilliant Ideas Need Words—the Right Words

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“A pile of rocks ceases to be rocks when somebody contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind.”  Antoine St. Exupery

I have met a lot of people who have brilliant ideas. In fact, one of the things I like to do is to ask, point blank, “What’s the best idea you have ever had?” And if I really want to get inside someone’s head (and get a glimpse into their heart for that matter), I ask, “You have a brilliant idea right now…quick, what is it? Don’t think…just say it.”

I know some people who have found a way to walk in brilliant ideas. They’ve moved from having brilliant ideas to, frankly, just being brilliant. (That’s a discussion for another time).

Sean gets a picture in his mind of the website, and begins to build it…lines of code turn into the expression of his brilliant idea, making it more than a website—there is an idea behind it, and when I catch a glimpse of what he is after, I am amazed…never mind when the site actually launches!

Because I believe every person is gifted with these two things—creativity and their unique experience of the world—I believe there is at least one brilliant idea in every person, an idea struggling to find expression. The brilliant idea’s genesis is the words a person gives to it—and, I love to help people find the right words to their brilliant idea.

It goes something like this:

“What injustice makes you angry?” or “If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?” or “If you had the budget, what great idea would you make into a reality?”

Then, one follow up question is all it takes—“Where would you start?” The second question makes the first question concrete.

Two things happen when we answer these two questions. First, we start to believe. The words are seeds of belief that begin to take root. You push through all the words that don’t fit. The part of the dream that is vanity gets chased away (well, maybe that takes some time). Your effort in choosing words makes you throw away the parts of your idea that are bad (yes, there are some bad ideas).

Your words also force into hand-to-hand combat “the doubting inner you,” who voices damaging words like, “That’s a stupid idea,” or “See, you aren’t creative,” or “That’s not a big enough/smart enough/important enough, etc., idea.” Or, worse, you think, “Don’t even entertain the hope for that!” Instead, “the determined you” has to speak to your idea, coax out of it the words that give it life. I love how Charles Dickens describes the process: “An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”

It is also important to point out the more subtle struggle you’ll encounter with certain people in your life, who will come at you indirectly, offering the lukewarm praise that gets in your head, and causes doubt. You must choose carefully with whom you share your idea’s first words. Nothing damages a brilliant idea more than the wrong person getting a hold of it. The ancient writer Ovid pointed out that “a new idea is delicate” and that it can be “killed by a sneer or a yawn,” and “stabbed to death by a quip or worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.”

Brad, an attorney and long-time friend of mine, has a brilliant idea to shape a public school district’s policies in ways that strengthen families in the district, thus giving young people the character and confidence to lead the next generation’s impact on the world. It’s a long shot, and that’s what I love about it–he is working to change the world in a practical way.

Your words also expose your brilliant idea to the light, driving the roots deep, each perfect word giving life to the seed.  When the words are the right words, a miracle of sorts happens…it starts to become real for others, not just you.

My mother-in-law’s words are simple: “I am stitching a quilt for Paul. What are his favorite colors?” A few months later, Meme’s life experiences and creativity emerge through the fabrics and the hours of meticulous cutting and stitching, creating a new and brilliant texture in Paul’s world—and, really for all our worlds. A brilliant idea come to life.

Maybe it’s a little like God breathing life into His best idea: “Then God formed and breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” We breath life into the brilliant idea we have through the words and the actions we give it.

The artists and writers help us. They give us the words for our brilliant ideas. Their words serve not only the story they are telling to us, but also for our own stories, the ones we are writing every day through our lives. Joseph Conrad said, “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see.”

Kathy, my wife, sketches out a cartoon (cartoon characters she is known for by her friends and family). There emerges not just figures on a page–which are in themselves funny and brilliant–but also an insight about the relationships among the characters. She did this on Valentine’s Day about 30 years ago, a couple months before we got engaged, a sketch of me and her, standing at a garden, watching the plants and flowers grow. Her brilliant idea simply yet profoundly expressed through the cartoon–for me as real today as 30 years ago.

