The Question Matters

Fighting Pragmatism with Meaning

Posted in Generation Y,Leadership,Next Generation Leaders by treyfinley1008 on September 2, 2010
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Dan Pink, in his recent book Drive, names three elements which must be present in the 21st Century workplace in order for employees to be motivated:  Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.  I’ve discussed his work previously on my blog.

The hunger for meaning in the workplace is, in my opinion, a symptom of a larger trend in Western culture: an over-emphasis on pragmatism has yielded a starvation for meaning.  One could suggest that the Boomers spotted this starvation in their youth, Generation X resented it when they experienced it, and now Millennials are facing ever increasing levels of this dearth of meaning.  Western culture is displaying a fascination, an obsession with pragmatism. Consider the pragmatic nature of the world into which Millennials are entering:

  • As they enter the workforce, they are experiencing an economic downturn of generational proportions (it’s been four generations since a recession of this size) that leads to very pragmatic decisions about who will have work and who won’t.
  • Their education has emphasized standardized testing in primary and secondary schools, measuring pragmatic skills over creativity, problem solving, and learning for its own sake.

(You can probably name other examples. Thought of one? Email it to me at  I’d like to know what you think).

Pragmatism sounds like a disease, doesn’t it?  It makes me want to ask, “Is there a cure for that?”  For Millennials, MEANING inoculates them from the relentless pragmatism of what must be.  Instead, meaning searches for what could be and what should be, with a hope that these are what will be. You could say that Millennials are intensely pragmatic about their search for meaning in what they do.  If I want to lead Gen Y, pragmatism is required, just not pragmatism about things they believe meaningless.

Coaching for meaning can be a bit tricky.  After all, who gets to decide what is meaningful?  And what happens when what is meaningful to me isn’t meaningful to someone else?  How can both perspectives be honored?  Below are some coaching suggestions for bringing a Millennial’s pragmatic search for meaning to bring transformation to whatever context they find themselves.  Warning: they will fail from time to time with these important decisions.  But then that’s the point, isn’t it?

Co-Create Opportunities to Do What Matters

Consider the following questions to help a Millennial friend or colleague decide if what they’re doing now connects to what’s most important to them:

  • If someone asked you to say what you believe in most, what would you tell them?
  • If you could spend a year not working living that belief, doing something constructive for society, what would you do?
  • What first steps can we take together to get you headed in that direction?

In the Workplace, Replace Meaningless Tasks with Vital Decisions

The tyranny of the urgent is something no one escapes.  Nevertheless, if you want to lose a Millennial, clog their schedule with tasks seemingly unconnected to the bigger picture.  Coach yourself with these questions:

  • Which tasks am I assigning my younger employee simply because I disdain that task?  How well have I explained how that task serves a larger purpose?
  • On which decisions have I invited my younger employee’s input?  How many of their ideas did I actually incorporate?

The Deep Seas of Coaching

Posted in Change,Coaching,Leadership by treyfinley1008 on May 19, 2010
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I’m always on the lookout for metaphors that tell the story of good coaching.  Here’s one for your consideration: coaching is a deep sea dive.

I’ve never been scuba diving before.  I confess that there’s something about being able to see only so deep that makes me nervous about the idea.  Underwater exploration just isn’t on my bucket list at this point.  There are two things that could change that plan, though.  The one most likely to overcome my timidity would be the knowledge that something “down there” could transform my life “up here.”  The other is if my interest in deep sea exploration suddenly outgrew my timidity.  In either case, I would be ready to change, and begin preparing for my first dive.

If that readiness is present, then the dive begins with solid preparation at the surface.  Do you have what you need for the exploration of the deep?  An air tank?  Flippers?  Wet suit?  Light?  Best not to leave the boat without these and a few other items.  Stepping off the boat, and into the water, the diver turns his attention to the deeper waters, facing the deep rather than the shallow.  This dive requires strength as our body resists the changing pressure and its own buoyancy.

Why dive?  Perhaps its pure exploration, exploration for its own sake.  Perhaps there is something to be found below that needs attention, even rescue.  Maybe something’s down there that needs to be brought to the surface.  Ocean biologists (someone help me with the correct title) tell us that there are very practical things that come from our ocean–the nutritional value of sea weed, for example.

This is coaching.  Before a person is willing to consider coaching, there must be a willingness to learn and change.  The benefits of coaching must outweigh the reluctance to change and the comfort of sameness.  Without this piece, coaching is not impossible, but is much less fruitful.  It would be similar to someone putting on a snorkelers’ gear and expecting to see things few people ever see.

If coaching is to me more than a metaphorical snorkeling adventure, then there must be a willingness to enter the ocean, fight the natural tendency to avoid deep transformation, and later emerge with very practical applications for what was learned in the dive.  What might be found in that dive?

  • An interpersonal tool that gets things done smoother and quicker
  • A new habit that transforms you from the outside in
  • A personal discovery that transforms your work, your family, and your relationships from the inside out
  • A new level of awareness of your impact on others

I suppose coaching could be done just for the sake of coaching.  For me, it’s the discoveries that are brought to the surface and displayed for all to see that make coaching a joy and a pleasure.