Daffodil International University

Career Development Centre (CDC) => Job Satisfaction & Skills => Career Guidance => Be a Leader => Topic started by: shibli on April 24, 2012, 05:45:13 PM

Title: Focus on finding big problems
Post by: shibli on April 24, 2012, 05:45:13 PM
Forget about finding your passion. Instead, focus on finding big problems.

Putting problems at the center of our decision-making changes everything.

Several years ago, a friend decided she wanted to follow her passion. She loved the liberal arts and academe. She was a talented graphic designer, a great writer, and was the president of a student club. But the prospect of working a nine-to-five job was never interesting. I can't blame her. After all, ours is a millennial generation proselytized to pursue our dreams. So she spent seven years getting a PhD, writing an award-winning dissertation in the process. It was a wonderful ride while it lasted, and she was among the happiest people I knew.

Then the recession hit. The value of university endowments crashed. Teaching and research positions were cut. She moved back in with her family, stopped paying off her student loans, and waited two years before getting a minor teaching role in a small research center. Throughout this time, she suffered the anguish of an uncertain future, became socially withdrawn, and felt a sense of betrayal.

It's a poster tale for our times. Was following her passion worth it?

Like myself, today's twentysomethings were raised to find our dreams and follow them. But it's a different world. And as the jobless generation grows up, we realize the grand betrayal of the false idols of passion. This philosophy no longer works for us, or at most, feels incomplete. So what do we do? I propose a different frame of reference: Forget about finding your passion. Instead, focus on finding big problems.

Putting problems at the center of our decision-making changes everything. It's not about the self anymore. It's about what you can do and how you can be a valuable contributor. People working on the biggest problems are compensated in the biggest ways. I don't mean this in a strict financial sense, but in a deeply human sense. For one, it shifts your attention from you to others and the wider world. You stop dwelling. You become less self-absorbed. Ironically, we become happier if we worry less about what makes us happy.

The good thing is that there are a lot of big problems to go by: climate change, sustainability, poverty, education, health care, technology, and urbanization in emerging markets. What big problem serves as your compass? If you're a young leader and you haven't articulated this yet, here are some things you can do.

Develop situational awareness. There's too much focus on knowing the self. Balance this with knowing the world. Stay in touch. Be sensitive to the problems faced by the unfortunate and marginalized. Get out of the office and volunteer. If you're in school, get out of the classroom. It's been a long time coming, but business schools are finally instituting changes that put the real world at the center of their programs.

Look into problems that affect you in a very personal way. We're more likely to be motivated by problems we can relate to on a personal level. In Passion & Purpose, Umaimah Mendhro recounts her story fleeing a war-torn Pakistan with her family and how the experience of dodging bullets to escape helped her summon the wherewithal to found thedreamfly.org, an initiative that helps create connections across communities in conflict.

Connect with people working on big problems. In a world where problems are by their very nature interdisciplinary, just getting to know people who are passionate about one problem leads to discussions on how other problems can be solved. When Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala helped reinvent Manila Water to better provide for the Philippines' capital, he had to deal not only with the typical issues a public utility had to face, but also with problems related to climate change, technology, and community development.

Take time off and travel. Forget about traveling as a tourist. Instead, structure a trip that takes you off the beaten path. Go to an unconventional place. Backpack and get lost. The broader and richer experience pays dividends down the line. Steve Jobs described his time living in India as one of the most enriching and mind-opening phases of his life, and this undoubtedly helped him develop the intuition to solve the big problem of making lives simpler through technology.

We don't find happiness by looking within. We go outside and immerse in the world. We are called to a higher purpose by the inescapable circumstances that are laid out on our path. It's our daily struggles that define us and bring out the best in us, and this lays down the foundation to continuously find fulfillment in what we do even when times get tough.

Happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you're good at, and what the world needs. We've been told time and again to keep finding the first. Our schools helped developed the second. It's time we put more thought on the third.

What big problems are you trying to solve?

Title: One skill that all leaders should work on
Post by: shibli on April 24, 2012, 06:05:12 PM
Here are some specific ways in which assertiveness complements a wide range of the critical leadership skills you may already have:

• Creating a culture of innovation: A couple of years ago I conducted a study to determine the characteristics of the most innovative leaders in one of the largest companies in the world. One of their most powerful traits, their peers and direct reports told me, was their ability to push back on the hierarchy. These leaders were by no means rebels; rather, they were perceived to be fearless. Coupling assertiveness with their ability to foster innovation enabled them to take on difficult issues — to fight for resources for new projects or openly disagree with more senior managers about policy changes that could have severe unintended consequences. Being challenged required people to think more deeply to justify a course of action, which frequently produced much better ideas.

• Being customer focused: We typically think of service or business development professionals as being good at, and focused on, building relationships. But the most successful sales professionals, as Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson point out in their blog and their book, The Challenger Sale, are not the ones who build relationships. They're the ones who push back, challenging their clients to see problems they hadn't anticipated. Essentially, Dixon and Adamson's research finds, assertiveness creates more value for clients than conciliatory relationship building does.

• Fostering teamwork and collaboration: It might seem like assertiveness has little to do with the skills you need to be a team player. But teams thrive when their members are able to express their not-always-popular points of view. Excellent team players (who generally are already inclusive and able to defer to others) would improve considerably by learning when to assert such views. And team leaders who are assertive in creating a safe environment for less-popular opinions will make their teams all the stronger by increasing all team members' ability to participate fully.

• Leading change: Constructive change rarely happens passively. Change requires the leaders to challenge the status quo and find new ways of doing things to further organizational goals. It's nearly impossible to lead change without some measure of assertiveness because in most cases, even when change is generally viewed as positive, some kind of resistance still needs to be addressed.

• Acting with integrity: There are plenty of highly principled people who are too timid to speak up in meetings — to question a decision that appears to violate a corporate value or is otherwise not in the best interests of the organization. Assertiveness doesn't cause honesty or vice-versa, but when the two operate together they give people the courage not only to know what is right but to stand up for it as well.

• Creating a safe environment: This might seem self-evident — there are times when it's vital to speak up in the face of danger. And yet there are so many times when people don't, even in cases of life and death. The National Transportation Safety Board, for instance, has traced the cause of some plane crashes to co-pilots who were so deferential to their pilot in an emergency that they made suggestions too subtly. While most of us are not faced with life or death decisions each day, plenty of leaders are responsible for the safety of those they lead.

• Communicating effectively: Assertiveness adds power and conviction to a message and enables a leader's voice to be heard. You can clearly tell the difference between a message communicated with passion and vigor as a leader asserts his or her point of view and one that lacks the energy of conviction. Assertive leaders also tend to communicate more often, as their passion leads them to capitalize on every opportunity they can find to deliver a message.

Many leaders (though certainly not all) struggle with being assertive enough, whether through self-doubt, a lack of confidence, a fear of not being liked, or a host of other reasons. Most people who know me personally would probably say that I possess a reasonably strong level of assertiveness. Yet there are times (like when I'm with people whom I admire or whose opinion is particularly important to me) that I become relatively timid and less likely to assert my point of view. Ironically, when I review those situations, I recognize that they may be some of the most important times for me to speak up.