When I worked as an executive coach, I was hired by a new client, a vice president at a very large, well-established Silicon Valley company. When we met, he told me that his team was unmotivated and he had hired me to motivate them. I said, “You know, it’s hard to motivate a team if you don’t know what your own motivation as a leader is. What’s your motivation for work?” This was a man with all the trappings of success but he could not answer that question. And, in fact, the trappings were indeed “trapping” him – he was stuck in an image of success but out of touch with his inspiration. We see the same thing with the students that we serve in our college career centers. They come to us when they feel stuck – don’t know how to write a resume or LinkedIn profile, conduct a job search, prep for an interview. As career professionals, we have a lot of practice at getting people unstuck. We’re good at it.
But what about when it comes to ourselves? If we are to be authentic and effective as leaders in the career field, we must be in touch with our own motivation for our work. How can we motivate others if we ourselves are not in touch with our inspiration for work?
The 3 Questions
When we work with students in our career center at Santa Clara University, we base our coaching on 3 questions that come out of the Jesuit tradition: What am I good at, what brings me joy, what does the world need me to do? So, basically, we’re looking at the intersection of skill set, interest, and opportunity. For college students, the questions of their skills and workplace opportunities tend to be the initial focus. They don’t yet have enough experience to know what skills they have to offer and how they align with the needs of the workplace. That’s why internships are so helpful and important because they help answer those questions. But for the clients I worked with as an executive coach, it was generally the question of “what brings me joy?” that they were struggling with, although they would not have phrased it that way. They knew what they were good at and they held positions that used those skills but many of them had lost the joy in their work. It’s a good question for us as leaders in the career field to ask ourselves – “what brings me joy now in my work?” Most of us know what we’re good at and where we can apply our skills but we may have lost touch with the deep enjoyment of our work, the thing that inspired us to enter the profession in the first place. We may be feeling stuck.
Jim Kouzes and Barry Pozner in more than 25 years of working with leaders and studying leadership have observed several traits that make someone a good leader. One of these is the ability to inspire a shared vision with a team. This is also the trait that most leaders score very poorly on. As professionals in the career development field, we need to set an example for our clients of what engaged and inspired work looks like. Imagine the irony of being in this field and not enjoying the work! How do we have credibility or authenticity with our clients if we ourselves are not feeling inspired?
If we’re feeling stuck, the chances are that we’re not doing a very effective job inspiring others and we probably don’t have much energy for fresh insights and approaches to our work. The more in touch we are with our inspiration, the more energy we have for our work and the greater our ability to inspire others. We can use the 3 questions above to begin to loosen and release ourselves from that stuck place.
What am I good at? ~Do I have the skills that I need for this job? ~Am I feeling stale? Have I been using the same skills and methods for too long? ~Do I need to focus on professional development, acquiring new skills?
What are the opportunities in the workplace? ~Are there new venues for my skills? ~Is it time to move on? ~Have I become complacent, bored, or resentful?
What brings me joy? ~Can I articulate a vision or mission for my work? ~Do I know what is meaningful to me? ~Do I feel inspired in my work?
Inspiration gives us energy and excitement for our work. Authentic leadership requires that we be in touch with that motivation. Our work then is regenerative because, as we give of ourselves we see that it makes a difference for our clients, we feel inspired and energized, which allows us to give more. This breaks the cycle of being stuck and static. It releases us and, in turn, we can release others. Take some time to reflect on what drew you to the career development field, remember the excitement you felt when you first started, and reconnect with your inspiration. It will give you a fresh jolt of energy for your work!
Elspeth Rossetti is the Senior Director of Strategic Projects & Initiatives at Santa Clara University. She has extensive experience working in Silicon Valley, first as an executive, then as a consultant providing leadership development, executive coaching, and career consulting to companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, and Agilent. Her blend of corporate experience and counseling training allows her to understand the support needed for students in recognizing and articulating their strengths as they enter the workforce as well as finding satisfaction in making a meaningful contribution once there. Elspeth is a frequent conference presenter and her co-authored article “Vocation at Work” speaks to the Jesuit values that inspire her. (Conversations magazine, Fall 2014). Elspeth has a B.A. in English and French and M.A. in Counseling.