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Dharma

Throughout his life, my father was a teacher, even though he didn’t spend all his years in the classroom.  High school and university students, business people, social workers and children in foster care all benefited in one way or another from his knowledge of physics, mathematics, human resources and guidance counselling.  In the last ten years of his life, even when dementia robbed him of most of his cognitive abilities, he was teaching his family, friends and caregivers, about the value of human life and the importance of living in the present moment.  I am convinced that teaching was my father’s dharma.

In his book, The Great Work of Your Life, Stephen Cope explores the meaning of dharma – each person’s unique calling and life’s purpose.

Knowing your dharma makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning, eager to get to work, which, when done well, makes you sleep comfortably at night.

Just like my father, we can all live up to our dharma in different ways and through various stages of our career and life.

Cope’s book got me thinking about my own dharma – as a leader, I help people and organizations to be better and do better.  The book also made me reflect on the ways in which leaders can help or hinder people to fulfill their dharma.

People do their best when their work is valued and they feel personally fulfilled doing it.  Leaders are challenged to ensure that they have the right people in the right positions doing the right work.  That’s why I believe that hiring, promoting and retaining talented employees are critical points at which leaders can help or hinder their employees find and fulfill their dharma.

  • Hiring – Motivation is the qualification

Early in my career, one of my colleagues was hired to provide marketing support to the sales team.  As it turned out, she found it difficult to work with sales people.  She did her best work when she was sorting out administrative issues and working on client service protocols.  Frustrated with her working relationships, she confided that helping sales people close sales was not her ‘thing.’ She was motivated by the deep-seated belief that outstanding customer experience determines long-term business success.  By listening to her deep-seated convictions and motivations, we both agreed that serving customers exceptionally well was her dharma.

I haven’t forgotten that conversation.  Whenever I am hiring, I always ask questions to find out the candidate’s personal convictions and motivations. In this way, it is possible to validate the alignment of their values and work ethic with those of the organization.

  • Promotion – Expanded responsibilities should not be a reward for past success

The Peter Principle states that some managers rise to the level of their incompetence and stop being promoted. This happens when the promotion is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on their ability to fulfill the requirements of the role to which they are being promoted.   There are many ways in which leaders can help to prepare their people for promotion and professional advancement – additional training, job rotations that expand employees’ skill set, encouraging innovative thinking and action, to name a few.

Not all high-performing employees want to be promoted.

This possibly explains why some top sales people, when promoted to people leadership and management positions, ask to return to a sales role.  They will tell you that selling is what excites them – not managing people and writing reports.

Nothing is wrong with not wanting to be promoted, provided that the employee continues to be engaged, is productive and contributes to the mission of the organization.

  • Retention – There can be a downside to investing in talent retention

In their zeal to retain talent, employers can be blinded by the brilliance of a technically proficient employee, but who is not suited for leadership roles in the organization. For example, an employee may function best as an internal consultant, not as a people manager.  What usually happens is that competent employees feel pressured by the organization’s leadership to stay within the organization by climbing the corporate ladder.  On the other hand, the organization’s leadership feels that providing an upward career path is the best way to retain exceptionally talented employees.

I recently spoke with a former colleague who made the decision to step off the corporate ladder in one organization where she could have had progressively more high-profile positions.  The stress, corporate politics and added responsibilities were not supporting her deep need to fulfill her dharma.  As a professional writer, she does her best work when she is creating compelling communications material.   She found employment at another organization where she feels that the opportunity to do her best work, not the money or status, is what counts.  Her courageous choice to make this change is benefiting her as well as the organization where she now works.  She is happy and feeling valued.  The organization is happy to have found and retained her talent.  A win-win situation!

Holistic people management

Every leader wants to have the right people work with them to ensure that the organization’s goals are met.  Hiring, promoting and retaining talent is challenging, but can be best achieved when leaders take a holistic view of people management.

Understanding the motivations and aspirations of potential and current employees should be an on-going process.

Encouraging employees to be purpose-driven in their efforts and allowing them to define and work towards their aspirations will enable them to fulfill their dharma.  When this happens, the organization, and its employees benefit from the alignment of a shared mission and vision of success.

What is YOUR dharma?

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

@Camille21162

 

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This is the text of an article I wrote which was published in the Sunday Gleaner in Jamaica on 23 April 2017.

The article is one in a series sponsored by the University of the West Indies, highlighting the relevance and value of an education in the arts and humanities.

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It came as no surprise when I told my parents that I wanted to study foreign languages at the University of the West Indies (UWI). My father, an educator specialising in physics and mathematics, and my mother, a career civil servant in the financial stream, always encouraged my sister and me to excel academically and develop our talents in a wide range of extra-curricular activities. They believed that this was how we would find out what we really wanted to do in life.

