Thursday, November 10, 2011

But Who's on YOUR Bus?

In Jim Collins'  bestselling business book "Good to Great," he and his research team explore the commonalities between a handful of companies that they have identified as being "great." The rules of success, they decipher, have far less to do with having a rockstar CEO (who, as it turns out, can actually drive a company into the ground in his or her pursuit of personal greatness) and much more to do with the company culture - the tone set by management and whether or not the team below believes in its leaders and the company as a whole. Collins assigns to this concept a metaphor of a "bus," saying "we found that [the great companies] first got the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus."

If there are people at the company who do not believe in its potential, it's in everyone's best interest to show them the door - or invite them to make the decision for themselves. Collins advocates building a team of people who believe in the company strongly enough that they would work for it even without a salary. People who feel passionate about the company's mission; who demonstrate faith in its potential and motivation to help get it there.

This particular chapter inspires the reader to pause and ask him or herself: am on the right bus?!

And yes, that's a normal question. When I read "Good to Great," I was coming to the realization that I was not on the right bus. I felt largely indifferent about the direction of my company (probably largely due to the fact that it seemed to be set on its track, which was decent even if unrelated to my own, and had little history of straying from the tried and true.)

But then I thought: now, wait a minute. This "bus" metaphor doesn't just apply to companies! It's not companies alone that have direction and momentum. It's individuals too. We all have our own personal bus; we each have our own directions, regardless of whether we consciously and deliberately define them or whether we allow them to be defined by outside influences. We each have a path as individual people. And just like successful companies need a support team of people who believe in it unconditionally, each person needs the same network in order to realize personal success.

And that's when I questioned whether my company - the same one whose bus I knew I should disembark - should even be on my bus.

These were good people, at my company, who were doing good things for the business and for their own careers, but unfortunately exhibited very little enthusiasm for me as a person or confidence in my potential.

Over the course of several months, I pursued a new career, and have since found a position at a company whose employees regularly inquire about my longterm career goals and discuss how the company will help me reach them, advising me on steps I can take in the short term, who to go to with particular ideas, and what responses I should expect. Their unyielding message is: we want, most of all, for you to realize your career goals, whether with this company or outside it.

And that message makes all the difference in the world. Rather than exhausting myself with anxiety over how to conform to their rules, I am instead trying to navigate their framework in order to best climb it. And they're not only letting me do it, but are encouraging it.

And it's not just the company you work for; it's also the people you keep in your life. Many successful professionals have discussed, in books and articles and interviews, enduring a divorce from a partner who did not believe in their work, and subsequently marrying someone who expressed absolute confidence in it - and what a difference it made. They advocate figuring out what you want to do with your life - what bus you're driving - then admitting only those passengers who feel ceaselessly passionate about that bus, and refusing those who question its direction. Because when the bus breaks down - and it will, from time to time - you want passengers who can help you fix the flat or push it to the shop and pitch for the mechanic's fees. (Incidentally, though this isn't a post about "love" or "The One," you should also choose a life partner whose own bus instills in you the same unwavering desire to be on board.)

Choose the right bus. Choose the bus whose direction you consistently believe in and for which you do not only ride half-heartedly, while harboring doubt in clandestine. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to the company.

And while you're looking for the right bus to board, you must also bear in mind that you will always have your own bus, and be ruthless when surveying the passengers on board. Take the time to define your objectives, and surround yourself with people who think that those ideas are bad ass. Ride with only those individuals that believe in you without skepticism, and remain diligent in your direction. It is better to spend the first ten years of your life with one person on whom you can depend than to surround yourself with a dozen who imply that your aspirations are silly.

And once you've got your bus on the road and some solid passengers along with you, then your job is to enjoy the ride.

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