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Face the Right Way: Looking for Direction at Work

July 11, 2009

Guest Blog from Dr. Stephen Payne

Peter lowers his head with a slow shake. “Frankly,” he says, “I’m bored to the point of mental numbness… And I know I shouldn’t be; it’s a good job.” Peter tells me this because I coach him in business leadership. “In spite of all the accolades and great bonuses for my team, I get nothing out of this place.” He glances up at me: “Do you think I should look for another job?”

“I’m surprised,” I say, because I am. “Can you give me a little more to go on?”

Deep sigh… “I’m sick to death of days crammed with meetings where I sit with the same people, with the same attitudes, and the same predictable problems — especially when it comes to doing a quality job. I find myself gritting my teeth in meetings. It’s all such a grind.”

Perhaps you relate to Peter. Maybe you’ve felt that wide workaday gap between the inspiration of new challenges and feeling completely uninspired by monotonous routine. If so, experience tells me if you conclude that you are fated to sit forever stuck on the lower end of that continuum — the monotonous routine end — it will likely produce extreme reactions that, frankly, no one needs.

new challenges _________________________ monotonous routine

My heart goes out to Peter as I sense his emptiness. “Sounds pretty serious Peter,” I say as a phrase from a verse somewhere in the book of Isaiah keeps repeating in my mind:

Turn to Me and be saved…

I know that for some time Peter has been turned to seek rapid financial rewards and career progressions. He has received them so often that nothing else satisfies and emptiness overwhelms him. It’s a form of burnout. He has become blind to the idea that his true work purpose is to serve. Turning to self is turning the wrong way. It inevitably produces an unproductive, dissatisfied emotional state — a downer for Peter’s spirit, and possibly for everyone around him. As his trusted advisor my job is to get him to understand this before he makes career decisions he might regret.

Fortunately, I am prepared. This is a common problem and I’ve seen it before. I pass a card with six statements on it to Peter. “I want you to calibrate where you are today. Read down this list carefully,” I say, “then tell me which statement describes you today.” [You can do this exercise yourself; I encourage you to read all six statements before you choose.]

Wounded: I really dislike what this organization stands for.

Unaware: Things just happen here and somehow I move forward.

Learning: I try to help situations by wanting the best for everyone.

Exhibiting: In many situations, I look for ways to keep us all on track.

Leading: I always look for solutions that make us better and take us all much further.

Mastering: I’m certain the best solutions emerge whatever the situation.

Peter’s attitude changes rapidly as he reads the card. “I’ve been facing the wrong way,” he says. “I’ve been fixated on the company instead of looking at my place in the company…”

I nod. “So…where are you today?” I ask.

“I’m somewhere between “Learning and Exhibiting,” Peter says. “And I think I see what I can to do to make things better.”

May I ask which way you are facing today? Are you expecting your work to deliver something better to you, or are you working so that great things will come about through you? If you want inspiration, joy, contentment, promotion, increased sales, great colleagues, and everything you can ever need on your journey, it’s the only direction you can face. There’s no activity at work that is not rewarding when you face the right way.

Peter rises to leave, then pauses: “Say, can I keep that card? I’d like to be able to use it again if I lose track of my real purpose here at work.”

“Absolutely,” I say, and slide the card across the desk. “We’ll talk more about this soon…”
Back in my office later I look up the full quotation. It’s Isaiah 45:22:

Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.

Not a promotion, not a pay raise, not a bonus, not a great boss, not even a great job or brilliant performance appraisal ….simply no other.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2009 9:19 pm

    The new challenges – routine – monotonous continuum can apply across a variety of experiences. And those six statements could be happening at the same time. Right now, I would be hard pressed to select one that describes me today — I can see elements of all six.

    In the example, Peter is motivated by financial rewards and career progressions. If I ponted to any one thing that has characterized my career, it’s been the notion of creating value. And not in the financial or business sense, but in the sense of helping people (and myself) see and create value in their work. I believe this comes from my faith in God — that he created each of us with intrinsic value, and for many of us, discovering that value can often come through the work we do. It doesn’t mean that the value we create will be rewarded in the earthly sense, but in the sense of knowing that the work we do and the value we create in that work reflects and pleases God.

  2. Dr Stephen G. Payne permalink
    July 13, 2009 6:53 pm

    That’s a great insight Glynn, thank you. The process by which we express the full potential of our intrinsic value into our job is subject to so many external triggers of limitation and lack (like competition for earthly rewards), that many people lose the motivation to convert the God-given to the God-pleasing. Thanks for reminding us of the true formula for value creation.

  3. July 21, 2009 1:00 am

    look to me.

    so easy to be distracted from this simple, yet, most important gift, to be able to connect with God.

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