As many of you know, I’ve recently started my MBA studies at University of Toronto‘s Rotman School of Management in the Omnium Global Executive MBA program. And to my great pleasure, one of our first assignments is to write a blog post on the subject noted above – “Where am I, where am I going?”. This, with support from an article entitled “How Will You Measure Your Life?”, by Clayton M. Christensen, published in the Harvard Business Review in July-August 2010. The article later became a book which can be found here.
When I think about where I am, in physical terms, it’s pretty easy to define. Toronto, in my condo, writing a blog entry – but it ends up being so much more than that. Where I am now definitely contributing to where I’m going. The way that I chose to spend my time in the past got me to where I am, just as the way that I’m spending my time now will get me (I hope!) to my desired future.
In his article, Christensen asks three questions to arrive at guiding principles for life and career:
“How can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?”
“How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?”
“How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?”
The first question is not unfamiliar to me – I ask myself constantly, and it’s one of the key reasons that I’m on the MBA journey. The answer for me is simple, and also a partial answer to the title question – I want to ensure that if I’m not happy, that I have a safety net that gives my career portability.
The second question, is a question of future applicability – I’m working to find what makes me truly happy. Referring to this question, Christensen notes that many of the reasons that he’s seen for his colleagues’ unhappiness in life is due to the fact that they “didn’t keep the purpose of their lives front and centre as they’d decided how to spend their time, talents, and energy.” In this answer, I’ve had the opportunity to ask myself that question which I will likely spend much time answering in the 18 months ahead – What is it that I want to do with my life? To what pursuit do I want to dedicate myself as a primary objective of my existence?
I have the start of an answer to this – I know that I enjoy challenges, and the bigger the challenge, problem, question, the more fulfilled I’ve found myself. And this would suggest to me that, ultimately, my future objective is to seek positions that give me that opportunity – in a nutshell, executive management positions in large companies. Interestingly, and perhaps fortuitously, this leads us to the last question, one that I had never considered.
At first glance, on the subject of staying out of jail, my gut instinct was that I certainly would never need to ask myself this question. But Mr. Christensen notes that executives, who have been known to be moral individuals crossed the line by making decisions counter to their boundaries justified the first decision as being made under “extenuating circumstances” where “just this once, it’s ok.” Which I suppose is not a stretch, considering that I could find myself in this situation in the future. Mr. Christensen posits that life is “one unending stream of extenuating circumstances” – that to cross the line once justifies crossing the line in the future. He concludes, as I have, that in order to stay out of jail, that one should not bend their moral inclinations, even once – a slippery slope argument.
Overall, despite the author’s religious justification for his moral rectitude, I must concede that his position is sound, and will definitely be considered in my own development path. Early in the article, he notes that “Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well.” Based on my experience, this is certainly true, but I would also expand with my own thought on management – That when practiced improperly by the most open minded of individuals, that it can lead to the greatest learnings. Christensen asks readers to exhibit humility throughout their leadership experience, and a willingness to learn could be a tangible representation of this tenet.
In conclusion, I feel that it necessarily follows that practicing management well must mean to apply humility, be open-minded and accountable to learn from errors, and rejoice from the experience of growing as an individual.