Is your job as hard as you want it to be?

First: a Veterans/Remembrance Day moment of appreciation to all military veterans out there. The rest of us will never actually understand the level of service and sacrifice that you made. Thank you, truly.

Now, some of that leadertainment you came here for. Many people find themselves restless at work, struggling to find balance. If you are, like me, a modern day corporate Goldilocks seeking professional balance that is “just right,” perhaps this framework will be helpful to you.

  This is not what I meant by “hard.” Entertaining, though, on a few levels.

What I’m proposing is that a job can be hard on you physically, mentally, both, or neither. Ok, I won’t wait up late for the Nobel phone call, but perhaps you haven’t taken stock of your job this way before, or thought of ways to change the balance.

Why is your job hard?
Why is your job hard?

Once you’ve placed your current job on the matrix, ask whether the role fits what you want from your career at this stage. Maybe your commitments at home are growing and you’d happily take on some career Atrophy for more bath time with the kids and date nights with your spouse, or the flexibility to start volunteering. At the other end of the scale, perhaps you are a recent empty nester and are ready for the Exhaustion of a tough growth challenge with a startup organization. Many of us are very happy with Heavy Lifting or Deep Thinking roles, once have found the right match for our strengths.

In an upcoming post, we’ll dive in to the concept of purpose at work. For now, think about why your job is hard, and whether you are satisfied with the answer. If not, collect your thoughts and reach out to your manager, your peers, and your team, and make a plan to change it for the better.


The most overlooked resolution: do more of what you do best

Maybe you are part of the 55% of Americans who don’t make New Year’s resolutions, or maybe you are instead part of the 8% who self-report as being successful in achieving them. Losing weight, saving money, spending more time with family are all popular resolutions. Reading these statistics about New Year’s resolutions prompted me to observe that because most resolutions involve change, we are overlooking a powerful way to improve our lives: resolving to do more of what we do best.

We all have a number of strengths, and focusing our resolutions (New Year related or otherwise) solely on the aspects of ourselves we wish to change risks spending precious time and energy on efforts that may not make much of a difference in our lives overall. Think of it as re-balancing your portfolio of personal attributes: you might achieve a higher overall return by investing more in your stars and not waste more time and fees fiddling with the dogs.

Cover of "Strengths-Based Leadership"
Some personal development pundits have suggested this approach as well, most notably Tom Rath’s book Strengths Based Leadership. I’m not suggesting you put on rose-colored glasses and ignore the aspects of your life you’d like to change. Often the act of writing it down and creating some accountability by telling others your resolution can help spark the change. But don’t overlook the aspects of your personal or professional life that you can resolve to do even more of, and have an even happier New Year (just don’t greet anyone with that phrase in March!).

4 counterintuitive leadership traits

“The difference between a leader and a dreamer is who gets followed.” I can’t attribute that quote to anyone in particular, maybe it was a fortune cookie. It’s also possible to substitute “tyrant” for “dreamer” and create another set of leadership lessons.

Segway Guy
Not being followed.

Much of what has been written about leadership styles emphasizes being visionary, creative, decisive, and fearless. My sense is that too much of these traits undermine the trust of the team you lead and erode your credibility. I’m not trying to write the next revolution in leadership theory (heroic, post-heroic, servant, virtual, 21st century — all taken) or even to suggest that the points below are academically complete. But they line up with my experiences in life so far, and they work. What do you think?

  1. Don’t try to right, just be clear. How often do you make a point of having the last word? If you want to build a team who points out risks in your plans and builds solutions collaboratively, you need to give them airtime without insecurity. Thanks to Ping Fu (what a name!) for that lesson in Build Magazine.
  2. Show your vulnerability to build a reputation for strength. It can be very humbling during a tough period to know that your role model has experienced similar setbacks and grown from them. Rather than acting invincible, be open about your weaknesses, failures, and fears to show that you, too, are human. Surprisingly, your team might regard you as a stronger character because of those revelations.
  3. Don’t try to be dynamic if you can’t first be consistent. Do you set sweeping strategic goals or drill down to every minute detail? Do you codify tribal knowledge into efficient process flows or do you rearrange the furniture to spark creative innovation? Do you sway with the ups and downs of individual relationships or lock a laser beam on the goal? Yes, we should all develop multiple leadership styles to be more successful in a wider range of situations and with diverse teams. But trust is a prerequisite, and consistency builds trust. To clarify your current strengths, ask for some feedback or try a more scientific assessment such as Tom Rath’s.
  4. At some point, everyone just wants to be told what to do (even if that is just so they can argue with you). The questioning/Socratic method of coaching is great for learning and building ownership. Don’t forget the root of the word “executive:” you’ve got to pull the trigger at some point. Those on your team looking for directions to follow will do so readily; those looking to challenge your authority will enjoy getting another chance!