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?

John Maxwell on Questions

Posted in Change,Coaching,Leadership by treyfinley1008 on August 2, 2010
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You can’t find the right answer if you’re asking the wrong question | John Maxwell on Leadership.

A quote from the blog post:

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot wrong questions.”

~Sir Antony Jay

Listening for What You Didn’t Hear

Posted in Coaching,Family,Leadership by treyfinley1008 on June 14, 2010
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When I get up in the morning, there are certain sounds I’ve become accustomed to hearing.  I usually hear my basset hound beginning to stir.  She yawns as she stretches, shakes, and then meanders slowly to another part of the room to lay down, her collar jingling all the way.  I hear the fans.  Their whooooosh as they circulate cool air is like a soundtrack to our lives.  A few of them need balancing, and as such I occasionally hear the cords that change fan speeds and turn the lights off and on let out a soft click as they lightly knock heads.  And of course, I hear the tap tap tap as I type away at my keyboard.

That is not a long list.  There are not many sounds to be heard at 6:30 in the morning at our house, one of the reasons I enjoy writing at this time of day.  Hearing noise, though, does not mean that I’m listening.

Listening notices more details. If I listen to the fan, I may notice that it is running at a different speed that usual, thus softening the whooosh sound it makes.  If I listen to my basset hound, I might also hear her groan a bit more than usual in her yawn, letting me know she needs the supplement we give her that keeps her long back and short legs limber.

Listening requires a recognition of what I’m not hearing. What isn’t making noise today that often is?  For a change, my 5-year-old is still asleep.  Often, I can hear him playing in his room when I wake up to write.

Listening is hearing what others are not. Listening is more than hearing sound and words.  Listening identifies, marks, and contemplates the rhythm at which someone speaks. It evokes thoughtful comparison of the pace and tone in someone’s voice.  It provides clues to how that person sees the world.

Listening calls for action. Listening is not passive.  For the coach, careful listening provides the basis from which powerful questions emerge.  For the parent, listening provides solid ground from which to guide a child.  It serves notice of good habits and bad, words that build up and those that tear down, social patterns that are serving them well and those that aren’t.

In short, Listening is to Hearing as Leading is to Managing.

Market, Close, Satisfy, Repeat

The “repeat” in the title isn’t an encouragement to “market close satisfy” over and over again.  Rather, it’s a healthy reminder today from a writer at Entrepreneur magazine–the cost of repeat business is a fraction of the cost of finding new clients. It’s much better for your time, your money, and your stress to build a base of repeat customers.   Read the entire article here.  This was a good reminder to me that re-inventing the wheel is almost always a long slow way to make a profit.

The author offers five principles for building repeat business:

  1. Be diligent with your database.
  2. Make your communication personal and personable.
  3. Make it easy for your customers to buy and keep buying.
  4. Decide what you can promise your customers.
  5. Test and measure everything.

The article has me wondering, what does repeat business in the professional services industry look like?  Hmmmmm…


On a different note, you should read JenX67‘s post today about a writer convinced that Gen X is too polite to lead, and that our politeness will lead to Gen Y getting promotions to executive level positions before they’re 30.  In coaching, we call that “distorted judgment,” in essence believing and behaving as if 1 + 1 = 3.

As a voice for Gen X, Jen is annoyed and it’s hard to blame her.  I’ll take a more pragmatic perspective and suggest that, if indeed a Boomer wants to skip over their Gen X employee’s experience, patience, and wisdom for Gen Y’s idealism, youth, and inexperience, they better invest in coaching for those young leaders now.