In a series of posts, called readers choice, I write on whatever topics people submit and vote for. This week’s reader’s choice post: Where does our best work come from?
I think four factors explain most kinds of performance.
- You are motivated
- You’re assigned a task you’re both confident in and challenged by
- You are well led and working for someone who respects you
- You are working with people you trust
The surprise is how rare in most people’s working lives are all four at the same time. Or even three of the four.
Personal motivation even by itself is tricky for most people to master. How to pick work that will be interesting day after day, or to stay focused on the long term payoffs even if the short term experience is difficult or frustrating. The real challenge of many things (including writing books), and the reason so many people fear them, has less to do with the work, than the fear of the commitment to the work.
Good leaders (#3) and working with people you trust (#4) are almost the same thing. A good leader will push out people who betray trust (See the No-asshole rule, and what Pixar’s Ed Catmull has to say). A good leader also puts trust in their team (delegation) and encourage people who have trust to offer to lend it to their peers.
Working alone, as I generally do, demands I take care of all 4 myself. Assuming I trust myself (#4), and treat myself with respect (#3), two things that can be surprisingly tricky, my performance is gated by picking the right projects and ensuring I have long term goals that motivate me. The challenge of self-employment is making sure I provide all 4 factors – I have to be the employee and the leader all at the same time.
And if working with clients, you are in some sense picking your leader or source of respect (#3/#4).
These four items seem very simple, which is why they’re often overlooked. It’s unusual to experience all four at the same time. Great work can happen in spite of these factors, of course. And for some people the sense of overcoming a bad boss, or team, or situation, is a source of motivation – they have something to prove.