As recruiters, we ask candidates a powerful question which typically elicits immediate pause, reflection, and authenticity in the answer. It is a question that catches most off guard, creates a feeling of nostalgia, and sometimes even prompts a smile. “At what point in your career did you feel most fulfilled? When did you feel you were truly in your prime, or at your best?” Unfortunately, more common than not, the answer is a story of the past. This creates a dual-sided dilemma; how do we expect others to be inspired by our vision and actions if we ourselves are not inspired by them? How do we create a perpetual prime of life for ourselves and for those we lead?
Perpetual Prime: Yourself
A commonly cited quote (original author contested) reminds us that “it’s never too late to be what you might have been.” It might help to know that celebrity chef Julia Child worked in advertising for the majority of her life and did not release her first cookbook until age 50. Legendary comic creator Stan Lee did not create his first comic until he was 39. Colonel Sanders of KFC fame did not start franchising his company until the age of 62. The individual responsible for inventing instant ramen noodles did not do so until he was nearly 50. However, this is not an article about the possibilities of succeeding later in life. It is about how to take the environment of previous success and push yourself to stay in it, year in and year out.
The best place to start is by learning from the past. What is your answer to the question above? When have you felt truly in your prime, and what circumstances were in play at that time?
- Commonly, the following four statements are generally the answers we hear most often as recruiters:
- I had a team around me and we were all rowing together, hard, to achieve a goal we all believed in.
- I was busy, maybe even overwhelmed, but overwhelmed doing meaningful work.
- I was tasked with a challenge and given autonomy but support to solve that problem.
- I was surrounded by a team or a leader who pushed me to be more, learn more, take on more and grow more.
Sound familiar? You might identify with some or all of those experiences, whether they are in the past or in the present. The remaining question is “what changed?”
As leaders, we are in a position of power – a position to recreate the very circumstances that once made us feel we were the zone or at our best. We have the ability to take control of the variables that put us in those situations and control of the variables that detract.
- What is our collective vision, and what can be done to make it a more purposeful goal?
- What mundane tasks should be outsourced, freeing up time for the most fulfilling and highest gain daily activities as a leader?
- What can you do to create an ongoing learning environment with new challenges to overcome?
- Are you surrounded by the best, both peer-level and those on your team? If not, what changes need to be made?
It is normal to find yourself entrenched in the day to day routine of work, family, and life. Many people go through the day on autopilot of knowing what is expected and performing to that expectation. It is not necessarily easy or comfortable to take the time to answer the questions posted in this article and start to understand true aspirations, motivations, and desires. It is certainly not comfortable to initiate change and uproot unproductive teams or face the reality of uninspiring objectives, but it is necessary in order to create an environment in which everyone feels at their best.
Perpetual Prime: Your Team
Being a leader can often times feel like being a parent, where every word is heard and every action is emulated. That leads us to another question: who was the best boss you ever had? Most answers include things such as “he/she had a vision and could articulate where we were going and how we would get there” or “their impact was felt daily as they worked tirelessly towards our goal” or “he/she put me in a position to succeed and I felt there was a strong belief in my abilities and potential.” Sound familiar? Although we are all different, we are also often alike. Creating a professional environment in which your team feels they are all in their prime takes work, but it is not a unique challenge.
In fact, someone once felt it with you; think about it! The best boss you ever had took responsibility for inspiring you, for making you feel heard, and for believing in you at times more than you believed in yourself. As leaders, we owe it to those who have put their careers in our hands, and the formula exists for what to do. It has been done for you already in the past. In fact, Google has even made leadership a replicable quality! Google’s people analytics team started by researching the qualities that make managers great at Google and then built a training program that teaches those exact qualities. Once the program has been completed, Google measures the behaviors of the leaders to ensure that they’re making improvements and morphing into managers that Googlers want to work for.
We don’t need to make it as complex as Google has. Start with becoming the boss you most admired and recreating the circumstances that used to make you feel you were in your zone. So goes the leader, so goes the team; once you feel you are in a perpetual prime of life, you will be surprised by how many others follow.
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