Saturday, April 9, 2011

Who Do You Really Work For?

For my day job that pays the bills, I work in a large corporation.  We have 12,000 employees in our Tucson location.  That’s a lot of people.  We have our own fire department and everything.  Since I work on a lot of different projects in many different departments, I am constantly meeting new people.  One of the most common questions I get asked when meeting new people is:  Who do you work for? 

I always pause a couple seconds at this question, because the question doesn’t really make sense to me.  I want to give the most obvious answer: I work for me. 

But that’s not what people are really asking and that’s not how I respond.  What they are really asking is two things:  Where do I fit into the organization structure?  And secondly, how high in the organization do I report?  Because in a large corporate environment, people want to know your position, your title, and more importantly – who your boss is.  They want to know these things so they can figure out how important you are, how much time they should give you, and whether they should listen to what you have to say. 

I can’t tell you how many people new people ask me who my boss is.  And this just makes me crazy sometimes.  I realize this information matters to them – because hierarchy and bosses matters to people who value positional power.

I don’t really value positional power as much as I value other things.  Yes, I respect authority and direction and alignment, and all that jazz.  I am not a wild independent maverick going crazy all over the workplace. 

But I really value who a person is and what they can contribute, more than I value their title and their position in the hierarchy.   I develop and maintain relationships with coworkers whom I respect and value, regardless of their rank or position in the organization.  For many of my closest friends, I really don’t always know who they report to.  That doesn’t matter to me.  What matters is if they have integrity and if they follow through on what they say.  I care about people who are sincere and can be trusted and are authentic.  And I don’t stop caring about them if they get demoted or fired or they retire. 

Positional power is temporary and one dimensional and shallow.  Genuine power is a reflection of who a person is in ALL areas of their life.   Genuine influence comes from people who are self aware and make intentional choices in their life.  Genuine power is independent of job title.

When I am asked who I work for – I want to answer that I work for myself and I work for my customers.  Because my customers are who matter to me, and I believe it is my job to figure out how to provide value to my customers.    

I suspect that people who believe they work for themselves or their customers are more likely to demonstrate initiative and innovation in the workplace.  This would be interesting to research, to dig deeper into motivation and loyalty, to compare different workplace environments and mindsets about hierarchies. 

This reminds me of the story of the bricklayers:

The story goes, that three bricklayers were working side by side. When asked, "What are you doing?", the first bricklayer replied:

"I'm laying bricks."  The second bricklayer was asked. He answered,

"Feeding my family."

The third bricklayer when asked the question, "What are you doing?", responded,
"I'm building a cathedral."

Perhaps someone should have also asked the three bricklayers who they work for.  I bet all three would have given different answers.

In any case, I’m curious about you, and who you think you work for.  Do you work for your boss, or the person who signs your paycheck?  Do you work for your customers?  Do you have days when you believe you work for yourself?  Do you have a desire to work for yourself?  Do you think it's possible to work for yourself within a larger organization? Think about these questions and let me know.  

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