MOJO in Disguise

Talent Management

May 2, 2010

by Marshall Goldsmith

MOJO, a powerful and positive spirit that starts inside and radiates outside, appears in our lives in various guises. Which of the following examples sounds familiar to you?

Case 1: When I was 14 years old and living in Kentucky, our roof started to leak badly. My father hired Dennis Mudd to put on a new roof. To save money, I was dragooned into assisting him. To this day, putting on that roof in the hot summer sun is the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done. But it was eye-opening because with Mudd — a man with naturally abundant mojo — nothing was left to chance. Everything had to be perfect. Mudd was patient with me as I made mistakes. If a tile was loose or out of line, he would help me rip it up and show me how to lay it down correctly. In hindsight, my assistance may have actually slowed Mudd down, but he never mentioned it. After a while, my attitude changed from “grudging willingness” to “pride in a job well done,” and I woke up every day looking forward to working on the roof.

When the project was over, Mudd presented my dad with an invoice and said, “Bill, take your time and inspect our work. If this roof meets your standards, pay me. If not, there is no charge.”

Dad examined the roof, complimented us on a job well done and paid Dennis Mudd, who then paid me. That pay-me-what-you-think-it’s-worth gesture was not a stunt. It was an expression of Mudd’s identity. He was confident that other people would see the quality of his work and pay him what he deserved. That is mojo in its purest form.

Case 2: Chuck is a “former” TV executive who was once one of the top leaders in his industry. He was responsible for breakthrough ideas you can still see evidence of on the air — and he still knows as much about his field as anyone in the business. He has been a “former” TV executive for five years, though he has been aggressively pursuing another job.

With his contacts and credibility, he can pick up the phone and talk to any powerful decision maker he wants. That’s an enviable position to be in, and though he hasn’t abused it, he’s discussed his situation with virtually everyone in a position to help him.

Over the years he’s picked up the occasional consulting assignment, hoping it might turn into a permanent job, but nothing has materialized. He’s now 55 years old. The longer he’s out of work, the less likely it is he will get work. If you haven’t worked in your field for half a decade, there comes a point when you can’t call yourself a TV executive anymore, and the situation is taking a toll on his psyche and confidence. He’s begun worrying about what kind of role model he is for his children. It also pains him to see leadership positions at TV networks, cable channels and production companies now being occupied by some of the people he once hired and trained.

Friends have told him he should start his own production company. When he was on top, he was one of the best idea men in the business. But because of either inertia or fear, Chuck can’t do it. He doesn’t want to work for himself. He wants to work for a big organization. That’s all he knows.

Chuck’s identity is wrapped up in a past that grows more distant and foggy by the day. His past achievements are no longer relevant. What he thinks of himself is no longer in sync with what others think. But Chuck’s biggest error is acceptance. He’s still hoping to find a job that replicates his last one. He refuses to acknowledge that job no longer exists for him. Until he accepts that, Chuck’s mojo will never come back, and he’ll miss the big payoff of having mojo: more meaning, more happiness.

The most frequently asked question I hear in my work is, “What is the one quality that differentiates truly successful people from everyone else?” My short answer is always the same: Truly successful people spend a large part of their lives engaging in activities that simultaneously provide meaning and happiness. Truly successful people have mojo, and the only person who can define meaning and happiness for you is you.