Monday, January 21

Taking Your Work Seriously

When I was about seven years old, our family visited a hospitalized friend who had suffered a nervous breakdown. On the way home, I remember asking my dad what causes a breakdown. He replied that nobody really knows for sure, but it's less likely if you have two things: belief in something larger than yourself and a sense of humor.

How true that is for organizations as well as individuals! Organizational leaders can lose their perspective, forgetting what's really important--their purpose and their people--and focus on the trivial, meaningless, or negative. Ask yourselves, "If we had visitors who had not read our company literature, but just observed what we do and how we do it, what business would they conclude we are in? What would they think we value?"

Try it yourself--review the meeting notes for the last year of your board or team meetings and notice where the most time was invested. Not long ago, for example, I facilitated a high stakes planning meeting for a school district. Their focus was on building projects--not as a means to the end of improving teaching and learning (never mentioned), but for the "lasting legacy" of their leadership it would provide. Interestingly, the walls of their conference room were adorned with beautifully framed photos of each of the district buildings.

Moving from the Midwest to Washington, DC many years ago, I was struck by a noticeable difference in perspective: Midwesterners tended to take their work seriously while not taking themselves too seriously. Washingtonians, on the other hand, tended to take themselves more seriously than their work. If this is even partially true in your organization, it may be time for a recalibration. Believing in a purpose beyond the "bottom line" and rekindling a sense of humor may just prevent your organization from suffering a breakdown.

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