by Jim Bruce
Today’s Tuesday Reading is an essay by Maria Curcio, Director of Administration, Harvard College Admissions & Financial Aid. Maria is a 2016 alumna of the MOR Leaders Program. [She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
In his article, Why Luck Matters More Than You Think, Robert H. Frank1 discusses luck in terms of wealth and success:
“Wealthy people overwhelmingly attribute their own success to hard work rather than to factors like luck or being in the right place at the right time.”
While talent and hard work contribute significantly to personal success, it’s important to recognize this other factor. For me, luck means we can take some of the weight and burden of our successes – and failures – off our shoulders, because not everything is under our control. It reminds us to have some humility and appreciation for the people and opportunities who enabled our accomplishments.
For example, how did I end up working in IT Service Management at one point in my career? It began years ago with advice on writing a bio from a supervisor: focus on my approach and contribution, rather than positions and projects. With the help of a life coach, coincidentally the wife of my husband’s boss, I refined my interest in “leveraging technology, processes, and information to improve customer service to enable a scalable, but personalized, experience for customers and a sustainable and efficient model for service providers” – and decided to pursue a career in IT. Thanks to my spouse’s colleague, I was connected with HUIT (Harvard University Information Technology), where, a few months later, they were looking to fill a position that seemed to align with my interest. And, even more importantly, they believed my skills were transferable and ITIL and IT can be learned.
Without this recognition of luck, a self-made mindset has a negative effect: it makes individuals less generous and less willing to support the mechanisms (e.g., education) that not only made their success possible, but also ensure its availability for others who could benefit from that same “luck.”
“Happily, though, when people are prompted to reflect on their good fortune, they become much more willing to contribute to the common good.”
Based on my experiences and reinforced by what I’ve learned from the MOR Leaders Program, I feel it’s essential that we create opportunities, manufacture “luck,” for our staff and colleagues, whether it’s through professional development, feedback, delegation, or simply connecting people together. Not only can we increase the capacity of our teams and organizations and get “the monkey off our back,” we can also help others to grow as leaders. With this in mind, I work to identify the ways in which I can be most impactful in support of my team and encouraging them to think more strategically.
At the same time, we’ve heard in the MOR program about ways we can increase our chances of success for our initiatives, teams, and ourselves. For instance, I’ve learned that it’s important to have a few different pitches at the ready in the event of an encounter with the CIO, a key decision-maker, or a collaborator.
“In an unexpected twist, we may even find that recognizing our luck increases our good fortune. Social scientists have been studying gratitude intensively for almost two decades and have found that it produces a remarkable array of physical, psychological, and social changes.”
Some fellow participants mentioned starting each day like a pirate, with “ARG” (Anticipation, Reflection, and Gratitude). In our program sessions, we talked about self-care and how gratitude can be a part of this. Research has shown daily practice can result in improvements, such as less pain, improved sleep, and greater happiness. As a result of writing this reflection, I realize I should express much more appreciation to my spouse for making this career possible! It is a goal of mine to make this daily practice a habit of my own.
“Indeed, if you talk with others about their experiences with luck, as I have, you may discover that with only a little prompting, even people who have never given much thought to the subject are surprisingly willing to rethink their life stories, recalling lucky breaks they’ve enjoyed along the way. And, because these conversations almost always leave participants feeling happier, it’s not hard to imagine them becoming contagious.”
In closing, I would encourage all of us to incorporate a lucky break when recounting our leadership journeys: remind yourself of your good fortune; encourage people to open doors for others; and spread a little happiness.
Maria’s closing point is well taken. Take the time regularly to think about your leadership journey and those who have lent a helping hand of any kind to you. And, use the example of what others have done to help you as a motivating force to remind you that you have a responsibility to help those around you.
Make it a great week for you and your team. . . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates. He previously was Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.