Getting to the top

Profound wisdom is hard to come by, but occasionally we get lucky. Telva McGruder, a senior executive at General Motors who heads up all the work on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, did a presentation at the Ross School of Business.  She is a dynamic human being who started her career as an engineer. When she speaks people listen. Towards the end of her session, the moderator asked, “Of all the impressive things you have done, which makes you most proud?”

Telva responded, “Not losing myself.” The three words electrified me. I had just come from an executive education session where the participants shared ways in which organizational pressures lead to the losing of self. I looked around. Telva’s words seemed to touch others. There was a long pause, we were all processing the statement. Then a question came from the audience.

The person stood and spoke with confidence. She identified herself as a freshman. She said, “I want to do what you do. How can I most quickly climb the corporate latter and have a position like yours?”

The query jolted me. It seemed incongruent with the underlying assumptions of everything we had heard. The question represented one reason that the self gets lost. All eyes shifted to Telva. She responded with kindness. Then she offered the following.

“I suggest that you focus on finding out who you really are, what makes you tick, what gives you energy. Courses can help you find your purpose and locate your deepest source of energy.”

“If you find your purpose, you will begin to discover the difference between the pursuit of advancement and the pursuit of contribution. If you gain the mindset of a contributor, a change will occur. You will begin to bloom where you are planted. It will not matter what job you are in.”

“If you embrace the contributive mindset, it will differentiate you. I suggest that you commit to continually going outside your zone of comfort. Accept the assignments you are not qualified to execute and lean in. Learn how to do what you do not know how to do. If that is the path you are on, you will see things outside your role that need fixing. These are things that others just complain about. If you are purpose driven, you take them on as your ‘side job.’ This will make you different. You will be demonstrating authentic leadership. Often you may find that your side job turns into your next formal assignment. You will be on the path you were meant to be on.”

• What does authentic purpose have to do with contribution and with energy?
• Why does the contributive mindset lead to blooming where you are planted?
• What is a “side job,” how frequently do you meet a contributive person with a side job, if you do meet such a person, what is different about the person?
• How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?