Ignore Your Dream… Do What You Are Good At

Follow your dream. Do what you are passionate about. Have you ever heard advice like this? Have you ever tried to follow that advice? And have you ever seen someone who followed that advice to fail miserably? Do you have friends who are happy at their job? And if you are one of the lucky ones have you ever analyzed why you are happy when others just complain? Let me give you some answers and some more questions to think about.

I have recently finished reading an excellent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport. It provides a rather controversial view on what makes people happy at work. Cal has done a research into the topic and some of the findings follow the work of Anders Ericsson The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance that was later on popularized by Daniel Pink in his book Drive. I immediately identified with the view Cal Newport pushes since it reflects well my own career.

Do what others are willing to pay for

Being passionate about something sounds like the best place to start when you are looking for a job. But frankly, what are the things you are passionate about and how many of them have any relation to a potential job at all? You might be passionate about collecting stamps, fishing, walking in forest and observing nature, or what about your passion for chocolate? All these sound great but you might be hard pressed to find a job where someone would be willing to pay for your passion. And if no one is willing to reward your enthusiasm then you don’t really have a job that you are passionate about and that can cover your basic needs.

Another thing to consider is that with many people you will find that their passions are their hobbies. The moment you would start rewarding them for their hobby, change the hobby to a job, they may actually lose passion. Their intrinsic motivation goes away as the external motivation (pay) increases.

Do what you are good at

So if no one is willing to pay for your passion then what do you do? Well, obviously, you need to do something that people are willing to pay for. You do what you are good at. And chances are that the better you are, the more value you bring, the more others are willing to pay in return.

This is of course rather tricky. Not only you need to figure out what you are good at, you also need some competitive advantage. Understanding the broader field you selected for your career is important first step. For example there are different ways how to become a great manager. Depending on your personality and your skills at the day of decision you can have a style more focused on numbers and metrics, you can be more focused on hard skills to get things done, more on the empathy side to mentor and coach others. There are numerous strategies that can help you to become truly great manager and you don’t need to pursue all of them. Just pick the one for which you have a competitive advantage and relentlessly work on it to hone it to a level of ultimate mastery.

Be patient and focused

Because, it is all about mastery. When you really examine the causality relationship between passion and skill you will discover that skill comes first. I urge you to consider some hobby you are really passionate about. Take running for example. I have seen this times and times again when people decided to do something for their health. Running seemed a good idea. Were they passionate about it? Not really. It was a boring, difficult and not at all enjoyable experience. They run a mile, and felt tired, miserable, out of breath. I wouldn’t describe passion this way.

But they were patient and persevered. With enough focus, energy and routine they were able to train their bodies to run longer and longer distances. They could see the improvements in their performance, their health, and that lead to more enjoyment. That fueled even more effort and dedication. They became truly passionate about running. Why? Because they became really good at it. It is not a tedious activity anymore, it is truly enjoyable and they love doing it.

Seek challenges and feedback

All humans have unlimited potential. At least that is what I chose to believe when I decided to use coaching and mentoring as my primary management style. However, most humans also have limits to what they are willing to sacrifice and how they measure greatness. We tend to do only as much as is really needed and very few of us are willing to go above and beyond.

Maybe that is why so few people become truly great at what they do. Most of us will be only “ok”. Once we get to a certain level of performance that is acceptable by others, and more importantly that satisfies us, we stop improving. We level off because we feel we are good enough. And it is good enough to be good enough. This mindset has one pitfall. Good enough today may not be good enough tomorrow. Today’s satisfaction with our performance and our job will turn to dissatisfaction, complains about lack of advancements, feeling that others are getting more opportunities, and that life is not fair.

The way to battle this and get into a loop of constant happiness and satisfaction with your professional life is to never stop learning, never accept good enough when looking at your performance and relentlessly seeks feedback on what you can improve.

And not only feedback. You need to constantly seek challenges and new tasks that are just a bit out of your comfort zone and you need to find ways to realistically gauge your performance on these tasks and improve next time. This will get you step by step to the mastery in the field of your choice.

