Reference Guide: Work and Contribution

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Module Reference Guide

Many people engage in developing their Personal Strategy because they are in a period of career transition and want to create a strategy map to help them make the right choices and hence have launched directly into this pillar. Establishing your core strategy in the Self pillar grounded on your values is advisable before widening out to relationships with others and then to the broader impact in your organisation, community and/or the world at large.

Your approach to this pillar will depend on:

  • Your stage of career and career ambitions– early, mid, mature, student, retired, on leave/sabbatical, unemployed/between jobs
  • Emphasis on career vs contribution
  • Where you work and role – global corporation vs government/academic/scientific institution vs NFP (Not For Profit) vs private sector vs entrepreneur vs a portfolio role vs voluntary roles

However, there are key considerations that remain consistent, and I hope that you will be able to relate to this guide and take whatever you need from it, wherever you are and whatever role you are in or want to be in.

Bob Kaplan’s advice

Dr Robert Kaplan, amongst many other achievements including being co-founder of the Balanced Scorecard, is the Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, and has been a most amazing guide and mentor to me over the last twenty years. When I shared my intentions around Personal Strategy with Bob,  he started our discussions by sending me the convocation speech that he had given to the students at the prestigious Canadian University of Waterloo.

Bob’s advice to his students was: “No matter what career you choose – in the private, public, or non-profit and voluntary sector – you will get more satisfaction if you excel at your selection. And excelling takes a great deal of time and commitment. Even the most gifted of you will not be able to achieve your professional goals without a great deal of hard work. Choose employment that you enjoy and, preferably have a passion for doing well. It’s allowed. You can be successful and enjoy your work at the same time.” In the speech Bob explained how he followed his interests and changed career several times, launching an entirely new direction at age 43 at Harvard. “By always working on topics interesting and exciting to me, I didn’t begrudge the time required to master and contribute to my new subject area.” He went on to recommend that, “You need to live a good life, not just make a good living” and put as much effort into mastering a hobby or interest to maximise the pleasure you gain out of life as well as heavily investing in family as a priority.

“Contribute to your community and society,” he continued, “You are privileged…you should look for ways by which you can contribute back to the society from which you have and will continue to benefit….Your life will be enriched by more than you enrich theirs.” In short lead a balanced and focused life.

Wherever you are on the career spectrum, from being a student about to launch into your career to making the transition out of your professional career to a life of contribution and service, this guidance is relevant. Excel in and love what you do; be open and adaptable to new opportunities and pathways, and contribute meaningfully.

Whenever I’ve taken a new direction for my career, I’ve focused not on the specifics of what I’ve wanted i.e. the specific role, but rather why I wanted to go in a certain direction and clarified the values or attributes that I was seeking. In this way, I’ve been able to find new, unusual and exciting opportunities that have given me just what I needed, even though they might not have been what I had expected or thought that I was looking for at the time.

Typically the three priorities in the Work & Contribution pillar fall into the three main topics of contribution, creation and context. This module is structured into these areas for you to consider:

  1. Strengthening your strategic contribution in your current role/situation
  2. Creating something new
  3. Contributing meaningfully to a wider purposeful context



1. Strengthening your strategic contribution in your current role/situation

Wherever you are, there are opportunities to improve your current situation by being intentional and strategic and not waiting for the perfect job, the risk-free opportunity, or the best time to act. Here are some areas to consider for this priority:

a) Align your contribution to the organisation’s strategic aims and objectives:

You can increase your strategic contribution by aligning your personal performance objectives more closely with the organisation’s strategic objectives. This is easier said than done if you are not aware of a clearly stated organisation strategy and where one does exist, if you are unclear of your role and contribution to it, or if you do not identify or align with the aims, objectives, or execution of it. However, use whatever you have available and undertake some research to create greater alignment with what you assess to be the organisation’s strategy. 

Where you are able to gain access to the strategy or able to elicit the strategy by asking questions/researching, then undertaking the exercise to align your performance objectives is a useful one. (See section 3 exercise).

If there is no discernable communicated strategy and you are in a position to develop the strategy for your organisation, your team or yourself, you might like to undertake the abridged exercise to create a simplified strategy. (See section 2 exercise).

b) Be more strategic in the way you contribute

Simply put, strategic thinking is the ability to think conceptually, systemically, and creatively with an intentional focus on the factors influencing the long-term success of a business, team or individual. Being strategic requires you to put every operational decision in the context of your strategic aims, ambitions, and aspirations. It requires you to prioritise your resources based on what’s really important versus the noisy urgent non-essentials. It requires you to be courageous in making choices as to what you will do and what you won’t do and then put in place boundaries so that you can honour those choices. 

Liane Davey1, author of The Good Fight, You First, describes thinking in this way: “Strategic people create connections between ideas, plans and people that others fail to see… Strategic people see the world as a web of interconnected ideas and people, and they find opportunities to advance their interests at those connection points.”

To increase your strategic contribution: ask yourself bigger and better questions, find ways to connect people and ideas in new ways, and have the courage to make conscious choices. Be more deliberate and intentional in your thoughts and actions.

c) Leveraging your assets – your strengths

I went to a lecture by Sandy Cotter in 2009, and something she said has stuck with me all this time: “You are so much more than you think you are, and it’s all positive!”

Improving your strategic contribution requires you to realise your strengths and assets, building on them to propel yourself forward into the future that you are aiming for. Focus on all that you are rather than on all that you are not. 

