Specialist means more than a career. Specialist, in the traditional sense, means dedication to shared standards of excellence. Specialists use attention, diligence, curiosity, and agility to achieve mastery in any occupation that they hold. As W.E.B. DuBois (1903) noted however, education and technical skill are insufficient to create a whole person. "The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame.” (W. E. B. DuBois, 1903 ) Specialists serve the work with spirit.
Spirit refers to the animating force that drives our actions. Spirit is the combination of energy and ethics, or lack thereof, that influences the positive or negative outcomes of our action. Specialists with Spirit are animated by high ideals, values, and character strengths that result in good work, whatever they do. "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men." (Colossians 3:23). Whatever means work that's just a job and your ideal career.
The world needs more Specialists with Spirit!
Specialist with SpiritTM is my answer to the unconscious capitalism that Max Weber's warned about more than 100 years ago. Weber, a founder of management scholarship, feared that without an ethical foundation and careful methods, Western society would devolve into a society of specialists without spirit -- people who aggressively pursue "winning" and wealth without regard for quality, character, the common good, and common sense. I believe that Specialists with SpiritTM can halt the decline.
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I occasionally share my reflections about people who are, or are becoming, Specialists with Spirit.TM, These miscellaneous musings show how current events, philosophy and theory intersect in real life. Perhaps something will inspire you on your quest to become a Specialist with Spirit TM!
What is a Specialist with Spirit!
The Calling to Leadership March 2021
Studies show that we need more people to answer the calling to leadership.
Stanford researchers found that narcissists are more likely to be leaders -- and higher rank is associated with more narcissism. That wouldn’t matter if narcissists were better at producing business results but they aren’t. Narcissists are neither more competent, benevolent, or team oriented -- but they are better at playing the self-presentation and self-serving game.
A different study examined 30 years of high-profile MBA CEO performance and found that their pay increased 15% faster than non-MBAs CEOs but their firm’s performance declined faster, cash flows shrank, and they produced inferior returns on assets. According to authors, those leaders learned to play the self-serving game, but they aren’t serving their organization or society.
Although narcissism is an individual trait, the culture of business and business education are also responsible for cultivating such leaders. The solution: learning to answer the calling to leadership.
The calling to leadership supports conscious capitalism. It is the ethical and agile stewardship of resources to achieve long-term, socially responsible growth.
A Calling to Conscious Capitalism
Martin Luther, who originated the idea of a sacred calling to ordinary work, also thought about conscious capitalism. In 1524, he wrote.
“The rule ought to be, not, “I may sell my wares as dear I can or will,” but “I may sell my wares as dear I ought, or, as is right and fair.” For your selling ought not be an act that is entirely within your own power and discretion, without law or limit, as though you were a god and beholden to no one. Because your selling is an act performed toward your neighbor, it should rather be so governed by law and conscience that you do it without harm and injury to him, your concern being directed more toward doing him no injury than toward gaining profit for yourself. But where are such merchants?”
Even then, people who answered the calling to leadership were rare. The fact that this rarity persists amongst leaders suggests the need for reform so that fewer narcissists end up at the pinnacle of power and more people answer the calling to leadership.
People who answer the calling to leadership produce positive results for themselves, their organization, and society. Why? Because they practice:
Equitable Talent Development
By taking these steps, leaders can effectively manage pressing challenges of our time like climate change, artificial intelligence, gene editing, demographic shifts, and growing inequality. Today's challenges call for fewer leaders who play the game and more leaders who answer the call to produce positive results!
What is the quality of your climb?
The Calling to Care February 2021
Too often, conversations about calling focus on high profile people at the pinnacle of their careers. But being clever, skilled networkers doesn't mean that they're ethical, professionally excellent, or making world a better place. Indeed, people in less visible roles deserve far more attention because of the myriad ways that they answer the calling to care.
On January 6, 2021, Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, Senate staffers and Representative Andy Kim courageously answered the calling to care. Goodman's quick thinking, adherence to professional standards, and care for congressional representatives averted mortal catastrophe. Senate staffers' demonstrated care for our democracy by maintaining their composure amidst mounting chaos to secure electoral ballots from planned destruction. After the riot, overcome by emotions Rep. Kim (New Jersey) was disturbed by damage and debris in the people's house and cared enough to help clean up -- even though it wasn't his job. When these people went to work, none imagined how an ordinary day might make extraordinary demands on them to fulfill their calling to care -- to care for people, professional standards, high ideals, and for common good.
We owe our gratitude to them for doing dangerous, difficult, and mundane things with courageous care. They also show us that carefully serving your work is what truly serves society!
