Steve Cooke is CEO of Xylery Corporation, a large professional services firm with a global presence. Steve has led a highly successful career, graduating at the top of his high school class before going on to West Point and leading a successful career in the US Military. On retirement, Steve went back to school to earn an MBA. He parlayed that into jobs of increasing responsibility until he took the helm of Xylery and has led the organization to spectacular growth over the past 5 years.
Steve always walked through the front door of his corporate headquarters, eschewing the executive parking lot and entrance. He liked to greet people in the lobby with a warm smile and a handshake. Steve was well liked and highly respected.
As he is shaking hands with the security guard at the front today, he hears a rousing “Hey, Charlie!” from several people in the lobby. He turns to see Charlie Small, one of the firm’s maintenance workers enter the building. Charlie is severely affected with Down Syndrome; he wears thick glasses, stuttering a little, and walking with a limp. Charlie was in his mid-40′s and has been an employee of Xylery for 20 years.
I recently again came across the phrase “unlocking human potential” and it led me to consider the concept in the context of the work we do in development. It leads to me to want to ask questions, but I’m not sure what they are. I’ll take a shot at a few:
What is human potential? Is it our potential to improve the way we do things by 10%? Is it our potential to do things as well as someone else who does it well? Is it our potential to help our organization achieve its goals? Or is it something more than that?
Next week, I’m going to give you an opportunity to learn something. What’s the first question that comes to your mind?
- What reward do I get for participating?
- What is it going to cost me / what effort do I have to put forth?
- What am I going to learn?
All three questions might come to mind, but focus on the first one.
I’m having a great time reading Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, by Alfie Kohn. I have to admit, he just tweaked me with an idea that might explain a few things.
First, by way of background, this book says (as its title might suggest) that rewards are an ineffective way of getting people to do things. “if you do this, you will get that” is a common phrase he vilifies throughout the book (with great arguments both moral and scientific). I don’t want to recount his whole set of arguments – at least in this post. But one of his points is that when you say “do this and get that”, you make “this” the unappealing task and “that” the appealing reward.
(I’ve been rummaging through old blog posts on a now-defunct blog, and salvaging what I think are some of the better ones)
When you give cash to someone, when you send a check or give your credit card number to a charity, we speak of sacrifice. We sacrifice a nice meal at a restaurant, a new tv, or a larger car in exchange for sending out some money. We are pleased with ourselves for the sacrifice we made and we understand that it will bring us good Karma.
But you ask ANYONE that has helped someone less fortunate – not with money but by teaching them something or helping them physically – and the word “sacrifice” will never once be uttered from their mouths. In fact, the word “opportunity” will be heard. Bottom line is that it is infinitely more satisfying to change someone’s life than it is to change their financial status.
Teacher: Harold, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when people are no longer interested?
Harold: A teacher
How do Careers Really Work? The Three Phases | LinkedIn.
An interesting article identifying three phases of a career:
- Promise Phase – just starting out, all based on potential
- Momentum Phase – This is growth based on a combination of experience and potential
- Harvest Phase – The author describes this as “fading” although I’m not sure I agree – more on this in a bit
Have you ever been to a presentation at which the presenter realizes that while he/she only has 15 minutes left, he/she has 45 minutes of material left to present? Typically at that point the presenter does one of three things:
- They say the words “going quickly now…” and then they don’t go quickly. They carry on at a normal pace, past the scheduled close, 15 minutes past the scheduled close, 30 minutes past the scheduled close…. notebooks are closed, pens put away, bags packed, and everyone has one butt cheek off their chair
- They say the words “going quickly now…” and they go really quickly. In fact, you can’t get anything out of it at all, as they race from slide to slide. Fortunately, they pass out the slides because they assumed you are so absorbed in the subject that you will take personal time to read more.
- They cut it off – WAP – right on time. Never mind the most important slides were at the conclusion of the presentation, never mind that their thoughts are incomplete. Thanks for coming, have a nice day.
Development. When we think about development in terms of an individual, we often talk of skills. We think about training people. At a more advanced stage, we think about how they learn. But there’s a question as to when we are done training and facilitating learning. When does someone graduate from external assistance? I’d proposing that can be found in maturing.
On a spectrum with training at one end and learning at the other, we see the role of the mentor at its highest during training, at its lowest during learning. Similarly, the role of the learner is lowest during training and highest during learning. Maturing is something that requires even more of the learner and even less of the mentor.
I am suggesting three dimensions of professional maturity:
- True Values Alignment - The recognition of one’s core values above and beyond the powerful influencers in society
- Subordination of Ego – the realization that more can be done in a relationship with others than can be done by oneself, and the compromises to succeed in that realization
- Know Why – a mastery of a subject that extends beyond having all know how, but the ability to create know how.
You are invited to a cocktail party – after 30 minutes of milling around, you find yourself face to face with someone who’s contribution to your industry is particularly important. For that moment, you have his/her full attention. What do you do?
- Take the opportunity to demonstrate who you are, what you’ve done, and what you know? Get in as much as you can in that limited moment (the classic “Elevator Speech”)
- Ask a question in an effort to bond with this person – i.e. “What in your life gives you the greatest fulfillment?”
- Ask a question to learn something new