What’s more important? What you do or who you work for?
Think about the grade school teacher that had the biggest impact on you and your education. More than likely, they weren’t teaching you a subject in which you naturally excelled. They were likely dynamic teachers who brought a subject to life for you. They likely cared about you and your development. They likely stretched you to think differently and helped you gain appreciation for a new area. The subject didn’t matter. It was the teacher that made the difference.
The most consistent question I get from people seeking career advice is “how should I manage my career?” It’s a question that no doubt has a lot of answers, but which is easily answered with a simple hypothetical.
“If I offered you your dream job, with the worst boss ever or an average job with the best boss ever, which would you choose?”
While such binary choices are never actually presented to us in real life, the question draws a clear distinction between what we value most: vocation or leadership. Without exception, every time I have asked that question to someone, they choose the boss over the job. The choice is simple when presented in such stark contrast. Yet many of us find ourselves in our chosen profession working for horrible bosses. But if we focus on what we most value, we can all go home at the end of the work day feeling valued and rewarded. But how?
We should manage our careers by following the leader, not the job. Work is work and everyone has a boss. Most of us work in a field we enjoy and know something about. Rare is the person who lives out the adage about doing what they enjoy and never “working” a day in their life. Kudos to those folks. The rest of us live in the world where our work is fulfilling and rewarding, but it is still work. There are good days and bad days. Exhilarating days and mind-numbing days. There will be good quarters and bad quarters. Numbers hit and numbers missed. Good evaluations and bad evaluations.
What people ultimately want is rewarding work and to be supported in doing it. Studies have shown that feeling valued at work is more important than compensation. So, who makes you feel valued at work? Your peers certainly, but your boss has a greater impact on whether you love your job or whether you dread going to work in the morning.
That’s why picking your boss over the job matters. Great leaders are invested in you. Great leaders support you. Great leaders pick you up when you fail. They sit humbly in the back and cheer you on. They step to the front when blame is being passed around. They challenge you and give you responsibility before you are ready for it. Great leaders also bring out the best in you. They inspire you to work harder. They embolden you to take bigger risks. They challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and try new things.
My advice: Find the great leaders and go work for them. Irrespective of the type of work. You will not only feel valued, supported, and appreciated, you will learn a new skill: how to be a great leader. Leadership is not learned from a text book. It is a lifelong endeavor learned in the trenches by observation. Our personal brand of leadership is learned through osmosis. By observing great leaders and emulating their behaviors we become leaders ourselves.
Any great leader aspires to be the type of person people want to work for. Great leadership begets great talent. It’s no wonder high-performing teams are usually led by dynamic and effective leaders.
Ask yourself: Do you love working for your boss? Are you the type of boss people love working for?
* Customer Vice President, Walmart – Kimberly-Clark
* Title and company of the author reflect their position at the time article was written.
The opinions expressed here by guest bloggers are their own, not necessarily those of Stout Executive Search.