Purposeful Thru the Pandemic November 2020
Throughout this pandemic, some essential workers are pursing their passion in a chosen profession. Others may be essential workers by necessity, doing a job simply to make a living. We, as a nation, are indebted to all of the people who decided to be ESSENTIAL ON PURPOSE -- who showed up day after day, did mundane tasks well, and who served society by risking their safety and doitng their best to make sure that their work was done. Too ofter, we think of calling as high profile careers. But in a culture that glorifies the extraordinary, I want to take a moment to celebrate 'ordinary' essential workers whose extraordinary devotion to their duty made our lives bearable because they showed up. Their quiet, conscientousness reminds us what it means to truly live your calling by being a Specialist with Spirit.
"The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame.”
W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folks, 1903
A Visual Feast November 2017
Breathtaking, overwhelming, technically intriguing, a visual feast -- those are my impressions of the film, "Loving Vincent." I am familiar with Van Gogh's paintings and anticipated this film for months, but nothing prepared me for its brilliance and mastery!
Bold strokes that appear to dance across the canvas are a defining characteristic of Van Gogh's paintings. The film, "Loving Vincent," replicates those brush strokes with meticulously hand-painted animation that literally dance across the screen. It's mesmerizing!
Equally captivating is the level of skill, care and commitment that artists from around the world devoted to transform a creative vision into a visual masterpiece. Five years of Reflection...Attention...Agility...and Diligence brought this project to life. Strokes of genius embedded in its 65,000 paintings are truly the work of Specialists with Spirit TM.
Does your organization's vision inspire such commitment? Do leaders model and value patience, attention to detail, and adherence to high standards above quick results and returns? Do team members from different backgrounds have similar opportunities to fully contribute all of their gifts? Imagine the transformative effect on your business if everyone was similarly encouraged to carefully contribute their own strokes of genius.
Eclipse & The Power of Paradox August 2017
Beyond beautiful, the solar eclipse was sublime – a terrifying, awe inspiring reminder of the power of paradox. Like millions, I traveled near a point of totality to experience the moody, blue sky and chilling breeze that were eclipsed by the sun. Yes, I realize that most people focus on the moon eclipsing the sun. But while driving through the lush green hills and horse farms of Kentucky, I turned off the radio to reflect on the opposite -- on paradox.
I had just completed an executive coaching series on Strategic Curiosity TM, during which we worked on paradoxical perceptions. The solar eclipse served as an artful, existential affirmation of the power of paradox in life and organizations. Here are a few...
• Although an eclipse evokes emotions that are deeply personal, the enjoyment, insights and experience are amplified when we share them with others -- especially people from different backgrounds, ages and places.
• Weeks of media attention provided a collective nudge to indulge our childlike wonder to marvel at the seemingly mundane. The sun and moon pervade our lives each day, but what do we really know about them? Some people were delighted by the proliferation of information that fueled and fed our celestial curiosity; others were disinterested. Yet for a moment, the culture was captivated by curiosity -- even if it was curiosity about "what's the big fuss?"
• Low tech is a luxury. Ironically, viewing the eclipse through your cell phone could literally destroy it. Unplugging for leisurely conversations, relaxing and noticing incremental movements over the course of 2 hours was positively liberating! For weeks, I'd been immersed in work and the news, but shifting my gaze toward the eclipse was transcendent! And the time with family created space for meaningful conversations and connection – simply because we decided to pause. I wonder: How much more could we notice, connect and enjoy if we unplug, slow down, and pay attention?
• Moon and sun; shadow and light -- these are ultimate paradoxes. I was struck by the fact that the moon's unusual movements did not completely obscure the sun's brilliance. In fact, as much as we were amazed and intrigued by this astronomical spectacle, we also awaited the return of full light. Reemergence of the sun, eclipsing cold, midday darkness was a satisfying relief and return to normalcy.
Approaching the blue-grass state line, my thoughts drifted toward ways that leaders can create that same kind of inclusive energy to engage people from different backgrounds in a common, transcendent purpose. I wondered...What have we yet to learn from the seemingly mundane that surrounds us? How can we inspire and sustain a culture of curiosity? In what ways can we create value by luxuriating in low tech? Finally, I was reminded that shadows are a part of life – but not the dominant part. Every person and organization has shadows, and they pass. I enjoy equipping leaders to confidently embrace paradox, patiently and persistently trusting that light will prevail.
The Call to Political Leadership July 2017
On this birthday of the United States, it's a great time to reflect upon sentiments of its founders, such as Thomas Paine's 'Common Sense' ideas about calling and the character of government leaders. Paine reminds us that feeling called to lead doesn't make you fit to lead.
