An Un-Business Book

Leadership and Self-Deception is one of the most unusual business books I’ve ever read. It’s a parable or fictional story, but that’s not what made it different. A number of business books have taken that approach in recent years.

What surprised me was that I found nothing in this book about strategy, tactics, mission statements, creativity, disintermediation, Hedgehogs, BHAGs or getting the right people on the bus. It didn’t talk about innovation or being customer focused or how we live in a totally new normal.
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What’s My Motivation Here?

Many years ago I was talking to a freelance proofreader who was several weeks late getting a project back to me. She chronicled the various issues in her life that were keeping her from completing the job. She concluded by saying, “I really want to get this done. I feel extremely guilty I am so late.”

I replied, “Well, that just proves what a poor motivator guilt is.”

There was a very long, very silent pause at the other end.
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No Surprises

When I was a new manager, and one who avoided conflict like a cliché, I had a very hard time telling people when some aspect of their performance was poor. So I’d delay and delay until the annual review, and then disgorge all the problems at once to the unsuspecting reviewee. Needless to say, the conversations did not go well.
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Forced Empathy

He was livid.

I hadn’t been on the phone for thirty seconds before the president of the firm we had been working with was giving me a generous piece of his mind. I had been unresponsive and unprofessional, he said . . . and more. Much more.

I was trying to get a word in, but he didn’t let up. He kept going at me for at least another five minutes without adding any new information. This actually worked to my advantage. It gave me time to think.
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20,000 Staples. How Do You Measure, Measure a Career?

Today I used my 20,000th staple here at IVP. It’s taken thirty-five years to reach this milestone. But I have achieved in my career what few others ever dreamed–or ever thought worth keeping track of!

How do I even know this? When I first came as a lowly assistant editor, I was issued a phone, a bunch of blue pencils, a stapler and a box of 5000 staples. After eight years or so, the box of staples was empty. So I went to the supply cabinet and grabbed another. Four empty boxes later, the record was reached. (And that doesn’t even count the times I’ve used someone else’s stapler or the automatic stapler in the photocopy machine!)

I’m not sure how many different offices I’ve occupied (five, I think) in those years, how many commas I’ve deleted, how many airplane flights I’ve taken, how many emails I’ve sent (though I save them all, so I could add them up if you really want to know), how many times someone has interrupted me with a question, how many stories I’ve listened to in the hallway, how many cups of coffee I’ve consumed, how many meetings I’ve been to, how many lame jokes I’ve laughed at or how many phone calls I’ve made. (I’m not a nerd after all!) But for some reason the staples stuck.

As I’ve mentioned here before, large quantities of J course through my veins, which no doubt explains a lot. But why staples? I have no idea. I do know, however, that they’ve connected pages of memos, letters, reports, forms and faxes representing the birth of ideas and the death of dreams, the routine of standard procedures and the one-of-a-kind reply, the affirmation of a job well done and the diplomatic response to a complaint, the mass dissemination of information and the individual offer of an answer. In this way staples are a metaphor for what editors and publishers do–connecting people and ideas and actions.

All that gets closer than do staples to answering the lead question of how you measure a career. One ancient writer struggled with the same sorts of issues and did a tad better than I have here. He said that rather than counting staples, we should instead number our days. When we do, the first thing we notice is that they are limited, finite. Whether a few or a lot, we only get so many.

What, then, do we do with those days? Will we be wise or foolish with them? In my mind, we have each been given gifts or a gift, some ability in what we do or say, or how we think or see things, that is true to ourselves and that usually stands out to others. It may be the ability to drive a truck safely over hundreds of thousands of miles. It may be the ability to bring healing to the hearts or bodies of people. It may be making numbers into disciplined soldiers. It may be anticipating the needs of others even before they themselves are aware of them.

We begin to measure a career by identifying these gifts. But then we go further. We don’t just ask “What am I good at?” but “What gives me pleasure, joy or satisfaction when I do it?” Then we can ask if we have been faithful to the gift we have been given and to the Giver of the gift.

How do you measure a career? Perhaps that’s how you do it.