Tom Rath from The Gallup Organisation developed the StrengthsFinder tool recognising that the key to human development is building on who you already are. Rath and Gallup challenged society’s relentless focus on fixing peoples’ weaknesses based on research that shows that people have six times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies and are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general. Over the past decade, Gallup has surveyed more than 10 million people worldwide on the topic of employee engagement and has found that only one-third strongly agree with the statement: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”  You may not be able to be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are and love it!

d) Become a more impactful leader

A large part of being an effective leader is tuning in to what’s going on around you and responding appropriately. It is also about creating conditions that will bring out the best in people. Having flexibility in the behaviours you exhibit as a leader – depending on the people being led, the task at hand, the situation, and the outcome desired – is a hallmark of outstanding leadership. Understanding leadership styles and the impact that they have in the workplace is critical.

Leadership styles describes how you approach your role as a leader, including how you behave and the impact you have on those you work for, with and who work for you. It is determined by your experience, your personality, your beliefs, and your emotional intelligence and is influenced by the people and situations you find yourself having to manage.

Self-awareness is in the top six indicators of future success in a role, according to HR consultants Korn Ferry. When we think about where we are and what we may want to change, it is essential to recognise that we don’t know what we don’t know. Change can happen when we have clarity between what our current state is and what we want our future state to be. Gaining constructive feedback on how your behaviours are interpreted by others, how you relate to others, and your leadership impact is incredibly valuable in identifying how to be a more impactful leader.

The Life Styles Inventory (LSI 1) is a self-description survey that measures thoughts and attitudes that motivate behaviour; the LSI 2 is an inventory that provides this feedback from up to 12 respondents. (If you are interested in gaining these insights from this or similar tools by an accredited Strategy Together coach, please contact Kit.

Here are some topics and questions for you to consider on how to be a more impactful leader:

  • Who are your leadership role models, and why?
  • What do you value in a leader – how do you like to be led?
  • What would you like to be known for as a leader?
  • How does what you’ve identified above match with the leader you are today?
  • What has emerged as the greatest strength you can leverage in how you lead?
  • What area are you most motivated to work on for leadership impact?
  • How will you create the conditions to bring the best out in people and situations?
  • How will you know that you’ve succeeded?
  • What support will you need?

Explore how you will increase your strategic contribution. Will it be in the way that you utilise your special talents, will it be in the way you lead and influence others, will it be in how you align your resources to deliver what’s strategically important? 

By increasing your valuable contribution, you create more potential to be valued strategically by others.

2. Creating something new

The second priority typically focuses on the intention to venture out into new opportunities, whether it’s in your current situation, such as taking on a new role or promotion or initiative which will stretch you and require you to develop new capabilities and experiences, or whether it’s going in a completely new direction. This could be within your current professional environment or outside it. It could be a completely new area of expertise that you want to master to take you to the next level. 

  • What will you need to prioritise to move towards your aspiration and purpose?
  • Why is this new opportunity, development, or venture worthwhile?
  • How will it take you closer to your vision?
  • Is it something that’s just expected of you (like another qualification), or is it strategic for your journey?

Overcoming Procrastination 

“The greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing because you think you can only do a little.” Zig Ziglar

We all sometimes struggle to get moving on the important things. Procrastination is a coping mechanism to avoid the unpleasant emotions of dealing with something big and important, providing us with short-term relief from them.

When you get stuck in the quicksand of procrastination – waiting for the perfect moment, for the ultimate position to be offered, for some event to happen, or to have all the information before you make a move – you have the potential to squander opportunities, harm relationships, hurt your self-esteem and impact your career. In a self-defeating storm of avoidance, we can become our own worst enemies.

Doing something and making progress is better than staying still. In fact, if it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing badly. Yes, you read this correctly. For example, you would ideally clean your teeth for two minutes at least two or three times per day; however, cleaning them for one minute per day is better than not at all.

If your intention is to take a big leap and thoughts of the risk of your inadequacy get in the way, it can be better to take some small steps in the right direction and build momentum. Chose to go forwards towards growth rather than backwards towards safety, and overcome the fear of taking the first step. Start with gratitude and recognition for all that you have and all that you are as a platform to progress from.

Progress, not perfection!

3. Contributing meaningfully to a wider purposeful context

We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give. 2

To serve is selfless; however, making a positive difference to others is where we find meaning in our lives, and this can be a powerful antidote to anxiety, depression, a sense of lack and scarcity or overcoming the feeling of not being enough.

This priority describes how you contribute to your purpose and aspirations by engaging in activities to give back, lead, influence, and shape the future for the greater good. 

For some, this element of the Personal Strategy may already be an important part of life, including activities such as volunteering, contributing to a charity, doing church work, running a sports club, acting as a school governor, teaching, and caring for those in need. How might you extend or strengthen this contribution to the comunity?

For others, this could already be an intrinsic part of their professional career. How do you ensure that this continues to fulfil you?

Typically, when this is not already part of your life, this priority provides the opportunity to identify how contributing meaningfully takes you in the direction of the type of person you want to become. Key questions:

  • What is the purpose and impact that you are aspiring to and aiming for?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • What is your intention to achieve?

One important consideration is to establish boundaries as to how much of your precious resources – time, energy, talent – you will contribute so that you don’t get either overwhelmed or don’t have enough capacity to finance the rest of your strategy.

Describe your priorities:

What priorities reflect the commitment that you are making to your future focus in the professional/work/voluntary contribution pillar?  Capture your notes and insights on what is surfacing as your priority. 

What does this mean to you?

Note any ideas on areas for improvement, actions, targets and what this priority means to you and your future.