Becoming vs. Being

SEP 11, 2013

Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Adults sometimes joke that they are still trying to figure that out. I tend to think it is not so much of a joke. When your parents asked you that question when you were a kid I bet you had a pretty quick answer. You might even still remember what it was.

For most of us, when we “grew up” those dreams of our youth often got thrown out because of the need to be more practical or make money. Pretty normal. The problem is that it leaves many of us with that feeling that maybe, just maybe, we settled. Maybe we gave up on a dream or a path that would have been more fulfilling.

In working on a speech for my company this last week I started really thinking about what my answer was to the question: What do I want to be when I grow up? It kind of freaked me out…but not for the reason you might think. It was actually the hitting of that goal that scared me. WHAT IF I AM WHAT I WANTED TO BE???? THEN WHAT? If I am what I wanted to be, then the only thing left to do was to dive head first into a mid life crisis! I mean, what was my purpose if I reached the top of the mountain? And I am pretty sure I would suck at a mid life crisis because I don’t even like cars or motorcycles. It kind of sent me into a tailspin. I would imagine many that have sold companies they were passionate about have experienced this feeling…What next!?

I started to resent that parents ever asked me that question… You see “Being” something is just totally uninspiring. It implies that there is an end to purpose when the goal is accomplished. I struggle to be happy just “being.” I want to become something and to CONTINUE becoming something. Upon reaching this thought of “Becoming” versus “Being” I settled down a bit and stopped looking at red corvettes on my laptop. I started to try testing the truth of the idea.

You might have reached your goals and are SUPER busy every day going to work and “BEING” something. You might be one of the absolute best at “being” in your whole office/company; which is nice. Maybe you have learned all you need to learn to master your specific craft. How many people do you think would want to work for you? How many people that are currently working for you do you think are inspired by you?

What about a company? Is the company you are working for or running focused on “Being” something or “Becoming” something? If you were hunting for a job right now and the only criteria you could make the decision on was “being” or “becoming” which company would you pick?

At this point in the post you might ask “Hey wait a second…What the hell is wrong with just being something? I like just “being” and so does my company. We are a lifestyle company and we love it that way. Back off.” My answer – you seem really defensive. :P

I am not saying which is better, I am trying to constantly challenge myself and my peers to learn more about leadership. I want to BECOME a great leader. I want my company to focus on adding value with our new offerings and BECOMING more relevant to our clients.

I would choose to work at a company that is focused on becoming something. I think “A” players want to work and mentor under people they can learn from. I think they are inspired by people that are constantly striving for greatness.

I work at a company that by most all standards is wildly successful. There have been ups and downs but they have been navigated decently well (except the one or two we stunk at navigating…) The company is one of the best at “Being” a Value Added Reseller. One of the absolute best.

That said, I am pretty sure the company will be out of business in three years if it does not become something more. It needs to evolve.

To illustrate the point lets look at marriage. Let’s say when you were a kid you wanted to “BE” a great spouse. That was you life long dream. You grew up, found the partner of your dreams and got married. You spent all your time being the best spouse on the planet. And you crushed it! Crushed it so much in fact, you accidently got pregnant…Baby comes and now your world has changed. You wanted to be a great spouse, but now you need to add a little something to your repertoire – you need to be a great parent too. So spouse and parent – Got it. You live up to expectations and crush both…and get pregnant again. With 2 babies you are now feeling another pressure bear down on you. You need to be a great spouse, parent, and add to that a provider. You need to provide for their future. College, weddings, etc. Being a parent and provider were not your original goals. In fact, you were SUPER happy just “being” a spouse. What happened?

The landscape changed. It changed and you had no choice but to adjust and learn new skills. You had to “Become” something more. Inspiring? Maybe or maybe not.

The rules for businesses are a little more complicated. Things are not always so cut and dry when the landscape changes. We have a choice of whether to change or keep being what we are comfortable with. Ask Kodak. Ask DEC. Ask SUN Microsystems. Ask Google or Apple or Yahoo. Watch what Netapp, Riverbed, and F5 do. Look at EMC, VMware, Cisco, and Symantec. Look at Silicon Valley. Who was/is happy “being” and who is “becoming”? Where would you go work?

The landscape changes in our jobs too. New skills are required. We engaged Patrick Lencioni because I was lacking the experience needed to provide clarity on how to get the masses to focus on “Becoming.” Management’s strategies aren’t worth a crap if they cannot roll them out in a simple clear fashion. I had to evolve. I had to try and get a cohesive team and become a more effective leader. Once the plan was set, we had to figure out how to roll it out and get buy in…(ie the REALLY hard part)

I think there is a fatal flaw that many companies make the mistake of employing when the battle begins and the teams are not evolving fast enough to maintain market relevance. They start using sticks in comp plans and beating on the teams to change faster.

My team just had this debate. If we only have 2-3 years…WE NEED TO MOVE and MOVE NOW! True statement. We debated penalizing people (super high performers) for not evolving.

We settled on this: Evolving is very hard. Becoming something is scary for many.

They still have to maintain the current business and evolve to new shifts in the market. Hard to do. We decided that MANAGERS MUST STOP MANAGING AND GO LEAD. Stop the twice a week forecasting. Stop the QBRs…Go and SHOW them how to evolve. Management must step out front and carry the load. We must get in the field. Managers must endear themselves to their best people by removing roadblocks and SHOWING them how to deliver the new messaging. They need to actively help close the new business. ONLY THEN can they tell the team with surety that EVOLVING is possible. Only then will the team truly have the guts to risk a bird in hand for a possible future. Entrepreneur’s have ALWAYS known this. They are the brave souls that prove to the world evolving and creating new markets is possible.

10 times a day founders (aka brave souls) hear phrases like “Interesting but who else is doing it?” or “Let me know when that goes GA” or “How do I know you will be around next year” or “Come back when I have a new budget and we can talk” or “No…” Don’t force your HIGHLY PRODUCTIVE teams to evolve until the BRAVE SOULS in your org have proven to them how to overcome these objections.

When the landscape changes and you or your company are forced to BECOME something, step out front, be the brave soul, and LEAD. Do it for them first and they will come. It is 100x more effective than a stick or a carrot. It endears you to the teams. I have lived it. It works. Try it and you will have an entire army of really talented people all becoming something together.

The Fighter Still Remains.

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