Are You Full of MOJO or Nojo?


May 19, 2009

What is your attitude toward what you do? Is it positive or negative? What do you radiate to people?

by Marshall Goldsmith

I am currently working on a new book, called MOJO. Unlike my book What Got You Here Won’t Get You Therewhich focused on classic behaviors that successful people get wrong, MOJO will focus on one attribute that all successful people share.

My mentor and friend Dr. Paul Hersey is a pioneer in the field of leadership development as well as a wonderful teacher. Many years ago, he taught me the value of using operational definitions. For example, when Dr. Hersey taught classes he would explain what he meant when he used the words “leadership” or “management.” He made no claims that his definitions were better than anyone else’s; he merely noted that, for the purposes of his class, his definitions captured what he meant when he used these words.

Defining MOJO

Because “mojo” is a word that can have many different meanings, I’d like to follow Dr. Hersey’s example and give you my operational definition. (And like Dr. Hersey, I make no claim that mine is a better definition that anyone else’s.) My operational definition of mojo: that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts on the inside and radiates to the outside. As I ponder this definition, I realize that Dr. Hersey is a professor who demonstrates incredible mojo every time he teaches!

When I think about the truly successful human beings that I have met in my journey through life—the people who are succeeding at both what they do and how they feel about themselves—I realize they all have mojo. We see people with mojo in every occupation and at every level of an organization. I was recently working at Centegra, a health-care organization in Illinois. I watched as their CEO, Mike Eesley, gave awards to employees who best demonstrated their organization’s values. I was amazed at the great attitude—the mojo—shown by award-winners in such diverse occupations as cafeteria workers, technicians, nurses, and administrators. These people were all demonstrating mojo.

While I enjoyed observing these exuberant and motivated people get their awards, I thought about the thousands of people in similar jobs around the world who don’t demonstrate mojo, the people who had a negative spirit toward what they were doing. That, too, starts on the inside and is apparent on the outside.

When There’s No MOJO

In defining a term, it is often useful to think about its opposite. Mark Reiter (my agent, fellow writer, and friend) and I struggled to come up with a word that describes the opposite of mojo. We finally found the word that we were searching for: Nojo! I love it! Even the sound of it communicates the meaning.

When you get the chance, observe two different employees doing exactly the same job at the same time. One could be the embodiment of mojo while the other is the poster child for nojo. Case in point: flight attendants. For 32 years, my work has taken me around the world. On American Airlines alone, I just passed the dubious milestone of more than 10 million frequent flyer miles! All this flying has given me the chance to interact with thousands of flight attendants.

Most are dedicated, professional, and service-oriented. They demonstrate mojo. A few are grumpy and act like they would rather be anywhere else than on the plane. They demonstrate nojo. I’ve seen two groups of attendants doing exactly the same activity, at the same time, for the same company, probably at around the same salary, yet the messages that each is sending to the world about their experience is completely different.

How’s Your MOJO?

How can we recognize mojo or nojo in ourselves and in others? Start by evaluating yourself and the people you meet on their mojo or nojo qualities, using the table at the top of the story.

What are you learning? How can you either change yourself or your activities to empty the nojo in your life and fill it up with mojo?

Terri Funk Graham, a chief marketing officer and fellow San Diegan, pointed out to me that consumer brands can either increase our mojo or fill us with mojo! Think of some of the brands that you know. Which are making us feel more mojo? Which, without intending to, are increasing our quotient of nojo?