Sunday, March 25, 2012

“I am what I do” or “I do what I am.” Which statement most accurately describes you?

Early management theorists Karl Marx and Max Weber both warned that the hidden price of the then new organisational structure, called bureaucracy, was that it inevitably lead to the separation of the true self from the work self. This separation would ultimately result in dissatisfaction and alienation, which Marx later theorised would start a revolution by the working classes. Although revolution has been rare, dissatisfaction, alienation, and other organisational maladies are common. Moreover, some social scientists believe that harassment, workplace violence and ethical breaches can all be traced to the feelings that accompany the separation of the true and work selves, (Locander, W. B. and Luechauer, D. L., 2010, p.15).

When I was 15 or 16 years old I set myself some goals that I wanted to achieve in my life-time. I remember I wanted to own my own business by the time I was 35 (which I started when I was 32), and I wanted to have written my first book by the age of 45 (which I only achieved when I was 50). At the time I didn’t know what the business would be, and to be honest, would have imagined a gym or sports club, rather than the consulting firm I own today. And there’s no doubt the book I imagined so many years ahead was on health and fitness, and not on being the best in business, (in fact in my early forties I started compiling the contents for a book that was going to be called, ‘fitness for the over forties’ – but it never developed past the ‘idea’ stage).

What’s interesting is that at such an early age, when maybe you’d expect a teenager to be thinking of ‘being a reality star’ or something quirky like that; or maybe even thinking of ‘how not to work’, I’d already set my heart on achieving some ambitious goals – though don’t ask me why I set the goals I did, as I really can’t remember.

In fact as hard as it might be to believe in today’s society, William Locander and David Luechauer highlight in their article that, “research going back many years indicates that most people want to work, and contrary to popular belief they don’t all want to be the next American Idol, movie star, or professional athlete,” (p.15).

But being able ‘to do the things that are you’ is a powerful reminder that our lives need compassion and empathetic human connection, whether experienced on the job or some other setting and the more leaders can do to foster compassion and connection the more likely they will be to enrich themselves, their organisations and their communities, (Locander, W. B. and Luechauer, D. L., 2010, p.15).

The alternative, 'of being what you do' in my opinion, means that your life has been sucked out of you – and often not due to the fault of the individual. I think of the horrific traits of human trafficking and drug addiction and feel nothing but sadness and helplessness for people who cannot have the joy of doing what is truly meant for them – and pray for the day when these monstrosities of human nature are eradicated for good.

William Locander and David Luechauer mention that “we each have an inner music or inner light that must be played or brought forth if we are to live self-actualized lives that contribute to our own wellbeing and the well-being of others. In essence, we should all be doing the work that has been placed inside us to do. Yet, it would seem that very few among us are living in that manner. Indeed, we seem to live in a society where people derive their identity more from their job, their car, their clothes, their address, their portfolio or their significant - rather than from any inner source, calling or wellspring of values, skills or strengths,” (p.15).

Ultimately, as Locander and Luechauer conclude, “it appears that having an understanding of one’s skills, developing those skills to the fullest and using them in a personally meaningful way to pursue purposes beyond selfish ambition and vain conceit can transform just about any job into a calling,” (p.15).


Locander, W. B. and Luechauer, D. L. (2010). Do what you love, love what you do. Marketing Management, Vol. 19, Issue 1, p.14-15.

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