Measuring Your MOJO

Talent Management

February 15, 2010

by Marshall Goldsmith

When we measure our mojo — a positive, powerful spirit that starts inside and radiates outside — we do so in the present. Happiness and meaning can’t be experienced next week, next month or next year. They can only be experienced now. That’s why the most successful professionals are always “on” when engaged in their craft. They don’t save themselves for later. They love what they do when they are doing it.

Measuring mojo is an exercise in self-assessment. Only you know what you’re feeling, and there is a cause-and-effect dynamic between what we feel, how much of it we show and how others perceive it. People who love what they’re doing but somehow never show it are doomed to be misunderstood. Their mojo and their careers do not reach their full potential.

Not long ago I put a dent in my car. One dealership told me because the fender was made of a plastic composite, not metal, it couldn’t be hammered back into shape. I’d need a new fender and rear quarter-panel assemblage for $1,800. Ouch. I thought I could get a better price at a nearby body shop, but I got the same response. A neighbor suggested I try a new body shop several miles away.

I drove over without an appointment and was greeted by the owner, a young man in his mid-20s. He assessed the damage and said, “It’s plastic, but sometimes you can apply heat and the material bounces back to its original shape. Why don’t you have a cup of coffee, and if it works, we’ll be done in half an hour. If not, we’ll talk about other options.”

I had my coffee and after 30 minutes asked the young lady at the counter, “How’s my car?

“He’s just finished with it,” she said. “The charge is $63.75, including tax.”

Outside, the owner was standing by my car, beaming and pointing to the fender, where the dent had vanished and the paint had been beautifully touched up, all in 30 minutes for less than $100.

A paragon of mojo, that young man was willing to experiment on his own time with my fender to save me time and money. He radiated positive spirit that the rest of the world could see. But sometimes no matter how positive we feel, we fail to show it. We assume people can read what’s in our hearts and minds.

This happened to an executive named Derek whom I met a few years ago. He was a new plant manager flown in to upgrade the performance of a failing plant. If he didn’t turn things around, the plant would be closed and all the employees would be laid off. Derek’s bosses had low expectations of success, but they assured Derek his job was safe no matter the outcome.

In his six months on the job, Derek grew to love the people in the small town that surrounded the plant. He knew how much these jobs meant to the town’s future. If he failed, families would suffer. He worked 80 hours a week to save the plant and felt a lot of pressure.

I met Derek during a companywide leadership development program I was conducting. As part of the program, Derek received confidential 360-degree feedback from direct reports and co-workers. When we reviewed his results, he was stunned. His scores on “treating people with respect” were among the lowest in the company.

Derek thought he was demanding herculean efforts from everyone — including himself — in a team effort to save jobs. Others saw him as continually stressed out, angry and dissatisfied. Derek realized there was a clear disconnect between the respect he felt for people around him and the respect he showed in his day-to-day interactions.

Derek took his feedback to heart and committed to change. When I caught up with Derek a year later, his scores on “treating people with respect” had improved dramatically. He was able to buy time for the plant with his bosses and stay focused on turning things around. He continued fighting a hard battle, but he was seen as a happy rather than an angry warrior. On a personal level, he was less stressed out and more at peace with himself.

If activity involves other human beings, we cannot assume the spirit we feel is the spirit we show. Sometimes we have to work to make sure our positive emotions are communicated, and this may take more effort than the activity itself.