3 Steps To Making Your Job More Meaningful and Indispensable

February 20, 2020

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory.” So wrote Kurt Lewin, a highly respected social psychologist, decades ago. A good theory is a place to start. For example, when leaders have received 360-degree feedback from their colleagues, they begin to ponder where their self-development plan should begin. Where should they start? Consider this simple Venn diagram that my colleague Joe Folkman and I refer to as the CPO model. It serves as a remarkable “aha” moment as people ponder their leadership development. This is the model:

CPO Model
Zenger Folkman CPO Model

The three components are:

1. Competence. The areas in which you are most capable, as seen through the eyes of your boss, your peers, direct reports, and indirect reports. What do they see as your unusual abilities? Use those around you to discover your strengths, rather than being riveted on uncovering your weaknesses. For example, one leader had a reputation for being able to predict the barriers, landmines in a product development plan. He dismissed this ability as “not a big deal,” claiming that it just came naturally, while his colleagues were astonished by it. The bottom line, individuals are usually not the most accurate judges of their capabilities. Those who excel often underestimate their competence. They are neither aware of how good they are and/or they don’t realize the importance of that skill. In contrast, those less capable are prone to wildly overestimate their capability. This tendency is sufficiently common that it has received its own scientific label: the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

2. Passion. An individual’s enthusiasm for a given activity. Most work consists of activities that you enjoy, and others you dislike. Have you ever enjoyed a task so much that you lost track of time? On the other hand, while executing other tasks time seems to move at an excruciatingly slow pace. In the words of Marie Condo, “does it spark joy?”

3. Organization Need. The third influence is external. It recognizes that organizations have some expectations of what I need to contribute. Many who talk of personal development and playing to one’s strengths choose to ignore the organization and treat it as if it were irrelevant. If you’re passionate and competent in an area that the organization does not need, then it should not be chosen as an area for development.

This model has worked exceptionally well for the past few decades. However, the world does not standstill. We are contemplating refining the model.

A New Area for Consideration

As time passed, we observed a new dimension that was becoming more important. While it is driven by the younger generations coming into the workforce, it is not unique to them. The new dimension is that work is the best and most rewarding when it has a broader meaning. There appears to be a fundamental human need that lives are enriched when one’s work is linked to a grander, bigger cause. As people mature, they recognize that the broader interests of society need to be served. In one sense, this is an element that transcends the individual. Yet, on the other hand, it’s deeply embedded in the core of humanity, and often the driving force of passion.

Young Team Collaborating

What to call it? It goes by many names. Cause. Purpose. Mission. Calling. Raison d’etre. Quest. Pursuit.

Our conclusion is to broaden the definition of “Passion” to include “Purpose.” This decision was prompted when a colleague asked, “How would you measure purpose?” The answer was that unlike competence, which is best measured by objective external observers, the purpose could only be identified and measured by the individual. Only the person being evaluated knows what objectives or causes are important to them, or what values they place uppermost in their life.

If you have been mulling over the creation of a leadership development plan, then I strongly recommend you use a model, such as CPO, to assist in that process. Find your competence. Find what the organization needs. Find your passion and let that guide you to your purpose. Your work is most meaningful when it is relevant to you. Remember, a good theory is a practical and excellent way to start.

—Jack Zenger

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