So, my question for you today is this: “You have a brilliant idea right now…quick, what is it? Don’t think…just say it.”

Start there. Give your brilliant idea the gift of your words.

And then, see what happens next.

(Next blog: Brilliant Ideas Need Actions—the Right Actions)

I would love to hear about your brilliant ideas. Respond to this blog, or confidentially at marc@marcfey.com.

What is a Generous Leader / Influencer?

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Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood . . . Make big plans; aim high in hope and work. – Daniel Burnham, American architect (1846-1912)

All work has inherent value.

Because work has value apart from the collective value of the whole project, both in quality (excellent and not so excellent) and in quantity (a lot and a little bit), what we do with that value is an important test for each of us.

The challenge—and opportunity—is to offer our work as a gift, and to value others’ work as a gift (even if they wouldn’t see it that way):

  • Do the people who work with/for me know I value the work they offer?
  • Do I see my work only in a transactional way, based on the number of dollars, or the “prestige credits” it gets me?
  • Or, do I offer my work to others, and to the world at large, with a conviction that it has inherent value, whether or not others acknowledge that value?

Some people just get this. Seth Godin describes these kinds of people as a “linchpins,” who “work without a map, solve interesting problems, lead, connect and create an impact.”

They know that their work stands on its own, independent of another’s opinion of it, and its value goes way beyond what a fickle economy would say (through the salary and benefits package). Rather, the generous leader/worker sees her sweat, creativity, intelligence, skill, experience, passion, opportunity, and/or emotional effort as the true indicators of its value.

Here is a challenging notion: Work has value even apart from the motive and attitude of the worker. Attitude, initiative, quality—these factors influence work’s long-term value, but they don’t have the power to eclipse or cancel out its contribution to the world.

I’ve had some crappy bosses (and probably been one myself at times). It’s a good thing this hasn’t canceled the value of my work or the work of my boss or colleague.

This should change the way I see the people around me: the guy fixing my car, the vendor on the other side of the contract who is (apparently) charging me more than I prefer, the boss whose emotional outbursts are clues about his own internal struggle, the DMV person helping me swap out my Colorado driver’s license for a California one (along with the additional taxes and fees, but that’s another blog), the cashier at the local grocery store who, from the look on her face, clearly doesn’t think her work is of much value or consequence.

I think it’s a cool notion that we all have the opportunity to offer our work as a gift, knowing it has inherent value. And, importantly, to RECEIVE others’ work as a gift, whether they consider it a gift or not.

This assumes a very noble and high view of work, a view that not everyone shares. In fact, yesterday I read a crazy quote on a Chipotle to-go paper bag:

“Hope that, in future, all is well, and everyone eats free, no one must work, all just sit around feeling love for one another.” (George Saunders)

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Wow. The assumption behind that quote is stunning. Work is bad. To be avoided. It certainly doesn’t afford dignity and value to the notion of work.

What if a big part of the way we love happens through work, and how we get along happens through what we offer to one another through the work we do.

I am interested in the part of work that goes beyond these external value systems. I am interested in that ineffable part of work that a person offers as the expression of his passion, her creative effort, problem-solving skills, and determination to bring value beyond the superficial, two-dimensional work product.

Instead, these inspiring people see work as three, even four-dimensional, as both a very private and very public matter. They see their work as an expression of the way they see the world, others, and themselves. It’s core values, culture, mission, vision, and strategy all wrapped up in one elegant package—a person offering their work to the world as A GIFT.

They take full ownership and responsibility of the work they offer. It makes them fearless and ultimately impervious to criticism. They learn from it, instead of it chipping away at their confidence in what they offer.

I can build a great team with generous people. I can be a great team member by being a generous person.

How can you move toward becoming a generous leader/influencer? Who can you talk to today about this idea of generous leadership?

