Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Purpose Worthy of Commitment

"A company that lacks a purpose worthy of commitment fails to foster commitment."

I read that today in The Fifth Discipline, an interesting book by Peter Senge. This is a book I picked up on a whim at Park Royal while Steph was working with Talbots sales clerks on a new jacket. I leafed through it, recognized half-a-dozen terms I've been encountering and dealing with over the past few years -- dialogue, personal mastery, reflective practice and so on -- and was immediately drawn to it. It's a biggish book, around 400 pages, and this is the second edition, just released. The original was published in 1996 and was hailed (says the dust jacket) as "One of the seminal management books of the past seventy-five years," by no less an authority than The Harvard Business Review, and as "One of the five greatest business books of all time," by The Financial Times.

We have a Financial Times fridge magnet at home. I have no idea why. I'm pretty sure neither of us have ever actually read an issue of The Financial Times.

Anyways, with all them glowing reviews and whatnot, I got a little excited and bought the damn thing pretty much on the spot. That was Saturday and I've been devouring it ever since.

I have to stop every so often and let the ideas percolate in my head; it's that sort of book.
"Perhaps the most radical of the five disciplines was personal mastery, the idea that an organizational environment could be created in which people could truly grow as human beings. Most companies today espouse some variation on [this] philosophy... and invest considerable sums in work force development, largely through training programs. But truly committing to helping people grow requires much more than this. I've listened to people... share their experiences for many years, and the emotional center of their stories is always the same. Through diverse life experiences they have formed an unshakable conviction of the power inherent in releasing and aligning human spirit -- and they are on a lifelong journey to discover what this means and how to do it."

I think I'm on a similar journey, in my own ham-handed, club-footed way. And reading this book is making me understand something -- or rather, it's helping me to articulate something that's become ever more clear to me over the past few years. I'm realising that there isn't a magic set of activities I need to perform in order to fulfill my dreams. I don't need to direct movies, or drive race cars, or fly a Spitfire in order to be fulfilled. What I need to do, what I've been craving all my life, is to integrate my work, my passions, my goofy joys and my humble triumphs into a single, seam-filled whole. I need to stop thinking of work as that thing I do to pay the rent, and discover what it is that REALLY keeps me going into the office every day.

Maybe it's fear. Maybe it's an inability to get off my ass and go fly a Spitfire. Maybe it's a need for approval from my superiors (or my inferiors, assuming I have any). Whatever, it doesn't matter. The reality of my life is that I work at my office five days a week, and it's a huge part of my life. And I seem to enjoy it deeply.

I love to do a lot of things but among them I particularly love to bring people together and help them to accomplish more than they thought themselves capable of. I love helping people to grow and learn, and in doing so experience my own growth and learning alongside them. I love belonging to a community of people who trust each other, who can be honest and supportive, who can push each other into ever-higher heights of achievement.

What's drawn me to management, I realise now, is my lifelong conviction that honesty, courage, humility and compassion really ARE the best ways to get things done and to make the world a better place. And that when you can build organizations that support and encourage those values, you build organizations that are greater than the sum of the people who make them up.

That, and the raw naked power of crushing dominion over others. Both are good.

Anyways, expect to see more "work-related" posts on this blog. Up to now I've been keeping "work" reasonably separated from the rest of my life, but I think I was mistaken.

"Perhaps when we rediscover organizations as living systems, we will also rediscover what it actually means to us as human beings to work together for a purpose that really matters."


I guess we'll find out.