Friday, October 26, 2012

Bring It

I work in government and it's the stereotype about us that people want to get paid, but don't want to do their job. That's not true.

More often than not people are pretty passionate about doing their job and doing it well. Because when they perform they get recognition, and recognition enhances their self-esteem. So there's a natural motivation to succeed.

When people don't try, whether in government or anywhere, there's always a reason. 

* They're in survival mode. They lack options. They'd rather be at home taking care of their kids, their elderly parents, their own ailing health. Or it's the wrong kind of job for their talents.

* Trying is not worth it. They get in trouble every time they color outside the line. Or they produce, but don't get promoted. Or they experience personal, unfair treatment, whether it's discrimination, bullying, marginalization, and so on.

All of the above can be dealt with. Not easily, but in a fairly straightforward fashion because the logic makes sense.

There is one kind of problem very hard to eradicate: the double-bind. That is, sometimes people are caught between trying and not trying because the cultures they're a part of send mixed messages.

Culture is a series of intersecting circles - family, education, workplace, friends. Anytime you find yourself in a peer group.

Many potentially high achievers seem to stop themselves in their own tracks. They block their own promotions! Because they're part of a culture that tells them "don't bother." For example:

* Their work friends hold them back. People spend a lot of time at work. Sometimes peers hold an otherwise productive person back. They want to try, but they withdraw and act sarcastic or less motivated in fear of losing the friendships. You see the conflict often when people get promoted, leaving their friends behind.

* Upbringing has left them confused. You see this a lot with Generation Y. They've been rewarded for following the rules, any rules, instead of getting the job done. Then they get to work and bosses want them to go a level beyond, not just do what they're told. Plain hard work and memorizing doesn't get the gold star anymore, and it's frustrating.

* They've internalized sexism, racism, and so on.  This one is very subtle, starts young, and gets reinforced in adulthood. For minorities, women, and other groups that face discrimination, it sometimes seems impossible to win. For when you fail, you hate yourself because you don't measure up. When you succeed, you hate yourself because who do you think you are? Either way you're wrong.

But the reasons don't really matter. Only in the Army should you follow blindly - and even in the Army I've read about the desire for recruits to take on a more empowered role. Certainly in the knowledge workplace you better think on your own.

In other words, you've got to bring it.

The workplace is unforgiving. So is the relationship market. People who don't care, who don't try, who are self-hating don't add value. 

When I have a choice about who to work with, I only have one criteria: that the person wants to help solve the problem and then they do it. If someone is hungry, and they're unblocked, that person is a valuable member of my team.

Lately I've been trying to write some fiction when I have time. Do you know what? I can't write it. Because I'm just not willing to go out there and do what it takes; I'm blocked. It's painful to admit, but it's better to be honest than to walk around fooling yourself.

Jim Collins, in Good to Great, has a great formula for deciding what companies should be doing to make money, and you can apply it to any aspect of your life. It can help you learn how to bring it, even when you've failed in the past.

Find yourself in this intersecting series of circles:

1) What are you passionate about?

2) What can you do better than anybody else?

3) What will the market pay you for?

When you think about yourself from this outside perspective it's so helpful. You get out of all the internal deliberation and see yourself as an outsider does. Aligned with the world, you are automatically positioned for success. 

Imagine if, for the rest of your life, you didn't have to take a single word of advice. It is possible. Just consider this: If you care about it - if you're good at it - and if other people value it - you have a good chance at succeeding. Now you just have to let yourself succeed. 

Can you get out of your own way and go for it?