March 2013: Letter from John

Next week, I wrap up an engagement supporting ChildFund International's executive team through a series of strategic conversations.

You may recall that our team spent a week last spring with their Global Sponsorship Team as they built alignment around a shared vision of work.I'll be doing something similar next week with another global team.

It's a bittersweet space for a guy who was one phone call away from a career with the Foreign Service back in the spring of 2001. (Short version: After an 18 month recruiting process, the State Department mad e me an offer -- my dream job in the Middle East. For the right reasons, I turned it down.)

Spending time with an organization of global travelers with a passion for making the world a better place is a reminder of the many ways each of us can make a contribution. It's also a reminder that even jobs with life-changing missions are, some days, just jobs.

Living your passion, or a piece of your passion, or your passion of the moment is important work. Holding onto a passion after it has served its purpose in your life is an invitation to sadness and regret.

I often talk to leaders about the ways in which our beliefs -- about ourselves, about others, about the world -- shape our decisions, and the ways in which we engage with others.

I share that our beliefs are shaped by our experiences, thousands upon thousands of large and small moments that help mold our thinking, our reactions, our views. When you reach a point in life where your beliefs are no longer serving a purpose, or are just flat out wrong, it's time to change them.

Because that's easy, right?

No, not so much. We change our beliefs by changing our experiences. We let go of old passions by embracing new ones. We replace old stories that box us in with new stories that liberate and inspire us.

The work of leadership is to create opportunities for those around us to engage in work that reflects their deepest, best beliefs -- and to recognize when beliefs and values and fears and ego drivers (more on those another time) are keeping those around us from living their passions most fully.

It sounds a little Pollyannaish, I know. But once we get past the motivating force of a paycheck, it's really all we -- as employers and leaders -- have left. In his book, Drive, Dan Pink talks about autonomy, mastery and purpose, about the role intrinsic motivators play in inspiring people to do great work.

It's a long leap from "I'll be hanging out at ChildFund next week" to "look for ways to engage people where it matters most to them." But isn't that the best work we can do in this life, whether we do it in Bangladesh or in Manhattan or in a brick office building off of Broad Street?

The best way to start? Look in the mirror. Uncover your own beliefs, and ask in what ways they are inhibiting you from doing or motivating you to do your best work in this life.