Nothing is so common as the wish to be remarkable.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes
This was one of the opening quotes of the book Remarkable! by Randy Ross and David Saylers
. And what a way to draw me in as a reader. I want to be remarkable. Often I have felt some guilt for this desire–as if the desire to be remarkable is uncommon and unbecoming.
Alright, so that settles that. It’s okay to want to be remarkable. Now what? How do I enrich the lives of others? How can I become a better husband and a better teammate? By living on purpose. Living on purpose means making conscious decisions that reflect your values, asking profound questions, learning with humility, empowering and engaging others, and creating value.
Tackling those in reverse order, value creation is centered around bringing value to others. How can you serve others? We can best serve others by leveraging our strengths and our passions. But that’s not all. We must ask questions. We need to understand others. We must align our strengths and passions with the needs of the other person (whether it’s your customer or your significant other). Otherwise we’re just flexing our strengths and pursuing our own passions.
The antithesis of value creation is value extraction. Value extraction can be identified if you’re asking questions like, “What can I gain from this job to use for the next?”, “How can I improve my image”, or “What do I need to do to move up the career ladder?”. We cannot both create value and extract value–it’s one or the other. Treat value as zero-sum. When we extract value, we cancel out the value we have previously created. When one teammate extracts value, it cancels out the value other teammates are creating. Value extraction can be toxic.
Engaged employees are paramount to success. That’s nothing extremely new or shocking to the business world. The times I’ve been happiest, I’ve been the most engaged at work. (Or is it, the times I’ve been most engaged at work, I’ve been the happiest?)
Think of engagement as the clutch on a car. You can have the most powerful engine (workforce) there is, but without a clutch, you won’t get out of first gear. And you’ll burn a lot of energy. The engine is constantly revved, but you never get to the next gear (level). Engagement and synergy go hand-in-hand with growth.
Before we can encourage or increase engagement in others, we have to engage ourselves in meaningful ways. Asking profound questions, rather than just ordinary questions. For example, instead of asking, “What went wrong with this project?”, ask, “What did we learn, and how can we apply those learnings to future projects?”. Leaders who engage do not simply ask questions; they ask catalytic questions that cultivate engagement.
The other side to engagement is ownership. Imagine you own a small flower shop. You have one employee, Emily. She doesn’t particularly care about flowers, but she rather enjoys the customer interactions. You have had a passion for floral design since childhood, and you have supported your family for years by running the shop. Emily shows up, day in and day out, punching the clock and running the register. Between you and Emily, who shows more responsibility? Who spends more discretionary time to create value? Naturally, you do.
Now what if you could provide a similar sense of ownership to Emily?
Over several conversations with Emily, you learn she enjoys seeing customers leave happy the most. She puts extra effort into bouquets when she knows a customer has an order for a special day. You know Emily is passionate about customers and has a knack for making special orders that much more special.
You ask Emily to come up with 3 ideas for holiday marketing campaigns, and present them to you next month, in time for the holiday season. This might involve Emily making more personal connections with frequent customers. It might involve tracking common orders, or finding what caused high ratings on review sites. It definitely involves some creativity and ownership on Emily’s part. It’s a great way to empower Emily with responsibility and creativity, and it’s an especially good growth opportunity.
If engagement is the clutch, then humility is the oil–what we need to keep the engine running smoothly. The engine needs fresh oil–much like we continually need fresh doses of humility.
When I think about the times I’ve been happiest in my career, a single theme stands out–how much value I created. In the moment, I may have ascribed the happiness due to praise, or more responsibility, or more leadership roles bestowed by my employer. At the end of the day, I was happy and engaged because I was creating value for others.
When I think about the times I’ve been unhappiest, there were difficult coworkers, stressful customer demands, and a frustrating manager or two. And then there was me–the consistent piece to those puzzles. I was defensive of my actions, I was often worried about my image, and I was embarrassed of my failures. I could also describe in length the failures of my coworkers, customers, and managers. The consistent theme is my lack of humility in all of those situations.
Most importantly, during stressful situations, I have a choice. I can choose to posture up and blame others, or I can choose to be humble and learn. We all have that choice.
Even more sobering is this simple fact–when we choose to be defensive instead of humble, we rob ourselves of a chance to learn.
The Clutch Question
Remember that choice we have? What do the nuts and bolts of that choice look like? Say you’re having an argument with your significant other. You have the choice to (a) posture up and be defensive, protecting your image, or (b) taking ownership of your failures and focusing on your relationship. The “clutch” question is, “What is the superior choice?”. The guiding principle is “OR” vs. “-ER”. “OR” being an acronym for ownership and relationships. “-ER” meaning to posture up as “better”, “smarter”, “more reliable”, whatever the comparison may be.
The choices aren’t always this easy. If you’re asked to choose between two values, which do you choose? For example, do you deliver a feature to customers quickly with a risk that it has bugs? Or do you spend more time working out the kinks?
Live Purposefully By Your Values
While some decisions may split you between two values, you want to make the conscious choice of, “What do I value most in this situation?”. You consciously evaluate your values, as well as the value you can create for others. You live to create value for others–for something bigger than yourself.