Search “work”, “employment”, “job hunt”, and you’ll be immediately besieged by articles. Fine. This is normal and expected. Wanted, even. But look deeper and you’ll notice how many of those articles are “lists”. Specifically, ten things you should do, ten things you should not do. Fine. But drill even deeper, and you’ll start seeing things like, “ten things you should not say”, “ten things all good leaders say”.
I get the intention. Part click-bait, part genuine well-meaning-ness, they are easy to consume and theoretically easy to implement. But as well-meaning as these articles are, I feel they are misleading. They promote an idea that there is only “one” type of good leader, a good leader who doesn’t say “no problem”, “it will only take a minute”. [See Forbes’ 11 Things Smart People Don’t Say]. They are intensely proscriptive. Do this. Do that.
Maybe this actually works. Maybe memorizing these axioms will really make you a better worker, leader, person. But too often these lists feel limiting and too detailed. Let’s all take a step back from the click-bait and remember what the original intentions are.
You want to be a good employee/leader/person. Fine. What is a good a leader?
That question alone invites a huge discussion—not to mention several academic disciplines—and truth is, no one really knows the answers. But we do know a few right questions to ask.
1. Are you listening?
Can you summarize the last few conversations you had? Can you remember each of the talking points? Better yet, can you remember why person x pushed for position y? If you can, skip to the next question. In fact, you can probably skip the entire blog post.
If you’re like the rest of us mortals, then breathe. It’s fine. We all make these age-old, ego-centric mistakes. Acknowledge the problem, and come up with an attack plan. A simple way to check and progress is to start writing summaries after every major conversation. Don’t just recap the convo. Try to remember who said what and why. I recommend doing this by hand rather than by text. There is an increasing amount of research has shown that the physical act of writing helps memory retention.
2. What am I here to do?
You may be here to do exactly what your job description says. Take a paycheck, work like a zombie, live a real life out of your office, which is not impossible, but a bit sad given work takes up at least 1/2 of your waking hours. That means you can live half of your life like a zombie, or you can approach each day believing you’re doing something meaningful, that makes your life and other lives better. If you truly are at a job that gives you that impetus and freedom, then you wouldn’t care if your boss asked you about something outside of your immediate responsibilities. In fact, it’s not about your boss anymore. It’s about you.
3. How am I going to improve?
How have you progressed in the last six months? Have you progressed at all? Are there any things you do different? If the answer is no, then you’re probably doing something wrong. Not that there isn’t something to be said about being static—comfort, stability—but most things in life can benefit from a change (even just a little one!) and almost everything can be optimized further. Until we solve world poverty, there is no reason to do things the same.
And if, if you are in a job that doesn’t give you this freedom–why are you staying again?
4. Have I really failed?
We often ponder on the nature of success; the multitude of definitions, the changing nature of success. What it meant to succeed ten years ago might be different to you to now. This is a good exercise. I would also like to argue, however, that failure ought to be equally considered.
Have I really failed? How did that feel like? Did I survive it? If yes, then, what am I scared of now? What’s really stopping me from succeeding? Failure or fear?