ChangeFamily/CommunicationLeadershipReflectionOctober 15, 20133Caught By The Wind: When The Familiar Changes

Your job may not have changed on paper, but is it really the same as it was a few years ago?

Just this week we had our annu­al Pro­teus com­pa­ny meet­ing — some­thing we’ve done every fall for many years.  I believe it was the best one so far: great ener­gy; lots of fun; use­ful con­ver­sa­tions and clar­i­fi­ca­tions; real­ly good con­nec­tions among all of us.  But for me, the most won­der­ful thing was this: I did­n’t make the arrange­ments; I did­n’t man­age get­ting every­one there; and I did­n’t run most of the meeting.

My excel­lent team mem­bers did much of the heavy lift­ing, and I showed up with every­one else and participated.

My job as co-CEO of Pro­teus has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly over the past year or so, and I’m
very excit­ed about it.  The metaphor I’ve been using in describ­ing the change: for 20+ years, I felt like I was run­ning with a kite, try­ing to get it up in the air.  Now, the wind has caught the kite, and my job con­sists of pay­ing out the line, keep­ing the prop­er amount of ten­sion on it so that the kite stays in the air and can go high­er and higher.

The ‘wind’ is com­posed of a bet­ter-than-ever team of smart, well-inten­tioned, skilled peo­ple; bet­ter and bet­ter inter­nal process­es for doing our work; ever-more-clear­ly-devel­oped and use­ful IP; and a won­der­ful momen­tum of sat­is­fied and vocal clients who keep call­ing us back and refer­ring us to others.

So even though I’ve had the same job on paper for 23 years, “Found­ing Part­ner and CEO” of Pro­teus is very dif­fer­ent now than it was even a few years ago.

And I’m see­ing that the most impor­tant way for me to make this shift is to talk less, lis­ten more, and get very curi­ous. In fact, I think that’s key to mak­ing any shift, but it’s espe­cial­ly impor­tant when some­thing you think you know very well is shift­ing under you.

When we’re involved in learn­ing some­thing brand new to us, we tend to come in with a help­ful “novice” mind­set: e.g., “I don’t know know much about this; there’s a lot I need to find out.” That mind­set moves us in the direc­tion of lis­ten­ing and curios­i­ty. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when it’s time to learn some­thing in an area where we already think we’re experts (e.g., doing our job, run­ning our com­pa­ny, rais­ing our kids), we tend to be much less open and curi­ous, much more focused on how it should be, on what we know (or think we do), and on telling oth­ers what we know and how it should be!

I sus­pect that, in today’s world, most peo­ple’s jobs change pret­ty sig­nif­i­cant­ly from one year to the next, and that no mat­ter how long you’ve been in a par­tic­u­lar job or com­pa­ny, it’s prob­a­bly a good idea to come in every day with that learn­er’s mindset.

Michelan­ge­lo, arguably one of the most bril­liant and pro­duc­tive peo­ple in West­ern his­to­ry, had a stock response he used through­out his life when­ev­er peo­ple com­pli­ment­ed him on an achieve­ment or an idea: he said, “Anco­ra imparo” — “I am still learning.”

If it’s good enough for Michelan­ge­lo, it’s good enough for me. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *