Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It's OK to Be Invisible

Blogs are great because they can be used for so many things. This is an exercise in reframing…

There are many professions that have as a feature of their creative work, being rather invisible in the final product. Editors find this, ghost writers certainly, even advisors to high level people have the opportunity to provide discreet guidance, direction and ideas to leaders which might make a major change in the world. Every President and Prime Minister has a team of people who are consulted and once in a while may be the source of their next great idea or provide insight for the solution to a particularly sticky problem.

These people clearly enjoy their influential jobs, and rightly so. Let's explore that enjoyment a little. What might be some of the incentives, in the absence of public recognition, that motivate them? Of course there might still be some public recognition, if they have the title as Advisor to the President, or Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper. But what if they don't actually have that title?

Does it take a specific personality type to be satisfied with the knowledge that you are helping someone else do a great job? Does it take a longer term viewpoint, or the belief in good karma, that what goes around comes around and if you are helpful to someone then eventually someone will be helpful to you? My first professional boss some 18 years ago was a busy man who always had time for people, who would freely give advice, try to be helpful, brainstorm with people for programmatic ideas or even ideas that would help them navigate the incredible bureaucracy that was the UN. He even wrote a major report for the CEO that people still refer to today, and his name did not appear on it anywhere. He was an excellent networker, built strong personal relationships with people, and generally, in spite of the politics and hassles, enjoyed his work. He didn't get to the top of the organization, but he had lots of people at his retirement party. I think eventually he did get a title that spoke of his important advisory role, but I am not even sure about that. I don’t think that bothered him too much, he seemed to have a bigger picture in mind.

Everyone needs some recognition and feedback to keep them motivated. This can come in different forms and forums. It might also be more or less important based on the stage of their career. The public-ness of this recognition might also have a link with how much they want to be included in things (see Firo-B discussions), or how much self-esteem they have. Personally, I struggle a bit with invisibility for many different reasons. At the same time, I do believe in a strong service culture, and value being a part of many "teams" no matter how ephemeral or informal. I need to keep coming back to the big picture idea; how is this process contributing to an overall goal, and what is the best way for me to help achieve it? Then it is also up to me to create the story for myself that captures my role in that change process, and to be able to repeat it to myself and perhaps others from time to time. I think its OK to be invisible, sometimes.