Empower Employees to Take Control of Their Situation

I’d like tell you about two people, Will and Bob. Will is the son of one of my friends.

After graduating from college in 2008, he got an entry-level job at a major weekly in New York City, and worked for an editor in chief he admired. Six months later the British owners fired Will’s boss and Will too. This was in early 2009, when magazines were going out of business on a daily basis and unemployment in New York City was in the double digits. Will had no success finding another job. He had to move back in with his parents, collect unemployment and had no prospects for finding work.

Some people would have wallowed in self-criticism, whining, convincing themselves that getting fired was not their fault and the situation was out of their control.

Will didn’t do that. Since finding a job was virtually impossible, he decided to go to law school. His parents were aghast. They weren’t prepared to pay the six-figure bill. But Will had that worked out, theoretically. He would study hard for the LSAT. If he scored high enough, a school would give him a scholarship.

In the meantime, he’d sit out one of the worst job environments in decades. And when he graduated, he’d have a professional degree and maybe the job market would be healthier.

Contrast this with Bob, a lawyer in his mid-40s whom I met at a conference. Bob used to practice real estate law, but when the real estate market dried up, he switched to family law, handling divorces and custody battles. It’s one of the nastier corners of the law, and as Bob described his job, he spotted a friend and waved.

“That’s my former law partner. He loves being a lawyer. I hate it.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He gets a kick out of engaging in battle with other lawyers. He can tell them to go to hell and have a drink with them an hour later. I can’t do that. I can’t separate myself from all the harsh words. And I’m not built for fighting.”

“It sounds like you’re in the wrong line of work,” I said.

“I know,” he said with a sigh.

Bob had no clue how to change his life. He was trapped in a job of his own choosing, but he loathed it and he was doing nothing about it. These are two random anecdotes about people I know. But they could be anyone.

The following list of actions can help you attack the challenge of changing “You” or “It.” These are tools, not tricks of the mind. They don’t work unless you use them. They are:
Establish meaningful criteria: Setting ground rules for your life can start you on the path toward a great spirit.
Be the optimist: There’s power in “going for it” and not being afraid to look foolish.
Rebuild one brick at a time: A wall is built one brick at a time. So is your spirit.
Live your mission in the small moments: The small moments in our lives can make big statements about who we are.
When to stay, when to go: It’s better to jump than be pushed.
Influence up as well as down: Turn important decision makers into your best customers.
Name it, frame it, claim it: Naming what we do can help us enhance how we do it.

In my book Mojo, I’ve organized these actions into chapters around four building blocks: identity, achievement, reputation and acceptance.

For example, if your issue is reputation — you want the world’s opinion of you to match your own — a remedial strategy can be found in “When to Stay, When to Go.” You’re changing It. You get the picture. Each action initiates a change in You or It.

Marshall Goldsmith is a world authority in helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior. He is the author or co-editor of 31 books, including MOJO. He can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.