During my years at Immaculate Conception High School, I learnt foreign languages easily and excelled in history and English language and literature, where essays and term papers were frequently assigned. I was at ease meeting and speaking with foreigners in Jamaica, Europe, North America, and the Caribbean, and these experiences piqued my curiosity about foreign cultures and would later serve to complement my love of languages in a way that would benefit my career.

The sweeping social and political changes in the 1970s during my teenage years gave me the burning desire to ‘do something’ to change Jamaica and the world. By far, the best years of my life were spent at UWI, where I pursued a bachelor’s in language and linguistic studies. Like my batchmates, I was ‘in my element’ learning from an interesting mix of professors from Germany, France, Spain, El Salvador, Haiti, Colombia, and Guyana. In the course of study, we were required to research foreign and local issues and to express our opinions in all of the foreign languages we were studying. We were graded for accuracy in grammar and vocabulary as well as for depth of analysis and critical thinking.

I remember my father telling me that although it was important to master the foreign languages, it was even more important for me to master the skills of critical, innovative thinking, effective communication, and the ability to quickly adapt to new business situations in order to be a successful applicant for a job. I gained all this and more during my time in the BA programme at UWI.

Beyond the academic training, there were other experiences at the UWI that were to shape my view of the world and my career. Along with my classmates, I was deeply involved in organising student-exchange programmes with the Universidad AutÛnoma de Santo Domingo, French Students’ weekend retreats, German Days, Foreign Language Students’ concerts, lectures, and language club activities with visitors from various embassies in Kingston.

Immersed in a sea of intercultural experiences, our minds were opened to diverse political thought and philosophies. As much as we learnt about other cultures, we also taught others about our own.

SOUGHT OPPORTUNITIES

Along the way, I met many people who questioned the value of studying foreign languages and an arts degree. Instead of trying to provide them with the ‘right’ answers, I actively and eagerly sought opportunities to put my training to work. I was a liaison aide at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference and the Organization of American States General Assembly, which were hosted in Jamaica. I spent my summers as an intern at the Jamaica Tourist Board. Many people I met had studied the arts and humanities and told me how they had forged successful career paths in business, government, and international relations. I realised then that the options were many and that my proficiency in foreign languages gave me an advantage.

After university, I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade in the Protocol and Consular Division. There, I had the opportunity to translate official documents and serve as the interpreter in meetings with very senior officials. This is where I learnt about the main issues of the day in international politics, trade, travel, tourism, and law. I observed first hand how language and communication in all its forms played into business deal-making and international relations.

With this experience, I gladly accepted new challenges to serve in the Economic and Foreign Trade Divisions in the ministry and represent Jamaica at international conferences in the Caribbean and the Americas. I witnessed the emerging trends in globalisation and the increasing role of the private sector in international trade.

I decided to do an MBA in international business and marketing at the University of Miami, where at that time, the focus was on preparing a new generation of global business leaders. This degree opened doors to a career in the private sector in Jamaica and then in Montreal, Canada, where I currently reside. My academic training in languages at the UWI continues to be of great value. I communicate daily in French, which is the language of business in Montreal, the largest city in the French Canadian province of Quebec.

My desire as a teenager “to do something” for Jamaica and the world has morphed into a career in marketing in global institutions. In the various roles I have played, I have been involved in the creation of multilingual marketing communication programmes, international trade finance and credit-risk assessment, and the development of global brands, while managing teams of persons with diverse backgrounds.

Over the years, I have been, and still am, a committed volunteer, where my training in business and in the arts has been considered to be of added value. I currently serve on the board of directors of the YWCA-Montreal, an organisation whose clientele consists of a large number of immigrants who are being equipped to become fully integrated into the society. I have been invited to write articles and speak in English and French at churches to youth groups and professional associations, mainly on topics related to personal and professional development in a multicultural society.

In a world where technological innovation is held as the gold standard for progress, and where students are encouraged to pursue purely technical degree programmes, it should never be forgotten that technology is only valuable if it meets people’s needs. Often, my colleagues and business associates who do not have any formal training in the arts and humanities express appreciation for the broader perspectives and recommendations that I have brought to technical projects, particularly with regard to clients’ needs.

I truly believe that my foundation in the arts, more specifically the degree programme at the UWI, has led me take an analytic approach that presents diverse opinions and perspectives of various stakeholders, which is critical to understanding and successfully meeting clients’ needs.

