Take yourself back to the days in which you were offered your most important jobs. How did you feel? You were likely excited and hopeful, happy to have the opportunity to prove your own worth. You may also have been determined to not repeat any past mistakes or political faux pas.
For most of us, the first day at a new job may include a complex array of emotions - enthusiasm and fear, confidence mixed with a nagging feeling of "oh boy, what did I get myself into?" It is unlikely, however, that you would start a new job disengaged.
Engagement - a close connection between who we are and what we do - involves three main components: physical, cognitive, and emotional engagement.
Now, consider the following consequences of the above definitions:
Unfortunately, "stuff happens" at work. Maybe you were given more to do than you could handle. Maybe your energy was drained by lack of resources, excessive demands, and confusing requests. Maybe it felt unsafe to be you at work - you may have faced the pressure to pretend to act or feel like someone else. Finally, maybe you simply discovered that your job did not match your interests or capabilities.
My question today is: When did you become disengaged ... and why? Perhaps if we could understand the sources of disengagement, we could:
When did you lose "the light in your eyes"? Can you tell us about it?
A disclaimer: You may want to share experiences from days gone by, rather than your current experiences - remember that anything posted online tends to stay there.
Don't miss the Disney movie Frozen. The movie is a joyful modern fairy tale, with gorgeous Broadway-style music, amazing voices, and yes, powerful lessons of engagement and leadership.
First, a brief synopsis of the story: Young princess Elza's magical powers allow her to create winter at will. Elza and her sister Anna have a lot of fun with Elza's magic - what child wouldn't like to instantly create enough snow and cold to build snowmen, play with snow angels, or ice skate? One day, however, Elza accidentally hurts Anna. After that incident, Elza becomes desperately afraid to hurt others. She refuses her sister's friendship, hides in her room and wears gloves when in public.
When Elza's parents die, she becomes the Queen of the land - and must, at least for one day, show her face to the world. During that day, people discover Elza's magical powers. Elza now has nothing else to lose and realizes that she can "let go" of secrets and lies. If you haven't seen the movie, watch this one scene below.
Like Elza, we all have special powers. Some are able to plan and follow their plans to a "T." Others need no plans at all - they move freely through their days, tackling several tasks at once, surprisingly able to keep them all straight. Some are quiet and contemplative, thinking before they speak, observing before they reach a conclusion. Others are bubbly and outgoing, thinking as they speak, relying on the energy of others to help them go through the day.
Yes. I am talking about personality.
Few people would see anything wrong with the picture I painted above - in theory. Practically speaking, however, we value certain personality traits over others. In fact, deeply embedded cultural norms may determine which personality traits are seen as "better." In the U.S., for instance, extraverts are clearly favored over introverts (check out an interview with Susan Cain on this topic). Other U.S. culture preferred personality-related characteristics (some connected to a blend of traits) may include ambition, energy, calmness, focus, and organization.
Fortunately, most of us are able to stretch. Introverts can act extraverted for an hour or so, during a party. Free spirits learn to create plans and follow them - at least during a critical meeting with the powers that be. Original souls force themselves to implement - again - blueprints of a project they would really like to toss and start over. We wear gloves. We pretend.
To be clear: There is nothing wrong with occasional stretching. In the real world, people must learn to do things they may not like so much. It's part of growing up. The problem is when occasionally becomes always. When we are asked to develop traits we are not wired to express.
Here are a few key lessons for leaders about human personalities:
What about you? What strengths are you hiding? How effective would you be if you could take off your gloves?
A couple of weeks ago a young high school student asked me to speak about "my passion" at his class. I've been reflecting on this assignment ever since. Is it even possible to follow my passion as an adult? Have I left it behind with youthful dreams of Opera houses and Broadway musicals? What is my passion now?
This question matters. It matters that I have to think about passion, that I don't just know - immediately - that I'm doing what I was born to do. It matters if I slowly allow my gifts to slip away.
Take a look, for instance, at Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's brilliant work on Flow. A person is in "Flow" when her work is so challenging, so enriching, that nothing else seems to matter - at least for that moment. Perhaps Warren Beatty was thinking of Flow when he said: "You've achieved success in your field when you don't know whether what you're doing is work or play."
Tomorrow, I want to wake up and focus first on that which brings me to Flow. The discovery of research. The pure joy of learning something new. The excitement of finishing something I care about. Let me declare Wednesdays my Flow days.
How about you? What brings you to Flow?
To learn more about Professor Csikszentmihaly's work:
Happy Flow Day!
About the Author
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is an Assistant Professor at Drake University, where she coordinates and teaches at the Master of Science in Leadership Development.