Build a brand and goodwill

How do you build a brand? Have a mission. If you consistently, over long period of time, exhibit certain behavior, volunteer for certain type of tasks, spend time and energy on getting better at these tasks, talk about why these are important for you and find the unifying mission of your life then you will yourself into a powerful brand. You will be seen as really good at these topics and it will fuel further development. The same as with the hobbies you will become passionate about what you do and you will love it.

Keep in mind that this is not about a particular job or position. It is bigger and more lasting. For example, I could see myself as being operations or engineering manager and aspire to become a director. I could have development plans to focus more on strategic focus or leading bigger teams. But I would be in the pursuit of a title and not really in the pursuit of excellence of what I do.

So years ago I decided to have completely different paradigm. I have a mission in my professional life. “I’m the guy who builds teams, offices, and grows people.” I don’t care about what the job title is, even what the actual job description says because in whatever role I’m I will find or build the aspects aligned with my professional mission. It gives me opportunity to be better and better at what I do. That is seen by others so they give me opportunities for doing more of it. And ultimately that makes me love what I do.

Love what you do

So instead of endless jumping from job to job, from career to career, trying to find your passion. I would suggest you focus on doing whatever work you have really well. By doing a great job you will gain respect of others, more autonomy, satisfaction from job well done, and all this will feed back into the loop of excellence. And at the end people love to do what they are good at.


What is your recipe for being happy at work? What are you passionate about and do you follow your passions?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Leadership And Importance Of Curiosity Quotient

I’ve always been a very curious person. I’m interested in everything, I like to know how things work, I like to know what’s going on in the environment around me, I like to travel and see new places and meeting new people and I like trying new activities. And I like reading. Most recently I read couple of articles by Thomas L. Friedman about the importance of curiosity in today’s world. This made me think about my own experiences as a manager and a leader. So how does curiosity influences your ability to lead people?

Friedman introduces two new concepts PQ (Passion Quotient) and CQ (Curiosity Quotient). He proposes that these should stand side by side with IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient) and they are in many ways superior to the good old IQ. This aligns quite well with my observations that I described in Effort And Attitude Beats Talent And Knowledge.

Curiosity as a way of life

Some of us are fine with getting just a general idea how things work, some of us don’t care at all about life around us, and some of us have this intrinsic curiosity about everything. You may be content with never learning to drive and always ask someone else to drive you, you may be curious enough to learn to drive but the working of combustion engine is still a mystery to you, and you might be someone who really wants to be a great driver so you study every single detail about the engine, the transmission, the breaks and inner workings of a modern car.

Curiosity as a distraction

If you belong to the curious bunch, there is one danger though. In today’s hyper connected world there are tons of information at your fingertips and if you are curious about everything you may get overwhelmed and be constantly distracted. So in my mind having a high curiosity quotient also means having an ability to focus your curiosity on the things that matter. It is incredibly interesting to know how long an average bee lives but unless you are a beekeeper the information is rather irrelevant.

The line between being curious to learn and improve and being curious just for the sake of accumulating unnecessary background noise can be sometimes rather thin. It takes some self-discipline to filter out the things that are way too irrelevant and will just cause loss of concentration and derail your train to success.

Curiosity as a way to mastery

There is very little you can do to increase your IQ, but there certainly are ways how to increase your EQ and CQ. You can learn to empathize with others and you can learn to be curious about things around you. As any mental exercise it will take some time and will need a change in the way you see world around you but it can be done.

To be really good at something you don’t necessarily need big IQ (even though it usually gives you an advantage), but you need to spend significant amount of time and effort to build the necessary skill and that means passion and that also means curiosity to understand every detail and inner workings of the world.

Curiosity as a leadership trait

For a leader to be really good at leading others you need to know more than that people have two eyes, two ears and one mouth. You need to be the student of human nature and student of language. You need to observe their behavior, you need to aspire to understand the behavior and how to influence it and use it to the better of everyone. The curiosity about how and why people behave, combined with the passion for learning and helping them to grow, are the things that will make you really great at working with others.

Your own curiosity will help you to be better at what you do. But your ability to spark an interest and make your team more curious will increase their chances of success in life. And as they learn, grow and spread the curiosity around it will create an exciting environment to work in, environment that will positively reflect on the success of your team and your company.

