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Re-Framing Success

Updated: Aug 5, 2022

My day job is coaching rising stars to thrive in leadership positions. Fundamental to this is cultivating sustainable ambition. I define sustainable ambition as growth that enriches, rather than depletes. As a friend of mine once put it, ‘work these days is a marathon, not a sprint.’ Seen in this way, can we come up with new, empowering definitions of success at work?

You burn bright is leadership coaching from Zoe fenn for future leaders in the creative industries

This felt like a useful question to ask in my first post because it seems so fundamental to why I love coaching people on their leadership journeys. It got me exploring what we prioritise at work, and if that’s really working for us.

Traditionally at work, we have been called upon to see our success in terms of our performance – hours worked, targets met, business won – often externally validated by a select few in the form of promotion and pay. But how motivating is this? And how sustainable?

In his book, the Inner Game of Work, Tim Gallwey tells an incredibly powerful story that challenges this model. A shortened version of the tale goes like this: AT&T needed to raise customer satisfaction in their call centres, and they had to do this without adding a single second to the call length. Unsurprisingly, front line staff were already feeling the pressure and stress of meeting call length targets. To resolve this tension, all Tim did was simply ask call centre staff to notice the customers level of stress during each call. Purely through this process of noticing, A&T saw their customer satisfaction scores go up, without any time at all being added to the call length. And what’s more, morale in the call centre was also up and stress levels were down. When staff tuned into customer sentiment, they learnt that every customer was unique and intuitively developed personal strategies to reduce customer tension. Their job also became a whole lot more interesting and enjoyable as a result.

What can we learn from this? And how is it relevant to the idea of sustainable ambition?

What this demonstrates is that when our learning and enjoyment at work goes up, our performance naturally improves. I love the sound of this world of work. One that prioritises and invests in learning and enjoyment, because it understands the positive correlation this has with performance. This feels like a fresher, lighter, much more sustainable route to success.

If, like most, you do find yourself in a work culture that prizes performance over learning and enjoyment, perhaps challenging the status quo feels daunting, although if you’re feeling brave, do start that conversation. An easier first step would be to prioritise learning and enjoyment in your own growth and development.

If you like the sound of this, here are a couple of ways to start re-framing success to yourself

1. If you do have a performance goal you are working towards (e.g. getting a promotion), ask yourself, what do I need to learn in order to achieve my goal? The lovely consequence of this, is that you also make yourself much less reliant on the promotion (subject to outside forces, such as economic climate, business performance etc.) for your fulfilment, but rather can anchor your success around your learning curve.

2. What negative feelings do you need to let go of, so you can enjoy your work more? This is quite a biggie, and I will write more on this topic, but what’s really helpful here is thinking through what gets in the way of enjoying your work, and how you would like to feel instead.

3. Each day (even the lousy ones you’d rather forget, in fact, especially the lousy ones) ask yourself what has gone well and what you have learnt. This will help you stay focused on what sustains your success at work and help you recover more quickly from the inevitable bumps in the road along the way.

If you have enjoyed this article please share it with your network. If you have any other tips for harnessing learning and enjoyment at work, or would like to work on progressing your own career in a sustainable way, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch at zoe@youburnbright. Huge appreciation for reading.

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