Benjamin Franklin was brilliant, but in 1789 he forgot to include an essential element in his famous remark, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” He should have said “nothing can be certain except death, taxes AND dealing with the unexpected.”
We use religion and spirituality to deal with death. CPAs with taxes. However, what helps us deal with the unexpected – the obstacles, setbacks and disappointments that throw our professional (or personal) world into chaos? The unexpected can paralyze. It can ruin our best intentions and shut us down faster than a Nor’easter blizzard.
We should never allow the unexpected to get in the way of making real our best intentions. After some soul searching, here are three questions I use to guide me through the unexpected:
What do I stand for? What can I count on about myself? What can inspire me to move forward in spite of problems the unexpected is causing?
I first remember using these questions when the unexpected challenged my new business.
When I started my business, a timely introduction enabled me to get work from a new VP at a global company in Boston. I was a very small fish, living in Columbus Ohio. The new VP was facing his first management committee meeting where he would pitch the project I was helping him create. I developed the materials he needed and emailed them. However, on the morning he replied asking for some additional elements — that would require a lot more research — it was only two days before his meeting and I’d just returned from the doctor. My nagging cold had raged overnight into a severe case of bronchitis. If I went back to bed (so tempting) I wouldn’t make his deadline. I knew there wouldn’t be more work from him once he got acclimated into his new company’s resources. And the money, while needed, was not as vital then as going to sleep. So I rationalized, surely someone at his company could take over. But then, I turned to my three questions.
What do I stand for? (My response was helping leaders succeed.)
What strengths could I count on here? (When I was healthy, I cared about my work and I had the skills to do what he needed.)
I struggled with what could inspire me to do the work feeling so sick. I visualized him walking into his meeting unprepared but that didn’t move me. Then I visualized his having convincing materials, winning approval and using what I’d done to make a difference at his company. That inspired me. I cared about creating that outcome enough that I was willing to spend the next 8 hours at the PC. I sent back the plan. His project was approved. I felt a sense of exhilaration that my purpose was real. Knowing that distracted me from how sick I felt.
How do we deal with the unexpected? By being recharged by our purpose. So as 2017 is ready to launch, if you haven’t discovered your purpose yet, take time to think about what you stand for/believe in that creates meaning in your work and gives you great satisfaction. A sense of purpose creates its own inspiration, producing a lot of positive energy.
Leadership expert Simon Sinek, in his TED talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” says purpose is the WHY behind what we do. It is what inspires others to follow us.
Most companies have mission or purpose statements. However when leaders’ actions don’t inspire employees in how they demonstrate it, we can’t let that stop us from taking our own and the organization’s purpose seriously. Research indicates that having a deeper sense of purpose creates engagement and satisfaction with one’s job. Everyone deserves that and we control the ability to have it.
Starbucks’ mission, for example, is “to inspire & nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” A Starbucks I visit often has amazed me with how its employees show up. A barista called “hello Gael” after only my 3rd visit. Another barista, I didn’t remember waiting on me more than once, recited my drink order specifications when I reached the counter before I could order to see if she had it right. These simple acts created a sense of being part of a community there, something I’ve never experienced in any other Starbucks. No matter what unexpected problems might be going on in their personal or work lives, these baristas consistently make me (and others) feel valued, which is the essence of nurturing the human spirit.
When in our jobs or personal lives, the unexpected throws up roadblocks consider the power of your answers to these three questions.
What do you stand for? And what does your organization stand for?
What can you count on about yourself?
What can inspire you to move forward in spite of problems the unexpected is causing?
Then visualize the best that can happen when you own your purpose. Visualize the positive impact you can have on your team, company, customers or community.
And then feel the magnificent energy when you commit to making your purpose real.
Gael O’Brien, December 3o, 2016
Gael O’Brien is an executive coach, presenter and leadership columnist. She publishes The Week in Ethics and is a columnist for Business Ethics Magazine where her December column is Where Wells Fargo Goes from Here
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