CEO Coaching: Devotion

What is Your Relationship With Your Work?

An older woman in our neighborhood has significant dementia. I first met her when I found her in my garage trying to pry the logo off my car. At that point, she could still talk, but it was far from coherent. She asked for water, and I got her to sit down in a lawn chair. As I sat with her waiting for the sheriff, we had an “interesting” conversation. She kept calling me Scooby (?). The sheriff’s deputy pulled up at the same time as her husband, who was on a bike looking for her (she apparently wanders off enough that the sheriff’s deputy was well acquainted with her). Her husband was overcome with relief that she was OK.

I still see this woman occasionally when her husband walks with her, with one hand in hers and the other on a wheelchair for when she can’t walk further. He walks backward to make it easier for her to slowly shuffle along. She appears to have completely lost her speech. My wife sees them most days when she’s running.

I find that sad but am moved by her husband’s devotion. He’s now quite old as well, so I’m sure his daily walks are a challenge. On a recent trip to help a client work on his organization’s culture, I saw this couple and it caused me to ponder devotion in the workplace.

A generation ago, it was common for someone to be described as devoted to his or her work. You still see the word used with family, as in “he’s a devoted father” or “she’s devoted to her children,” but not often is someone described as devoted to work.

In many ways, this might be healthy. When people were labeled as “devoted to their work” when I was young, it essentially meant it was their life’s primary objective. Family was second (or third if they were an avid golfer).

From that perspective, I’m glad that many executives can find more balance in their lives. From another angle, I’m saddened that many people, even executives, aren’t fully committed to their work — not above all else, but engaged, enthusiastic and emotionally attached to their work.

A few days after my encounter with the devoted husband and my “culture” client, I got a haircut at a walk-in place. During my seven minutes in the chair, I talked with my “hairstylist” (really more of a chainsaw operator) about work. She’d had many jobs, including being a deputy sheriff but said she’d never had fun at work.

Perhaps some jobs just suck. However, I believe that whether an executive or a hairstylist, you can frame your situation in a way that’s fulfilling, maybe even fun! When I push them, many of my clients can reframe what is, on the surface, a tough situation to make it interesting or challenging rather than “sucky.”

I only work with business executives, and you’d think that most of them are engaged and having fun, but that’s not always the case. Some are stressed out and pretty miserable. For those of you checking off days on the calendar, waiting for retirement or hoping a white knight will come and buy your company for a gazillion dollars, try devoting yourself to making a difference and having fun. Engagement, enjoyment and devotion aren’t things you always go looking for. You find them internally once you get your head right.

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