Men who look upon themselves as born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions. Thomas Paine , Common Sense
Sport June 2017
In this political climate, the proliferation of statements like "the super bowl of politics," "winning the news cycle," "points on the board," and "crushing your opponents" are all halting reminders of Max Weber's warning:
“Where the fulfillment of the calling cannot directly be related to the highest spiritual and cultural values, or when, on the other hand, it need not be felt simply as economic compulsion, the individual generally abandons the attempt to justify it at all. In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said:' "Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved." p182
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1903
When did democracy become a sport? Solemn testimony about national defense and sovereignty is not for the entertainment of spectators. Has our national obsession with sports, winning and acquiring wealth by any means led to vapid notions of "civilization" about which Weber wondered? Are we a nation of specialist with or without spirit?
Take Five February 2017
Sometimes, a calling is fulfilled by embracing diversions, rather than vigorously pursuing a singular career path. Because of a diversion, we celebrate the late, multi-Grammy Award winning vocalist Al Jarreau. Upon graduating from high school, Al Jarreau aspired to help and heal others, which led him to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and to earn a Master’s Degree in Vocational Rehabilitation. For him, helping was central; music was peripheral --a pleasant, lifelong diversion. As a youth, Jarreau harmonized at home with his siblings; his mom played the piano. When relaxing from work as a counselor, Jarreau sang for fun with friends and in local clubs. Not until age 30 did Jarreau’s diversion become destiny -- with a lot of practice, skill, the right connections and good fortune.
For decades, Al Jarreau enthralled crowds around the world with his extraordinary musical stylings -- buttery ballads and energetic pop songs, punctuated with impeccable diction, mesmerizing vocal mastery and humor. Imagine what we would have missed if he had simply "stayed the course" of a counselor that denied his interests. I have enjoyed Al Jarreau's music, particularly one of his signature songs, “Take 5.” It reminds us to nurture our passions, remain open to new possibilities, and of the potentially life changing power of “diversions.” Take 5 to appreciate his genius and consider yours.
Do your job! Do your job! February 2017
At a recent town hall meeting, Utah constituents angrily shouted “do your job” at congressman, Jason Chaffetz, Chair of the House Oversight Committee that investigates ethical malfeasance in government. The crowd’s outcry was in response to multiple ethical breaches, noted by both political parties. The first was an attempt to eliminate the ethical Oversight Committee entirely; the most recent was the flagrant promotion of commercial products by a government official. But this wasn’t an anti-Chaffetz crowd nor partisan chants. This Republican congressman was elected by 75% of his constituents. This was a primal scream from Chaffetz supporters for him to fulfill his calling as a congressman -- to be a Specialist with Spirit TM.
Too often, romantic notions of calling as careerism, purpose and personal interest eclipse a more fundamental truth. Calling is not primarily about you; it’s about the work -- the moral, mundane and mastery eliciting aspects of a job. Therefore, living a calling means an enduring commitment to do your work and do it well, not merely when it’s convenient or advantageous. Why? Because the work is necessary, whether or not we are fully aware of its ultimate impact. Chaffetz’s constituents expressed a deep longing for him to be a Specialist with Spirit that displays the same vigor, veracity, and vocational excellence now, that he’s demonstrated a capacity for against political opponents.
Regardless of whether you are a congressman or a cook, becoming a Specialist with Spirit means being accountable -- honoring and courageously adhering to ethical standards; completing mundane duties, even when it’s inconvenient and requires sacrifice; and demonstrating mastery in your profession. People are counting on you to do your job!
The Original Idea: What, Why & How of Calling January 2017
“The Lord bids each one of us in all life's actions to look to his calling.”
John Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536
Calling is often casually referred to as purpose, passion or career choice. This individualistic, and somewhat narcissistic, focus on feelings and preferences may energize the personal quest for a mystical "what" but greatly diminishes the practical, spiritual and social value of a calling (as we'll explore in future posts). John Calvin's ancient definition indicates that a calling is far more expansive. Calling is, foremost, a way of life. Generally speaking, calling is a moral identity that influences our behaviors across multiple settings -- at home, in communities, in service to others -- and at work. This moral identity is the spirit that animates how and why we behave as we do.
Moral identity is not inherently good, bad or indifferent; its positive or negative essence depends upon who and what has influenced us. According to sociologist Max Weber, many different people, groups and organizations influence the how and why of our calling throughout our lives-- for better or for worse. Regarding how, different people define what is acceptable, ethical, and expected behavior. Regarding why, different people offer meaning, reasons and incentives for adhering to those behaviors norms. Therefore, a calling is not inherently religious and our spirit can be animated in the best and worst possible ways. However, as Calvin notes, the spirit that animates a true calling is influenced by our relationship with God, which is informed by religious education and/or the highest ethical principles. This is the spirit of a calling.