For the past two years I’ve been teaching a course called Supercharge Your Career to corporate employees around the world. Its fundamental message is to become your own boss. You shouldn’t be surprised. This is what corporations want you to do. They are not very good at creating a great place to work. We need to do that for ourselves.
The number one reason people don’t like their job is that they don’t like their boss. More accurately, they don’t respect their boss. In the book The Progress Principle, Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile reveals that our engagement at work is primarily driven by our personal sense that our work matters. We want to accomplish meaningful results. We don’t want to waste our energy. It turns out that our boss is critical to how successful we are. They create work priorities, allocate resources, eliminate obstacles and help us develop through feedback… or they don’t.
Unfortunately most bosses don’t. According to world-wide research from Franklin Covey only about 20% of bosses consistently manage their people in ways that actually help performance. My own observation is that many very bright, expert employees and outside contractors swim in an ocean of confusion, frantic rework, missed deadlines and needless stress. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Not for you. Not anymore. Here’s why.
Research from Towers Watson finds that people who are extraordinary at setting and achieving relevant goals are given more and more autonomy. They literally become their own boss even though their title may not change. Look around your workplace right now. Are the top 10% of competent people largely self-governing? Are they able to set their own agendas within the context of the business strategy? Are they able to get the resources they need to do great work? Do they seem to work in a parallel universe where they enjoy ample opportunities to make their difference? I find that in many organizations extraordinary performers get extraordinary freedom.
Unfortunately this is not always true. There are companies that are so dysfunctional that not even the best and the brightest can shine. If that describes your organization you need to move on.End-of-life research reveals that staying in a toxic job too long is one of life’s great regrets. If however, you can see that the truly effective people where you work enjoy a lot of freedom and opportunity then its time for you to become your own boss.
You become your own boss when you take full responsibility for your work and your career. In this mindset you are no longer an employee…at least not psychologically. You may still get a paycheck based on your W-2 but you are really Me, Inc. And just like any good business, you have a unique value proposition. This is how you create value through your work.
If you’re unsure what your value proposition is, then ask people who have seen you work or worked with you. Ask them these three questions.
- Ask them what they value most about what you do.
- Ask them what they admire most about you because that is your brand.
- And ask them what they think you should become more expert in…or great at.
The best way to get this data is by direct interviewing because you can ask questions and go deep for more understanding. It is also good to ask people through e-mail. Some people may be more candid in writing.
Compile all the data then really analyze what people are saying that you do that creates value…value that people will pay for. Then consider your own passions and interests. Do you know what you would do with your gifts and talents if you were free to invest in yourself?
Next, summarize your expert value into a short elevator speech. This would be two or three sentences that describe how you create economic value through work you are passionately interested in.
Here are some examples of people I have helped:
- Cat: “I design and implement employee engagement programs to increase employee productivity, loyalty and customer delight.”
- Marjorie: “I create innovative high-speed business development programs to help accelerate growth and profitability for medical device companies.” (This person was very focused on an industry that inspired her intrinsic commitment. It also gave her an “expert brand” that made her more attractive to potential employers in her field.)
- Kelly: “I do accounting, tracking physical and financial assets to help movie studios keep track and retain their unique production assets.” (This woman CPA hated traditional accounting firms but loved doing auditing. She also loves movies. So she applied her expertise to an industry that fascinated her. She’s goes all over the world helping movie studios keep track of their props and budgets when they’re in exotic locations.)
As for me, I simply love to help people find their purpose and turn it into a career that creates value for humanity. Yes I do. I do this mostly in large corporations and attempt to do it with the senior leaders when I can get them off their mental treadmills and help them take a deeper look inside.
And just so you know, I find it much easier to do this with women leaders than most men. I also find that women tend to actually implement their insights and change their lives more courageously than most men. That’s why I am so committed to help more women advance their careers and take important positions of leadership. We need more purpose-driven leaders who are interested in creating value for humanity. Of course there are men who are attracted to this approach to leadership and life but I have found it is much more common among women.
I don’t have a lot of years left in my career so I am taking great care of how I invest my time to achieve the greatest impact. That’s why I am on a mission to help women lead with their strength and intelligence because I am convinced it will make the most difference right now.
To sum up:
- Most bosses are not adequately competent to enable you to do great work.
- Life’s too short not to do work that makes you feel great.
- Become your own boss by consistently telling people what you really want to do and then do it really, really well.