Steve Jobs and Walt Disney were great leaders who had clear ideas of what they wanted to achieve in life. Their clarity of purpose, passion, and vision inspired others. Many people, however, struggle to find meaning from work. They get up in the morning, do what they must, but never feel fully engaged. In the worst cases, they experience life as passengers taking a bus through beautiful countryside on a bright sunny day—with the shades fully drawn.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Consider the road taken by executive coach Philippe Grall, a Breton who moved to Japan when he was 30 years old, in 2000. Philippe was drawn by the country’s Eastern philosophy and Buddhist culture. Earlier, he had visited 13 times in search of work. The result was always the same: “No Japanese. No job,” employers told him. In the end, he landed a job in Tokyo at the IT division of the Japanese company, Autobacs. The work, however, was totally inappropriate. He was a creative person interested in pursuing a career in personal development. His employer assigned work as a planner. Every week he would call his senpai asking, “Please take me out of this division. I can’t stand it.” For six years Philippe suffered doing work he hated.
Finally, without any capital and only the aim to help people, Philippe started an executive coaching business, called équilibre k.k., in 2006. He went to California to study the latest personal development techniques at the University of California in Santa Cruz. He began by coaching office ladies and middle managers. When they got better, they would say, “I’m fine, but my boss has issues,” so he would coach the boss. After the boss improved they would say, “I’m fine, but the CEO has some issues.” Ultimately, Philippe decided to at first work only with the CEO, and then cascade down to do similar work with mid-managers. Along the way, he designed his own coaching program, merging Eastern philosophy with Western practices, while adding his own ideas gained from experience.
Philippe struggled financially the first two years. He was going to give up after running out of money, but an admirer told him, “Don’t give up. Your project is worthwhile.” Eventually, he landed his first corporate contract with the former CEO of Villeroy & Boch (Japan), the German tableware/dinnerware company. Impressed by the results, the ex-CEO and a few other clients helped Philippe promote his coaching business by word of mouth.
Philippe’s client list now includes top executives (past and present) from over forty well-known brands, including CHANEL, Van Cleef & Arpels, Godiva, Pernod Ricard and Shu Uemura. Moreover, he is doing work at which he excels and enjoys. His work aligns with his talents, strengths, and values. He believes others can be happy in business and life too.
According to Philippe, many people don’t know who they are. They need someone to help them find themselves in a nonthreatening space, without judgment. Philippe helps business leaders find their life’s work, much as he found his own calling. He inspires others to believe in themselves and to realize their dreams by offering one-on-one leadership coaching for top managers and in small groups for leadership teams.
Philippe says leadership isn’t just about leading others. “It’s about knowing yourself, knowing your strengths and your direction. It means taking control of your life,” he suggests. “People like Steve Jobs talk about purpose first. Why? They’re talking about their personal mission; then comes the ‘how’, followed by the ‘what’. When you have your ‘why’ you have all the possibilities to live it at home and in business,” he explains.
People who have clarity about their life’s mission naturally become more confident. They don’t need to prove themselves to anybody because they know why they are doing what they are doing. “Confidence is about alignment—being clear about what you are doing, using the best within you, in full knowledge about why you are doing it,” he says.
Confident people also make better leaders. Others become willing followers when their leader is a confident person who knows where they are going, and why. “Confident leaders can then look at their teams as diamonds to find what is good in them, instead of trying to push and push and push,” he says, adding, “It’s another way to look at people, teams, and organizations.”
Philippe advises clients to define their life’s mission before clarifying other goals. Think of life’s mission as being the target behind the target that keeps people motivated. “Once they’ve defined it, leaders can circle back to more clearly define their firm’s business mission,” he recommends.
Why do some people find meaningful work earlier than others, while others never manage to attain it? Most people are told what’s wrong with them—what’s not enough—when it is more useful to focus on polishing one’s skills and talents that they enjoy using. Companies, for instance, rely on assessment to motivate employees to achieve more, without giving further thought to their individual needs.
The reverse may also be true. In trying to live up to the standards of parents, teachers, and companies, people seek out the trappings of wealth, power, fame and respect, rather than on satisfying their soul. “You might have more money, but the “why” is lost, Philippe notes. Firms also lose the meaning of their corporate mission when they start focusing on quarterly profits. “Companies can be successful, but not happy,” he believes. To be happy in business, people must satisfy their own core values. The first step is to know what skills and talents make you shine.
Reaching into a drawer at his Kagurazaka coaching office, he withdraws a large and sparkling glass diamond. Placing it into my hands, he asks me to shut my eyes and imagine its many faces. Gentle music plays in the background. “The diamond is a powerful metaphor to help people visualize their natural talents and strengths—what they do best with pleasure and less effort,” he explains. “What makes you shine?” he asks.
By answering that question honestly for yourselves, you too can begin the journey towards living a more awakened life!
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