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Change Chooses You. What Are You Going to Do About it?

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Light Yourself on Fire: The Key to Your Own Engagement

In doing the research for our new book, The Employee Engagement Mindset, we studied 150 highly engaged employees across industries, continents, cultures, and demographics. We interviewed them and observed themengaged workers in all sorts of situations, organizations, and environments. What is absolutely clear is that highly engaged employees think and behave differently. They have a different mindset. They may work in different organizations and do very different jobs, but there’s a consistent theme among them: They take primary responsibility for their careers, their success, and their fulfillment. They own their own engagement. They are the driving force.

The highly engaged employees we studied seemed positively puzzled when we asked them who owns employee engagement. “What’s the alternative?” they replied. To rely on the organization, they said, is unrealistic. They reflected a statement by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley: “I set myself on fire, and people come to see me burn.” It might be nice to shift the burden to the organization, and certainly it has a support role to play, but to depend on the organization is a losing proposition. The speed, complexity, and volatility of the twenty-first century make it utterly foolish. The alternative is to light yourself on fire, take primary responsibility for your own engagement, and create your own weather.

How do you do it?

Release your discretionary effort now. Don’t turn professional life into a miserly exchange in which there’s a quid pro quo for everything you do. Invest ahead of the organization. The organization may reward you tenfold. It may not. Even if the organization does not fully appreciate your contribution, do your best. You will take your experience with you. No one can strip you of the hard-won lessons you learn and the experience you gain. They are yours forever.

Eat change for breakfast. Change will choose you even if you don’t choose it. And it always requires two things: the performance of work and the absorption of stress. There are no storm-proof companies, and there are no sources of competitive advantage that last forever. It’s all ice. The only question is the rate of the melt. The forces of change will come from inside and outside the organization. It’s all VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) as far as the eye can see. Compression and acceleration will be the dominant themes of market behavior. But none of that should surprise you. Change is a condition of long-term employment.

Be grateful and happy. You are not entitled to a crabby, peevish attitude. You have an obligation to be positive, encouraging, and helpful. Even if you have a poor leader as a boss, you’re still better off making the biggest contribution you can. Keep in mind that you’re developing a rhythm and cadence to your professional life. Don’t let the weaknesses and dysfunctions of the organization set the tone for you. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Bring some enthusiasm and see what damage you can do.

Make things better. Once you have built a personal platform of credibility, you have the right to put something on the table. Challenge the status quo where it makes sense. Manage risk and don’t be careless, but try to make things better. A little swashbuckling can be a good thing. You may not be the most creative and innovative person, but if you simply want to improve things and are looking for an opportunity, those opportunities are more likely to appear. If we take you to a street corner, for instance, you will look at the passing traffic and not think much of it. But if we ask you to find the green cars, you will immediately begin to see them.

Be accountable. It’s amazing how long it takes people to stop making excuses. Isn’t it interesting that the human mind has an infinite capacity to rationalize? When reality doesn’t meet our expectations, we can escape to never-never land. We can accept or deny. We can embrace reality or fashion a new version. Because humans hate discord between themselves and reality, they tend to change themselves or pretend to change reality. We can tell ourselves a soothing story. We have become very good at telling ourselves soothing stories, and we tend to spend an enormously long time doing it. In fact, we often wait for the impending crisis to hit before we are ready to throw away our soothing story. It’s a blessed day when we choose to be fully accountable for our own performance.

Use the delete key. Push it not only for negative feedback that would discourage you, but also for gratuitous praise that would lead you to falsely believe in your own superiority. Both strains of input are dangerous. If you want to develop the courage to be wrong, throw out the sentimental slush as well as the harmful criticism.

Timothy R. Clark is considered a global authority in executive development, change management and employee engagement. A powerful and highly sought-after speaker, Dr. Clark speaks to organizations and advises leaders around the world. Dr. Clark is the author of Epic Change (Jossey-Bass 2008), named the top management book on the subject of change and The Employee Engagement Mindset.  Dr. Clark is a former CEO, earned a doctorate from Oxford University, and was an academic all-American football player at Brigham Young University

 

 

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Timothy R. Clark is considered a global authority in executive development, change management and employee engagement. A powerful and highly sought-after speaker, Dr. Clark speaks to organizations and advises leaders around the world. Dr. Clark is the author of "The Employee Engagement Mindset" and “Epic Change” (Jossey-Bass 2008), named the top management book on the subject of change. Dr. Clark is a former CEO, earned a doctorate from Oxford University, and was an academic all-American football player at Brigham Young University.
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