Here’s a phrase that is closely associated with four-time-Super-Bowl-winning coach Bill Belichick: “Do your job!” He gives this charge during the heat of game battle to, for example, Patriots linebackers or defensive backs when he sees them trying to do too much instead of simply attending to their own assignments. (We know that Belichick does this because of the marvel that is NFL Films, the masterfully produced work of Steve Sabol, the Leni Riefenstahl of the National Football League.)
While I recognize the risk inherent in quoting known sociopaths, I am forced to acknowledge that Belichick makes a very good point. When people lose sight of the fact that they are part of an entity larger than themselves, the results tend to be sub-optimal.
I bring this up after having had a recent conversation—and more than a few laughs—with a professional colleague who belongs to the same age cohort as I do. (Hint: Harry Truman was president on the day I was born.) We joke all the time about “these young’uns” whose careers seem to consist of managing their careers. So instead of simply doing their jobs, they devote substantial portions of the business day to explicitly focusing on their next job, and then the next one, and then the one after that, and so on.
The term we use to describe this phenomenon is the meta-career: a career which is about a career as opposed to doing whatever happens to be your job to the best of your ability. A similar phenomenon can get in the way of one’s ability to be more effective vis-à-vis the so-called intangibles. Too many leaders think that the need to attend to the intangibles is just an annoying appurtenance to their real job duties. So they will try to tack on this or that program or initiative as a way of checking-the-box when it comes to employee engagement, or empowerment, or trust, or respect.
Here’s my Belichickian advice. Want higher levels of employee engagement? Give people challenges that are more engaging. Want higher levels of empowerment? Be empowering. Want a workplace characterized by higher degrees of trust and respect? Be more trustworthy and respectful.
In other words, do your job.