Frameworks are good. They help steer our imagination and energy. They help us focus on the things that matter most. They create repositories of insights that can be recycled at a later time.
It is common for me to find myself having a conversation with a bright-eyed millennial ready to change the world. And it is also common for me to have a conversation with a seasoned executive considering a 2.0 or 3.0 career. In other words, they are contemplating leaving their current platform and relocating to another.
More times than not I will think through a single framework to help. It is Voice, Center, Path, and Toolbox.
Voice—My Unique Sound
I have to discover and get comfortable with (but not get addicted to) my voice. In life, my voice is that unique sound of me operating in my created and discovered giftedness. It is my personal signature on life and work. It is me finding my unique wiring. Sure, others influence me but I don’t aspire to be other people. I aspire to be all that I was created to be.
When we operate out of our voice, others straighten up and pay attention. Like the audience who hears Susan Boyle in this masterful moment:
Your Creator has hardwired you uniquely; no one has your exact DNA, no one has your exact set of experiences and passions. And certainly no one has the blending of all these things the way it shows up in you. It is the unique “you,” but unless what is created is discovered, it will stay buried under weeds and rubble. Find your voice regardless of how young you are, how old you are, where you sit on the org chart, what your title is, or where you derive your income.
Center—The Footing of My Life
Maybe this season in our world has shaken you—personally, organizationally, emotionally, financially. When, as the old hymn says, “all around my soul gives way,” what do you fall back on?
- Natural Talents
- Hard Work
Where are your security, significance, and success anchored? Your center is your bedrock, the core foundation that your personal operating system is built upon. It is the thing we default to over and over again.
Without a firm center, my point of view will always be moving around, my morals will always be shifting, and my goals will jump from one target to the next like Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes. I will be destroyed by indecision on the one hand and foolish hastiness on the other.
But with a strong center, there is true peace, genuine deep confidence, and astounding contentment. When we understand our center, we don’t try to do everything and we don’t simply respond to crises. We have a settled-ness that guides and governs our life and work.
Path—Journey and Destination
Where is your life headed? Are you truly making progress or are you just spinning in place for weeks, months, or years at a time? Do you have a compelling vision for the future pulling you forward or are you sidelined from progress and contribution?
Identifying my unique voice and establishing my foundational center assists when I am choosing the targets and paths of life.
Life’s path is never as straight as we envision. Traffic, potholes, and car trouble always change our plans. At least it does in my journeys, and for many of us, the past year has felt more like a car crash altogether. We must have a doggedness to keep an eye firmly on the destination and the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances.
Among the most strategic assignments of any leader is to determine where the organization is going and not going … at what speed … at what risk. That is a leader’s job. In the same manner we must determine those same items for us personally in our own journey.
What does this mean? It means you can’t get distracted by every shiny object. That will often send you down the wrong path. It means you can’t stand paralyzed, waiting for someone else to fix your world. It means you might have to step into an intersection and commit to a new direction that would require a new level of risk or energy.
Wanting to go somewhere and even knowing how to get there doesn’t automatically transport you there. You have to jump in and take the journey.
Toolbox—The Things We Carry
We need tools (resources) to accomplish our life and work. The better the instruments, the better our performance.
My toolbox contains the instruments that I acquire along my path that move my confidence and competence upward. These instruments might be a knowledge bucket, a skill, a relationship, a business model, a business sector, a style of work, a rhythm of work, a set of guidelines or truths, etc.
Another element in your toolbox is stage and setting. We perform and produce better in some settings than others. We are more comfortable and natural on some stages than others. Some people need a strong collection of support players around them. Others just need a computer and a coffee shop. Some people thrive in large corporate settings and others must have a fast-changing entrepreneurial culture. For some people, working from home during a pandemic has increased effectiveness. For others, productivity is way down. These are all part of your optimum toolbox.
Of course, no two toolboxes are exactly the same. Your toolbox has to fit your learning style, personality, temperament, and calling. Keep building it. The pandemic has probably revealed some tools you need. Beware of trying to get by with other tools, and don’t forget what you’re learning now. Figure out how to go get those tools.
I have been guiding executives for three decades. Those who have done the hard work of nailing down their Voice, Center, Path and Toolbox seem to thrive better than those who haven’t. During this challenging season, it’s becoming even more clear how these four things root us and drive us forward. Maybe it’s also becoming clear where your lack is in these categories. Don’t give up hope. I’ve told many an executive over the years the same thing—press in.