I recently began reading Simon Senik’s book, “Start With Why”, and it caused me to reflect on my personal “Whys”. Twice in my life, my career has taken distinct, measurable turns for the better. Looking back, I can assign these shifts to defining my daily guiding thought, or my ‘Why’. These changes are captured on two had written sticky notes on my computer. My first sticky note says,
How Do You Know?
What does this question mean, and how did it influence my career path? The most intelligent among us are correct only fifty percent of the time at best, and less than half of what you believe is completely true…
Let that sink in…
With every life experience, our brains make meaning of what we observe by comparing it to what we already know, then fill knowledge gaps from existing beliefs (not from actual data). This process happens subconsciously, and it’s completely normal, with the exception of your occasional Sheldon Cooper.
With time and repetition, my knowledge and beliefs become my “expertise”. I use my expertise to sell my value to my employer and co-workers. It’s what I hang my hat on when I walk into a room. However, hidden inside my expertise are all of the invisible knowledge gaps that my brain has filled in with life experiences that may or may not be true.
By asking “How do you know?” every single day, I constantly challenge what I believe to be true, and remain open to learning, shifting, and growing. It continuously raises the data quality of my expertise, and gives me credibility with my fellow workers. Most importantly, it forces me to show up every day as a learner instead of a knower.
While I was relatively successful, my career eventually hit a plateau.
It was then that a friend of mine recommended “What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful” by Marshall Goldsmith , and my second sticky note was born.
“How do I make those around me more successful?”
This one shifted my role from a high performing individual contributor to a performance leader and mentor. It changed my mindset from “How do I get the highest performance rating for myself” to “How do I get the highest performance rating for the people I support.” This subtle shift changes how I show up when working with a others. It changes the way I see them, the questions I ask, and how I lead the teams that I work with. Deep down I thought I always acted this way, but keeping it visual and making it my “why” helped me to make it real in my daily behavior.
How effective was it? Prior to this note, I received two promotions over an 8 year time period. Since changing my focus with this note, I have received two promotions in just 28 months time, and received the CEO Award for Employee Development. However, my true reward from my goal shift has been the passion that it gives me to wake up and go to work every day. My family has commented that they can’t believe that I work as many hours as I do. I just laugh and reply that its more common for my boss to tell me to go home than it is for him to ask me to stay over.
So, what is your Why?
What is your passion? Once you find it, you positively change your life forever. What’s even better is that you positively influence the lives of others. For me, there is no greater joy, no greater mission, no greater purpose.