Some generous leaders/influencers I have known:

Paul has served leaders around the world for more than 50 years. But its his genuine enthusiasm for the day-to-day realities of young leaders that fuels his passion. Most people miss this. They see a man who flies all around the world speaking at leadership retreats, coaching high level leaders…but it’s the look in his eyes when he is talking about the real-life struggles of his friends and colleagues that is the true gift of his work.

Ashley is a stubborn believer that better is always possible. So, whether she is sending out an email campaign, organizing a corporate annual event, or weighing in on the fissure she sees in the corporate culture, she is all in.

Thomas compares himself to the friends he’s known for over 30 years, trying to figure out where his work fits in compared to the more traditional routes they took. But he misses what I see: the creative and circuitous route he has taken has been driven by a love for a group of people from the Middle East and for the others who have given their lives to serve. That’s a powerful notion: that a whole work life trajectory has been driven by love for others.

Stephanie’s infectious smile and energy at a 6-foot table, on a break where IT folks are running past her to restrooms and coffee bars, prevails. By the end of the day, people have noticed her. When Stephanie catches your eye, you are curious about what she is so excited about.

Aaron is a unapologetic software sales executive who drives toward profit like the proverbial “bull dog on a pork chop.” However, he also applies that same determination to not “sell out” to the superficiality of a merely successful career. Instead, he writes a blog (www.AaronMcHugh.com) where he fearlessly and candidly articulates a pursuit of the deeper life, one of passion, significance, and authenticity.

…and the stories of hundreds of other generous leaders/influencers.

3 Strategies For When Your Work Gets Hard

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[This blog appeared on The 2:10 Leader Blog earlier this year. I am importing this year’s blogs as I transition them to MarcFey.com]

My 14 year-old daughter Annie and I have a running joke. It started one day  (a few years ago) while I was folding laundry (yes, you read that correctly). Annie asked me why I like doing laundry so much.

“Excuse me,” I asked, astonished at the question, and laughing at the absurdity of me actually LIKING to do the laundry.

“You don’t do the laundry because you like doing it?” she clarified.

“Ha! Not even close, Annie. I do it because it needs to be done,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said, her eyebrows furrowed with this new piece of information.

The running joke, now, is that I love doing laundry. Annie will say, “Well, Dad, I would help you, but I know how much you love to do the laundry and I wouldn’t want to take away all that joy you get.” Or, she will say, “Dad, why don’t you let someone else do the laundry for a change?” Annie makes me laugh.

It has given us occasion, too, to talk about the nature of work. We’ve talked about how work is hard, and often takes a lot more energy and time than we had imagined. She’s asked me why some people get to do what they love and others do not. We’ve even talked about the fact that some very hard-working and determined folks cannot find a job. Or don’t get paid enough to take care of life’s essentials.

The Good Book refers to these as “thorns and thistles” and explains that it’s “by the sweat of your brow” that we do our work. That’s what we are talking about. The reality that often, our work is hard. Time conspires against us. Problems creep up, miscommunication causes confusion even among the best team. Thorns and thistles.

So, when the thorns and thistles abound, here are a few strategies for rediscovering the deeper purpose in your work.

  • Build the team. When we’re slogging through work, take some time to focus on making the team stronger. In research comparing high and poor performing teams, communication, it turns out, is a controlling variable (Pentland, HBR, April 2012). So, whether you are the leader of the team or not, initiate an activity that gets people talking–together and more often, and even better, about meaningful topics for discussion.
  • Learn something new. The best companies know that a culture of learning is key to long-term corporate success. When obstacles arise, consider challenging them through proactive learning actions. Look for an online class, a workshop, conference, or series of books on a certain topic.
  • Unplug. Sometimes, when the thorns and thistles abound, unplugging is the best action of all. Stepping back from the problem creates a new perspective, restarts tired thinking patterns, and refreshes your energy to take another run at the challenge. The act of unplugging also gives you margin to see better, and that often has the effect of re-ordering priorities.

What strategies do you employ to deal with the things in your work that you don’t necessarily love to do–like laundry?!