I recently finished reading (actually listening) to a book that was recommended by a friend titled "Drive" by Daniel Pink. This friend of mine recommends many useful and interesting books that I have read diligently, since they always seem to apply to what I am experiencing in my career transition. This book was no exception. In my mid-life crisis, I am continually analyzing what I have accomplished in the past twenty years since I have been in the workplace.
Twenty years ago this week I started working at the now defunct National Steel Corporation at what now is the US Steel Great Lakes Works. I was fresh out of engineering school after working a month after graduation finishing up a design project for national competition for the University of Michigan-Dearborn. I was eager to start making some real money and putting my new engineering degree to the test. For anyone who has been in a steel mill it is either the loudest, hottest, dirtiest place you have ever seen, or it is the most magical place you have ever been. The abrupt combination of heat (over 3000 F), mass (in excess of 300 tons), and energy (100 MW/hr) is nothing short of fascinating to those who can see beyond the grime, dust, heat, cold, noise, and foul language.
My years in steel have allowed me to be a direct part of the production of almost a 100 million tons of steel. As I have always said, "We build America." From coils of sheet steel weighing 30 tons, 36" wide wide flange beams, quarter mile long pieces of rail, to 8" dia round high alloy bars, I have been a part of producing the finest quality of steel made in the world. This steel has gone into the production of automobiles, appliances, buildings, aircraft, pipelines, deep drilling rigs, marine mooring chain, high-speed rail lines, you name it.
Building America, was the guiding motivation in staying in what some people considered a mature, contracting industry. I was proud of what we were doing every day to supply the basic raw material for building everything that we use as a civilization. After twenty years, I feel that I have lost something in my work that I desperately want to get back, purpose. That is where Daniel Pink's book is so important to me. Pink writes about the three main components of Drive or Motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. There is a great deal of practical explanations of why these three components are so critical in keeping us motivated to do our best.
Autonomy is something that I have always valued. My father taught me the importance of autonomy on a personal as well as on the organizational level. Our ability to use our personal knowledge or to work as a cohesive group to delivery value without micro-management is integral to success and growth. Micro-managing talented people is not only wasteful, but it shows smart subordinates how insecure their manager is when they have to endure constant interruption and changes in direction.
Mastery is what we should be working on every day of our life. My father use to say, "You need to have twenty years experience, not one year twenty times." Nothing could be more true. Too many people get stuck in a rut and forget to innovate throughout their career. This breeds resentment when someone younger with fresher ideas is able to exercise them over the old-timer that has quit using his/her mind to innovate. There is a sense of accomplishment when we can learn our trade or profession with integrity. To do so, we must find the opportunities to learn, even when we think we know it all. We must seek out those young minds to allow us to expand our own mastery through their learning.
Purpose, this is the big one. In my career, to be engaged I must find the purpose in my work. The position that I hold now with my company and have worked for over thirteen years, is the one that yearned for when I first started in the steel industry. I wanted to be the area maintenance engineer, responsible for the upkeep, repair, and improvement of process equipment. I have been involved with brown-field retrofits, greenfield construction of new facilities, commissioning of new process equipment, along with the daily and annual maintenance of heavy duty steel making machines.
I have certainly achieve a sense of mastery when it comes to maintenance planning, repair outage coordination, and supervision. At times I have had autonomy, while other times I have been micro-managed. I realize the value of a talented manager who knows how to direct personnel assets without overpowering their creativity; the essence of autonomy. What I must again find, is purpose, the glue that keeps me going through long hot days of work that I have done before and that I will do again. My quest for purpose is what prompted me to start his blog and head back to school to study Industrial/Organizational Psychology (say what?). My purpose doesn't just lie with the rough and tough steelmaking furnaces that I have spent years working on, but with the people that I work with that together we build, repair , and run this equipment to make the best steel on earth. I have found the idea of working with the development of employee skill and organizational structure to be more fascinating than the yellow-hot molten iron that would pour from the tap hole of the blast furnace or the bright red bars that would flow through the rolling mill stands like sticks of butter. My friend, who is an I/O psychologist knows this. That is why his book recommendations are always right on the money. If you feel that you have lost purpose in your career, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I may not have all of the answers, or even one, but I always have an ear to lend.