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The Unspoken Secret (and opportunity) of Every Workplace

David Sherry
3 min read

We are meant to learn.

We are meant to practice.

We are meant to exert our effort, and create, to risk, to “work.”

But there is a dilemma the occurs when in a hierarchy.

One that is as old as time.

And one that has a resolution, if we are to understand…

The dilemma is that the person who works under a boss or “manager” never gives work their all.

I’ll say it again.

The dilemma is that the person, who works for a boss or manager, never gives their all.

They will never give their full effort.

And how could they?

The fear is that if more work is given to you, you won’t have the slack to pick that up as well.

And so you always leave some room and your plate, even as you promise that it is full.

Or, you have a side project, a separate dream.

And in this separate dream, you save your best ideas, and your best pieces of yourself to give to it.

And so there is always a pulling in two directions.

A boss or a manager, trying to get as much out of an employee as possible, sometimes more than they’re paid for.

And an employee, trying to do enough that’s required, but not more.

They will live here in a push and pull, this is the nature of the workplace.

It is a finger-trap.

And so managers will never create an environment that produces the best possible work from their employees.

And so we come to the devastating conclusion that employees will never truly share their full potential in an organization.

That as a society we are holding back the very best in most all of us…

But there is a way out of this dilemma, both for the employee and for the manager.

And it is simply one that comes through a shift in perspective, nothing more; one that aligns both the manager and the employee, rather than pits them against one another.

An artist gives their all to their work.

An artist doesn’t hold back anything. When they write their album, create their short film, write their poetry, they will empty all of themselves into the work.

They will take use any and every idea at their disposal.

They will work late into the night, think about the work as they dream, and take inspiration from anywhere.

They will work overtime without thinking of it as work.

For the artist, it is more pleasurable to invest your entire self into a project in this way.

And for the artist, simply “ticking” the boxes of a quota is a numbed state of existence.

So here is the magic trick, that can occur with a change of thought.

If an employee acts as an artist, on any project they pursue, the work will become meaningful and great, the manager will be happy, and both will come out ahead.

You see, at the root of art is giving.

And giving is not zero-sum.

Giving takes zero, and turns it into +1, or more.

But the artist, as employee, has been trapped by fear. They have falsely believed that giving in this way is the trap, when in reality it is the release. That giving reduces their opportunity, depletes their savings…

When in reality it is the fountain of opportunity, growth and engagement.

It is also up to the manager to create an environment that is also conducive to this wining outcome for both of us.

We can foster an environment in which management, are themselves, artists, embodying the spirit of that which the employees also follow.

We can create a culture that rewards individuals who do problem solving in their own way to accomplish the goals of the business.

It is not the goals of a business that artists have a problem with, it is the constriction of the process in which we attain those goals that we reject and numb ourselves from.

And so I say to the artist who is not employing her talents fully:

You are a bird in a cage in which the door is already open, and in which the cage is of your own construction.

It is up to you to see the work that is in front of you, whatever that may be, as a part of a larger movement and expression of who you are.

That it is more pleasurable to work in this way, than to work numb.

That your unique method for problem-solving is welcome and generous in this domain.

That taking ownership of the project, diving into the details and going above and beyond is not for the organization, but for you. Not only practically for the future (this way of working would advance your career far faster), but practically for the now.

This is what creates a bond between the artist and the manager that is void of the “Carrot” and the “Stick.”

The “carrot” and the “stick” are adverse reactions to fear.

And a reaction to fear will never produce something great.

The best Leaders do not manage.

And the best employees are true artists, who go the extra mile by internal drive and passion…

xx David

(h/t to Seth Godin for this insight)