Life Hacks for Vision Master CEOs, Presidents and Founders #1: Pursue Excellence or Passion?

Life Hack categories we will explore:

  1. Personal Career
  2. Leadership


For a long time now conventional wisdom has advised that in matters of career choice one should pursue what enjoys doing most. The idea is that 1) work won’t seem quite so much like work if you’re doing what you enjoy most, and 2) you’ll naturally do well at what you like doing best, so you’ll impress others and advance in your career.

But here’s the rub . . .

What if what you like doing most isn’t what you’re best at?

I love to play golf. When I have the free time I’ll happily spend an hour or two at the driving range searching for that sweet swing spot and big distance with my driver. But I’m just not that good at the game. I could invest the 10,000 hours that some like Malcolm Gladwell tout as the prerequisite for mastering any skill into my golf game and I’d still likely never come close to playing on the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods was born to be a golfer. Then he put the work in. The results speak for themselves. I love the game but was born to do something else to make a living.

And what’s more . . .

What if what you like doing most doesn’t translate well to a particular job, much less a career or a leadership position?

A recent article in Inc. Magazine revealed the hobbies of some of America’s iconic business leaders. Bill Gates collects rare books. But spending all his time on that passion wouldn’t have created a multi-billion dollar company like Microsoft, no matter how much he loved it.

By the way, consider that if you try a passion or hobby into a career or business, even if you succeed you may lose the passion.  A colleague of mine once told me about his brother, a skilled ceramicist who tried to turn his natural passion and talent for working with clay into a retail business. The problem? Customers wanted identical, mass-produced replicas of his hand-crafted fine art pieces. “Make me ten teapots and cup sets that look exactly like this one in the window,” they’d say. It became drudgery.

Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Search for Work You Love cautions that matching your job to a preexisting passion does not matter. Passion, he says, comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before.

This has a real implication for team building, a critical element of success.  Delegate everything you’re not good at, beginning with an Execution Master (your right-hand person – think about the Gwynne Shotwell’s) with whom you’re willing to practice trust and share power.  That frees you, the Vision Master, to focus on generating the vision, culture and product offerings of the company, then translating those things to your greater team.

Success breeds success as the saying goes, or in this case success fuels passion, which fuels desire for more success as we master what we’re already best suited to do within the business.

Research bears this strategy out. This next paragraph could change your future – read it twiceDaniel Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, reveals that the three ingredients of genuine motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Grounded in Self-Determination Theory, first developed in the 1970s but only recently becoming widely accepted, Pink argues that people have an “innate drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another.” In business — at least in successful teams — people connect around a purpose developed and translated by you, the Vision Master. They have space to be creative, to approach challenges in their own ways — even if leadership demands they accomplish the impossible! They develop mastery within those conditions of autonomy, high expectations, and connection to a greater purpose. In fact, on the best teams that have people in their best roles, produce (naturally, not with rewards and punishments) self-motivated people who find fulfillment in their work.

For you, the Vision Master, the picture looks like this . . . Do what you do best. Hire an Execution Master who does what he or she does best. Build your corporate culture around the principle of putting everyone in roles based on what they do best. Demand big things, but let people accomplish them with as much autonomy as feasible. Watch your team become high-achieving, cohesive with your vision and purpose, self-motivated and fulfilled.

Key Takeaways:

  • The old adage that you should “do what you love and the money will follow” in career and business is full of pitfalls
  • Doing what you do best is a far better way to advance your career or become a good leader
  • When you master doing what you do best, magically you’ll like it (maybe even love it)
  • Build your team around the principle of putting everyone in roles based on what they do best
  • In this context, you can be demanding, but for best results also allow people autonomy
  • This will generate a team of high achievement, high growth that can win consistently
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