Where Are Your Markers?

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As kids, we lived in the land of make-believe often filled with crayons, markers and made up realities. We’ve grown up and maybe chased those dreams, but it seems we still use our markers to fill in the blanks when asked what success means. Back then, life was whatever we dreamt up and described it to be. Markers could record a world sometimes only we could see, and no one taught us our world wasn’t just as we believed. Our markers no longer create a new colorful reality, but instead tell us where we should be.

In our youth, markers were just colored pens. Now, markers are milestones of success and whether we’ve made it. The challenge is where we put them seems to determine our happiness and impacts our view of our business, our leadership, our relationships and our progress.

If you find yourself measuring where you are in life or work, chances are you’ve located your markers. Success will be reached when there are x dollars in the bank or when the degree is complete. Success arrives when Dad tells me he’s proud of my way of running the business. Success will be mine when all debts are paid in full. Success is here when one no has worry or fear. When we have doubled profit instead of just making it. When everyone on the team gets along and respects your leadership. Perhaps it’s more about when we live in this neighborhood and get that kind of car. These markers tend to measure how happy we are. Are we there yet? If not, happiness waits until that happens. But, for the sake of your office, your company and the morale of that team you lead, perhaps even your family, a healthy look at what and where your key markers are may produce positive changes that employees, vendors, customers (and you!) feel when they come into work.

The Marker of Progress
When one values this marker, current status is not enough and good enough doesn’t exist. It matters not the current number of sales or beautiful office location. It’s all about what’s next. If next and future is where you’re focused, your customers are picking up on that by the way you talk to them. Beyond being present and grateful for what we all have, this selection of markers that helps us decide if we’re good enough is then shared through our language, confidence, leadership, and especially in the way we accept compliments. The employee grateful for the news of last year’s bonus, who then gets an earful about the state of your first quarter sales, begins to question your credibility. It’s not perhaps good enough or where you know you’ll be after you’ve redone the whole plan and brought all of your sales team up to speed. Ambition and progress build businesses; being reasonable about the speed of progress breeds reasonable, reachable expectations and confidence in your entire workforce. Both are to be considered before giving your team and customers the impression that not only where you work is not yet up to speed, but that you’re looking at them thinking the same thing.

The Marker of Status
Similar in a sense to the marker of progress, but focused more on the mere accumulation of shiny things, the marker of status can rapidly ruin an office and team. If brand new, first to the market, name brand, pricey things are how you measure your success, chances are good there is distance between you and team members, not to mention a risk of outspending the revenue coming into your office. Strange as it may seem, the desire to appear of highest status in order to believe success has arrived will set you apart from those you lead, unless you’re all into the accumulation of similar things. Your flashy purchases may breed resentment or even make them jealous. It may widen the chasm between “us and them” and cripple your ability to see what your people need, if your eyes are more focused on buying yourself more things.

The Marker of Profit
Tied to ambition and overlapping the marker of status, the ardent pursuit of profit can create different problems. If the only metric of whether you’ve made it starts with a dollar sign and includes a specific number of commas, a business owner — or manager or person — may miss so many other factors that could be considered successful. In addition to missing things, profit-based markers that are unrealistic can result in not giving the team access to adequate resources and build real resentment. Spending less, after all, does result in showing more profit, but it can also prevent you from providing competitive salaries. Staying in search of success only measured by monetary means will also at times remove one’s ability to see people needs. Perhaps spending on a team event is just what will create much-needed synergy. Arguing over the cost of one-ply versus their preferred two-ply toilet paper, because one is overzealous about expenditures (true story!) is likely not a morale-building endeavor. Neither is a singular focus on one marker an accurate way to determine happiness or an effective way to stay in touch with the happiness you convey when leading employees.

Markers represent the pursuit of where we think we need to be before we can be happy: in leadership, in life, and in all things. Much has been written of late about the choice we make to be happy and yet still these markers persist, perhaps as a way of keeping us, well, just active. If you can stand still and still be happy, those you lead will follow your example, not by standing still, but ironically by being more motivated. There’s less fear, less stress and less that brings them down or freezes them in the face of much-needed activity. Think of this analogy: As children, we imagined and assumed what we drew or made up was our reality. As adults we measure reality based on what we see, forsaking what we imagine, believing often it will just never be. We forget to just be happy and instead keep our eye on the marker or where we should be instead of how far we’ve come and what we’re building.

With children, misplace one marker and some kids won’t notice. Misplace their favorite color and that can be a disaster. How emotionally attached are you to the markers you choose? Society may of course weigh in and previous owners in the family may weigh in, giving guidance on which markers of success to choose, and occasionally providing pressure if you let them, but the only one who gets to decide what markers mean successful living is… yep, you guessed it: YOU. Is the fact that you have a business good enough? Does the fact that you are valued by clients and vendors and team members make you happy? Does where you live not matter and is your happiness based on the fact that you have a close family? Maybe we actually knew more as children and could draw clearer pictures of what we really desired, instead of all the things we now believe we require before that can happen. We still have the imagination and child-like drawing skills, and as adults we have access to even better markers and crayons. The real question: Do you have the will to pursue happiness in your business? Enjoy drawing your own conclusion.  

Monica Wofford is a leadership development coach and professional speaker. As CEO of training firm Contagious Companies, Inc., she and her team work with businesses and their management, to develop their skills in leadership. Monica is a speaker at the upcoming BrandSource Summit. For more information go to www.ContagiousCompanies.com or call 1-866-382-0121.

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