Since arriving home in July, I have been getting back to some basics with regard to realizing potential, and putting my talents to use in a way the world needs. I believe that creates a deep sense of fulfillment in people, and that people everywhere crave it. Almost three years ago, my then-girlfriend, knowing the impact that Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People had on me bought me his follow-up book, The 8th Habit. Like many books, I have been reading it off and on and making minimal progress. I have read the beginning material numerous times but only recently finished it. The central is that our unique voice lives at the intersection of talent, desire, a greater need, and what our conscience counsels us to do. That is where we find our “unique personal significance,” and the habit that flows from it is to find your voice and inspire others to find theirs. Doing so, as the title’s bi-line suggests, moves us from effectiveness to greatness.
The book is eerily applicable to the experiment I started two years ago today when I left a comfortable-but-non-fulfilling job to find a higher and better use of my talents. For that reason alone, I highly recommend the book. But I also recommend it for its insight. Like his groundbreaking work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the book is incredibly insightful. For example, while we have known for a few years that the developed world’s economies have been moving from an industrial paradigm into an information, or “knowledge worker” one. In the future, that will shift to a “wisdom” paradigm where teams succeed because members feel valued for their whole person and not one specific skill or task. Failure to make such a transition risks people feeling underutilized and feeds a distrust that their employer does not see them on the liability side of the balance sheet as opposed to the asset side.
Trust is a theme woven throughout the book that resonated with me a great deal. As I search for my next professional vocation, I know I want to work with teams and put people in a position to capitalize on their inherent strengths. However, that means trusting the person will perform as expected. The wonderful thing about trust is, even though it can take time to build a strong sense of trust, it can be built daily with small contributions. Once it is built, however, transaction time (i.e., management time and effort) falls dramatically as team members are more empowered than they otherwise might be. Connected to this idea of trust is how influence can be just as powerful as leadership. A person might be placed in a leader’s traditional role, but by building trust overtime, they come to have influence with those who are. When it comes time to make big decisions, a leader will turn to those who have demonstrated persistent character and dependability. This type of unseen leadership is a bi-product of continually honing trust.
These are just a few examples of the kind of lessons and themes in the book. Many more are included. For example, there are pages devoted on varying levels of empowerment, how taking the time to explore and find “voice” can lead to a place of fulfillment whereas not doing so can easily lead to a place where playing life’s victim becomes a default position. The book also comes with a collection of short films on DVD, which illustrate the main themes of certain chapters of the book.
The book is largely geared toward those in corporate settings, which, at times, fell flat as my interest in the book (at this time) is rooted in personal development. And some of the writing feels hokey, as if difficult workplace dynamics will work out splendidly If everyone would just read this book and get on board with the message. That said, there is plenty I can take from it as I continue exploring how to identify and best use my own talents and skills.
The first thing is that taking the time to do this is worth it. Further, I have an opportunity to do it in a way that many people do not. I am largely free of responsibilities that might require me to take this process more incrementally. I am not married and have no dependents. I am early in my career, so if this experiment goes badly, I have (hopefully) plenty of time to make corrections. In addition, and as a bit of a happy accident, the book is exactly what I need right now. Its central theme is perfectly aligned with why I quit my IT job in the first place. I am happy it took me this long to get to it. Had I read it the week after walking out the door, I don’t know that it would have made much sense. Two years into this experiment, with notable successes and failures, it resonates strongly.
Second, the topics of identifying one’s unique contribution, ways to empower myself as well as others, identifying ways to synthesize, identifying – and capitalizing on – wisdom vs. knowledge, and traveling the continuum from anger and fear through to a sense of meaning are one-offs. These are life-long processes that can be re-visited as we evolve. Various stages of personal and professional development will dictate which material is more relevant, but because the foundations are rooted in unchanging principles, it will always be applicable.
There is a lot more I could write about, but at that point I would just be regurgitating the book. It’s a very good read for individuals, teams, and organizations looking to understand the full depth of potential within each person, how to develop it, and how to access it in a way the world needs. It is a great companion when taking a completely different direction with your life, simply adjusting the wheel to stay on course, or somewhere in between.