With a career spanning more than 30 years in Jamaica, the USA, and Canada, I know that I will never retire. There is so much more work to be done to make the world a better place. I am truly grateful for the education in the arts, which has shaped my view of the world and has served to support all my professional pursuits. The knowledge gained and the skills that were honed in those early years are still relevant and of value in a changing world and will continue to equip me to contribute to building a truly integrated global village.

– This article is one in a series that seeks to promote and highlight the impact of the arts and humanities on the individual’s personal development and career path. Please send feedback to fhe@uwimona.edu.jm

 

Visit camilleisaacsmorell.com

@Camille21162

See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.

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Lessons Learned From a Career Crisis

learning

Although it was a dark rainy night in fall, in my mind everything was as clear as day.  That was back in 1994, a year into my first career in Montreal, Canada and I was having the most difficult, in fact the most traumatic experience of my life.  It was I who made the decision to change my life completely.  I migrated to a new country, started a new career and a new life, all on my own.  But on that dark night, the rubber hit the road and I had every good reason to be afraid.  However at the end of another dreadfully difficult day at the office, I was determined to stay the course.

I was struggling in a professional field that was not quite the right fit for me.  My colleagues were unhelpful in an unhappy work environment and it was affecting my performance.  I was in a foreign country with no close family, a very limited social circle and no professional network to help steer me towards other opportunities.  This had never happened to me in my life.  I always fit in, rose to every challenge and succeeded.  In spite of it all, deep down in my soul, I knew I had to keep going.  I wouldn’t “just quit.”

What was ironic was that I really was letting go.  I was letting go of the fear-driven “what ifs?” that had been scaring the living daylights out of me.  On that dark rainy night, I made the decision to change my inner dialogue by courageously answering my “what ifs?”  with “so whats!”

“What if this job doesn’t work out?” – “So what!  I will find a better job.”

“What if I can’t pay my bills?” – “So what! There’s my savings, unemployment insurance and… my parents.”

“What if people think I am a quitter?” – “So what! What people think about me won’t change the world.”

I was determined to allow the Universe to let this messy situation unfold and to make sense out of it.  I just knew that I would be okay.  Here’s what I learned –

  • We all know our truth. Being authentic can be difficult.

The fear and angst were rooted in my struggle to fit the bill of an educated, young, confident professional.  I was supposed to live up to everything I was taught – strive to achieve my goals, to never ever give up, be strong in the face of adversity.  The reality was that I wasn’t being authentic, even though I already knew my truth – I was not in the right professional field and my soul was dying.

Many people don’t live authentically.  We live in a world that describes what success ought to look like.  By staying in a job that was not right for me, I was keeping up professional appearances and what I thought were other people’s expectations.  It takes guts to step off the beaten path and take the road less travelled.  Not everyone will understand why, and they will tell you that you are making a mistake.  If you listen to your inner voice, you will find your truth – what’s right and meaningful for you.

path

  • It’s not worth the effort to hang on because of the fear of losing what we think is valuable.

The job paid well and I could afford a very good material quality of life.  On the other hand, I was holding on to a job in which I wasn’t able to give of my best talents and gifts in a work environment that was wrong for me.  My soul was dying a slow, painful death.  If I quit, there was the real risk of financial hardship.

So it was decision time. I had to choose between fear and courage.  I chose courage.

It was the courage to see beyond the surface and to dig deeply within to find out I really wanted, what really mattered to me and what were the next steps I needed to take.  I knew that I had to leave that job and get on my own path.  And I did.  Once I had honestly confronted my fears I was ready to take a leap of faith. In the face of uncertainty and risk, I made some responsible decisions about how I was going to leave and move my career forward.  While introspection was the starting point in all of this, I actively sought help to support the process.  I was amazed at the number of people who were willing to offer good advice and who had “been there, done that” and could help me find the things I needed to get through this crisis.

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  • Never let a crisis go to waste. There’s always something to learn.  Some good will emerge in the aftermath.

As it turned out, this personal and professional crisis not only taught me some important life lessons, but I gained some very useful work experience.  I eventually moved on to another company where I had a very satisfying and rewarding career in marketing.  I can safely say that much of what I learned in my previous job has given me the business acumen needed to make critical decisions, manage budgets effectively and lead with greater confidence.  All of this has taught me to never let a major crisis go to waste.

crisis

Throughout my career, these three lessons have guided me to make decisions that are right for me.  It’s all about finding my life’s purpose and living authentically.  The organizations where I have worked, their clients and the community have all benefited because I am offering my best self, serving passionately and using my talents to the fullest.

I do believe that we’re all in constant evolution and that it is through life’s events – whether times of crisis or calm – that we somehow find direction for our life’s journey.  It takes courage to confront the fears that compromise our well-being and prevent us from living authentically. It’s well worth it.

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