Sunday, December 29, 2013

Flipping "Money, Power & Respect"

One of my favorite hip hop songs from the late 1990s is “Money, Power & Respect” by The LOX (with Li’l Kim and DMX). It’s a great song to blast while exercising, plowing through tasks at work, or cruising leisurely through the neighborhood in a Zipcar. The song has a very catchy synth line, a simple hook, and sick flow by the rappers. Lyrically it espouses the important tenets for gangsters, gangstas, and old-school management. Early in my working career, I bought into the gist of these principles: “Once you become financially successful, you gain power. And with these two things in hand, respect from others is earned.”

I don’t believe in the emphasis on “money, power, and respect” anymore, but instead “meaning, influence, and community.” The latter probably wouldn’t make a cool hook for a hardcore rap song, though. However, flipping the script and replacing them with new values make more sense to me.

Finding meaning in work in a greater incentive for me than engaging in a never-ending pursuit of more money and prestige. The hamster wheel of going after a bigger payday takes away from finding enjoyment in what I do, understanding why I do the work, learning who I am helping through my work, and seeking a greater purpose. I gain more enjoyment from sharing laughter and goodwill with my customers when I make onsite visits, offering congratulations to my peers and customers whenever they receive public recognition, and learning about goals of my customers (and contemplating how I can add value to the work they do). Being a “Rock Star to the Rock Stars” is my value proposition.

After having worked in the corporate world for nearly twenty years, the lure of money doesn’t excite me as the allure of making new connections, growing professionally, and shining at my strengths. I would rather take a reasonable and modest pay cut for an opportunity to engage more at work, instead of grabbing overtime pay for doing soul-draining tasks: I’m not interested in accumulating combat pay. It may seem flippant to make these statements from the perch of middle-class luxury, but I found the pursuit of bread to take energy and focus away from finding meaning in my work and seeking areas where I can get my shine on.

I share the meaning I find in work with other like minds by cultivating influence. Through doing meaningful work, becoming remarkable at what I do, and building career capital, I grow my influence. When I complete work projects with precise accuracy, timeliness, stellar service, and proactive communication, I create value and gain career capital. When I help bring people and ideas together, I demonstrate my value proposition. When I contribute creativity and expertise into my projects and work, I boost my influence meter upwards.

I’ve accumulated a reserve of influence through being a dedicated and motivated follower for my project leaders whose endeavors I fully support. I share insights and information that contribute to their process improvement successes. I write original content for newsletter projects at my workplace and in the professional organization that I am involved with. Every positive interaction and effort add droplets of influence in my reservoir. I've learned that faithfully supporting these people results in new opportunities being gifted my way: I’ve been placed on exciting new project teams, invited to career-enhancing training opportunities, and referred to new connects.

Here is an example of how influence has improved my work life during 2013. Early in the year, my department had nearly two hundred support documents that needed to be reviewed for accuracy and relevancy, which we were responsible for addressing. The review deadlines for these documents had been missed, and there was pressure from up on high to have the documents reviewed. No one on my team was interested in this task, and my management ordered me not to bother with document reviews. I viewed this task as an essential business need, and since my professional interests included technical writing and content curation, I went rogue and went all in. I surreptitiously spent several weekends reviewing the documents, put in the work, updated the project owners of my progress, and even took a “learning vacation” to attend a local documentation conference. In six weeks’ time, the all the documents were updated. I received gratitude from up on high, was asked to join couple of documentation-related project teams, and made awesome connects at the documentation conference. One of these connects at the conference was a colleague from another department at work whom I shared interests with in content curation and presentation. We started meeting after work, discussed things to try which would improve the culture (and make work fun), and started a skunkworks project for hosting lunchtime Lightning Talks presentation events. These talks were well-received by our audience, and I’ve shared my findings and enthusiasm with my professional organization.

Would this success have happened with power alone? Likely not. Cultures and processes that encourage anyone to create meaning and share them are the ones that will lead to success. Creating meaning is no longer in the private domain of those in power. Old-school detractors and fanboys of command-and-control hierarchies can accuse me of mindlessly following thought leaders like Seth Godin, Hugh MacLeod, Pamela Slim, Daniel Pink, and Todd Henry, but insistence on the use (or abuse) of power for pushing ideas across is archaic and pusillanimous. Is it any wonder why most of the notable figures in human history are those with influence--not necessarily those in power?

The equation of Money + Power = Respect may ring true in the world of gangs and corporate hierarchies, but I prefer the currency of building community. The latter is more rewarding than getting--or buying--respect. There is deeper permanence in creating tribes based on shared meaning and values, compared to shallow superficiality of seeking respect based on one's status.

Communities open doors to new experiences, spread ideas, and connect people. Many of my successful endeavors over the past year would not have been possible without communities and tribes. Attending World Domination Summit in July instilled hope that I can create meanings through actions--both at home and at work. Discovering the power of storytelling at WDS and spreading this gift at the SIGUCCS professional conference and during Lightning Talks events have strengthened my tribes. It’s gratifying to watch compelling ideas spread like wildfire amongst my tribes.

If you invest in, and give to, a community where others appreciate your value proposition and the meanings that you create, doors will open more readily. Once your personal brand is known, the people in the tribe can introduce you to new opportunities. Once I overcame the initial reluctance and shaming negative thoughts (like “I don’t belong here” or “My ideas are not good enough for this group”), I felt comfortable dipping my toes in the pool, and was able to share with and learn from others in the tribe. That’s how I was introduced to the power of short presentations and storytelling this year. Welcome to the new sharing economy.

And as a part of highly-functional community, respect will come naturally regardless of what your job or title is. Contrast that with a command-and-control culture where, if you lose a job title--or even a job itself--you could wind up without respect. Would a gangster pay respect to a former boss who has fallen from grace and has no rank? Can an executive who has an obsession for status and power, lose his or her title and still receive respect from former subordinates?

If I'm running a Mafia, a Yakuza, or a street gang--or if I have a raging fetish with establishing and maintaining a corporate hierarchy--then I may believe in the principles of money, power, and respect. But that's not how I live. Perhaps back in 1998 I believed in those principles, but no longer. My daily actions are about meaning, influence, and community. Pass the MIC, yo.

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