Are you a curious person? Do you believe that this trait helps you in today’s society or it just distracts you and holds you back?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

How can you motivate others? You can’t!

If you are a manager, a team lead or a project manager who is new to the role you are probably asking yourself this simple question: “How can I motivate my team?” I don’t want to disappoint or discourage you, but the answer is also very simple: “You can’t!” Years of building and managing teams showed me that there is no way you can externally motivated someone who is internally not motivated and likes to feel miserable or helpless. Stephen R. Covey once said “Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.” In my eyes, being motivated is a state of mind. It is a feeling that drives us to accomplish things, to do, to act, to reach something specific. Every coach would tell you that we are all responsible for our own feelings and no one else can change them.

So what can you do? In fact there are quite few things you can do to allow people to be motivated. You will not motivate them, but you will create circumstances that will lead to internal motivation of the team. Daniel H. Pink explains in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” that motivation in modern economy where you are required to use creative thinking has three components: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Autonomy is a state when you have the freedom to do what you want and how you want it to be done. Mastery is a mindset that keeps you learning and getting better at what you do. Purpose sets context for the previous two and keeps you engaged and fulfilled by doing something larger than you. These are all intrinsic motivators that must be found by each individual himself. The one thing you can do is to provide environment where it is possible.

Understand your team

  • What are the values of each individual on your team?
  • What are the things that matter to them?
  • What personal goals do they have?
  • What makes them tick?
  • What are they passionate about?
  • What makes them come to the office every day?
  • What makes them laugh?
  • What makes them cry?

Provide motivating environment

  • Provide meaningful job – everyone should work on something that makes sense. In no circumstances should a member of your team do something just for the sake of keeping him busy
  • Provide challenges – everyone should have a work that is always one step above what he can comfortably achieve, that way he learns and grows
  • Provide responsibilities – trust your team and give them responsibilities, autonomy, let them decide on how to get things done – empower
  • Provide constructive feedback – that is the way we learn. Make sure you create environment where people want to receive and provide feedback and know how to do it
  • Provide information and clear goals – keep the team informed about the big picture and how their work contributes to the common goal

Use motivating approach

  • Guide – guide your team through difficult times. They must know that when things go wrong you are there to help and stand beside them and help overcome the obstacle.
  • Inspire – you should bring energy and inspiration. When people see you and talk to you they should leave energized and with feeling they learned something.
  • Show trust – this is critical. Forget the “trust must be earned” paradigm. You need to trust your team and show that trust. Only then will the team reciprocate and trust you.
  • Listen – really listen, not just to the words but to the meaning behind them. Make sure you not just listen but you show that you are listening and then take actions.
  • Be a role model – lead by example might be a cliché, but a good one. People won’t be motivated in environment where the leader doesn’t walk his talk
  • Use positive vocabulary – phrases like “Maybe”, “It’s difficult”, “It won’t work”, “I guess” don’t inspire much confidence and thwart enthusiasm and drive. Use responses like “Excellent”, “Let’s do it”, “We make it work”.
  • Use humor – nothing works better to eliminate stress than use of humor. A simple humorous statement can defuse an argument, relieve stress and get you closer to your team. Just make sure you are not seen as a clown.
  • Recognize routine jobs & reward outstanding work – I’m sure you reward big achievements, but what about the small ones? Every big milestone consists of couple of simple tasks that deserves some sort of recognition too. You should reward people for outstanding achievements and not to forget all the other team members who did well on the routine jobs and helped the success in less visible ways.

Everyone is different and your ability to keep the team together and keep them motivated is really important for the success of the project or the company. The fact that the road to motivated team members is not a direct one and there is now simple rule how to achieve it is what makes your job interesting. Especially when you are new to the role of a leader take a solace in the fact that we all do mistakes and it will take you couple of year or decades of experimenting until you are able to say that you’ve seen everything and know how to motivate most types of people… and even then you will be wrong.

Twitter type summary: “You cannot force people to be motivated, but you can create environment where they get a chance to motivate themselves.”

What are your thoughts? Are you motivated? Is your team motivated? How did you achieve it? And if you didn’t achieve it, why not?