All that glisters is not gold–
Often have you heard that told.
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold.
~ William Shakespeare
A few days ago I caught up with a very dear friend and former colleague for coffee. We haven’t seen each other for about two years, but as with all strong friendships, it was as though we’d seen each other just last week. I have always enjoyed her company. Part of the reason is that she has an incredibly magnetic and warm personality, and always shows genuine and passionate interest in other people – finding joy in their triumphs and offering support in their lows.
Part-way through our conversation, and feeling like I had been hogging the ‘limelight’ somewhat (even if I was rather enjoying it), I asked some questions about her. How are you doing? Are you still enjoying your work? Have you thought about changing organisations?
She reflected for a moment, and then said “I still remember, a little sadly, the moment I realised I wasn’t going to progress to those higher-order roles, and I mostly made my peace with staying in a supporting role”.
As she said this, it was clear to me how vulnerable she was being in that moment. But even more than that I was struck by the hand gestures that accompanied the revelation. While saying ‘higher-order roles’ she held her hand up at eye-level. But when she said ‘supporting role’ her hand was down near the table.
Even her voice was lower.
I’d love to say that I thought of something clever to say that made her feel better. I didn’t.
It did, however, have a profound impact on me.
Value Versus Status
There’s no getting away from it. Some jobs are paid more than others. And it isn’t entirely down to how hard those jobs are. Or even how much these roles add to the bottom-line.
There are many companies in the HR consulting space making a great deal of money from selling scientific approaches to evaluating the complexity, scope, and difficulty level of different roles. But even if this approach was perfectly accurate, these ‘job sizes’ are still compared to market data from within similar industry employers to arrive at a salary.
And it’s this market data that reveals the differing levels of value we place on certain jobs over others. Skill scarcity, level of qualifications and experience required all play a part too.
There’s no denying the correlation between status and pay though.
CEOs tend to attract the highest pay. With other senior executives following behind that.
Cleaners and carers, not so much.
Nurses and policemen and teachers? All pretty important jobs, if you ask me. Usually paid well, but not exactly high paid jobs, at least when compared to CEOs, lawyers and cosmetic surgeons.
What this tells me is that, as a whole society, we value CEOs more than we do cleaners and care-givers.
I think it’s important that we own that. It’s the outcome of our collective actions and decisions.
Value and Complementarity
But what would happen if we could decouple our idea of value from our ideas about status (and pay)?
What if, instead, we could accept that every blockbuster film needs a great lead actor, and an impressive supporting cast.
Who says that the kind of brain that can visualise an organisation’s strategic direction and articulate it effectively to investors is inherently more valuable than the kind of brain that can take that vision and figure out how a design team can bring it to life?
What if you’re made to be in the supporting role? A great assistant, or a savvy advisor, or an astute communications professional? Are you supposed to force yourself like a square peg into a leadership-shaped hole?
Choose Fulfilment Over Status
Simon Sinek is on a mission to help everyone find their ‘why’.
Everyone’s ‘why’ is a little bit different – and not everyone’s ‘why’ is to be the leader or the boss. So why have we created a world where we pretend that it is?
The idea of finding your ‘why’ – the thing that makes you tick – and finding a professional niche which enables you to deliver your ‘why’, ought to lead to deep satisfaction and fulfilment.
And yet, if you haven’t decoupled your idea of value from your idea of status, there’s a risk that the lack of a hefty pay-cheque and a fancy title will prevent you from finding that fulfilment, even though it is right in front of you.
We are all unique, and we all have phenomenal gifts to offer the world. Your job is to figure out what yours are, and where you can be of most service. It is not your job to worry about how much your gifts are worth in dollar terms, or where they fit in the org chart.
I promise you – when you look back on your life and consider its worth, it won’t be about the size of your pay cheque, but instead it will be about the scale of the impact you had on others, and the value that you added to those who crossed paths with you.
My good friend, whose company I enjoyed a few days ago? There is something about the way she connects with people – her warmth, her enthusiasm, and her willingness to express admiration and encouragement – that is incredibly rare. I left our coffee date feeling like a million bucks – like I could take on the world and win. And as a consequence I am sure I can accomplish more than I otherwise would have.
Now that’s what I call value.
I want to help you to lead. Not from a position of power, but from exactly where you are now.
So I’m writing a book specifically for you. It’ll be out early next year (28 February 2018 to be precise).
If you’d like to know more, please sign up for my newsletter (I don’t spam, just a weekly newsletter) where I’ll keep you up to date on progress, test some ideas, and even share a preview or two as we get closer to launch-day.
Let’s do this!