Provision #353: Ten Steps to Great Work

Laser Provision

“It’s great work, if you can get it!” conventionally refers to a cushy job that pays great money for little work. But this understanding of work has got to go. Great work is any work we love to do. This Provision wraps up our series with a summary of the ground we’ve covered over the past few months. By taking these ten steps, you too can get great work.

LifeTrek Provision

We’ve come to the end of the first quarter of 2004. During that time, the world has witnessed more violent tears to the fabric of civilized society. Our hearts go out to those who suffer and inflict violence in a vicious spiral, with no end in sight. We will turn our attention next week to the common values that unite rather than divide, that heal rather than hurt.

Until then, I want to recap the ground we’ve covered in the past three months. Starting with Tim Gallwey’s book, “The Inner Game of Work,” we’ve generated a series of Provisions that will energize the workplace or any other place we spend our days. Work, in the end, is what we do. Whether or not we get paid for it is irrelevant. Whether or not we love what we do makes a huge difference not only to the quality of our experience, but to the outcome as well.

If you want to love the work you do, paid or unpaid, by day or night, then these ten steps will take you in the right direction.

Step 1. SET A GOAL. And not just any goal. Set a “Big, Hairy Audacious Goal,” to borrow a phrase from management guru Jim Collins (of “Good to Great” fame). BHAGs beckon. They are spicy, definite, and bright. They exert an irresistible pull. You know when there’s a BHAG in your life, because you can hardly wait to get out of bed in the morning. BHAGs shake us up and get us moving. The quintessential example of a BHAG was when the US President, John F. Kennedy, set forth the vision of putting a human being on the moon in less than decade. But not all BHAGs are global, expensive, and held collectively. They can also be personal, affordable, and held privately. They may be directly or indirectly related to work. Either way, great work gives us opportunity to set and move in the direction of our goals.

Step 2. BE WELL GROUNDED. It’s not enough to have a goal. It’s not even enough to have a “Big, Hairy Audacious Goal.” Unless that goal is grounded in our core values, we will be unhappy and restless in its pursuit. When our goals and values are consistent, when we see the connection between them, there’s no telling the passion, commitment, integrity, sacrifice, and energy that will be unleashed. Well grounded goals, in even one individual, have the potential to change the world. They certainly change our way of being in the world. With well grounded goals, there’s no way to show up with a ho-hum, humdrum attitude. And there’s also no resentment about doing whatever it takes to get the job done. When our goals are well grounded, we find ourselves ready and willing to work.

Step 3. BE WELL ROUNDED. So what happens when our job sets goals and reflects values that are not in keeping with our own goals and values? That may, of course, suggest it’s time to change jobs. No one can happily endure a profound discontinuity. But if the gap is small, or if it arises from inadequate organizational planning, a well-rounded perspective may give us the opportunity to infuse an otherwise unhappy situation with the passion of great work. One LifeTrek client, for example, discovered his passion in the “extracurricular” activities his job afforded him. They weren’t in his job description, but the informal coaching and training he did with the executive team were enough to make an otherwise ordinary job extraordinary. Tim Gallwey urges us to set not only performance goals, but also learning and enjoyment goals for the workplace. This well-rounded approach to work can discover greatness in unexpected places.

Step 4. BE HERE AND NOW. As important as they are, well-rounded goals and values do not, in and of themselves, produce great work. They may even get in the way if they keep our attention on the future, at the expense of the present moment. And the more important the goal, the more likely we are to disparage the present moment for its shortcomings. But this is not the way to great work. The challenge is to appreciate the present moment as perfect, just the way it is, because no other moment will take us through to our desired future state. The here and now is the only moment any of us really have, and those of us with great work appreciate the here and now with all its blemishes and blessings. This was Tim Gallwey’s approach when he worked with a customer service department at AT&T. He devised a game to get people interested in the critical variables of their daily routine. By paying more attention, with nonjudgmental witnessing awareness, these people turned otherwise boring and stressful jobs into a better place to be.

Step 5. SET BOUNDARIES. Even great work, perhaps especially great work, requires us to set boundaries. Take life coaches, for example, and other persons who are able to work from home. Who wouldn’t want a job where the commute is a matter of walking downstairs! But even here, perhaps especially here, it is important to set boundaries. Otherwise, we either end up working all the time or hardly at all. And don’t think it’s easier to set boundaries when you are working for yourself rather than for someone else. Boundaries start in the mind; they are invisible lines that we draw in order to protect ourselves from the tyranny of what is not done. When we know our limits as to urgency, overtime, priorities, and autonomy we develop a more authentic relationship to the workplace. We may not get as much done, make as much as money, or exercise as much responsibility, but when we control our work (rather than our work controlling us) we have the opportunity to feel great about our choices and their consequences.

Step 6. HANG IN THERE. Studies of people who consider themselves lucky demonstrate that lucky people, among other things, hang in there longer than unlucky people. In other words, luck is not an accident. Through persistence and hard work, lucky people get more breaks than those who quit when the going gets tough. That exposes the lie of those who think great work is easy work. Just because we love the work we do doesn’t mean it’s any less work. Work, by definition, is “the expenditure of energy.” Does that make “great work” the expenditure of “great energy?” Sometimes it does. So we better train ourselves accordingly. Even those with desk jobs need to exercise their bodies, minds, and spirits in order to be fit enough to persevere through good times and bad. Great athletes understand and prepare for this eventuality. Regardless of our line of work, it won’t be great until we approach it with the same seriousness, preparation, and resolve.

Step 7. PLAN TIME FOR PLANNING. If there’s one universal complaint in the modern, 24-7 workplace it’s the shortage of time. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done. To-do lists and email in-boxes pile up and get longer by the hour. Urgent problems, requests, and breakdowns produce a cacophony of squeaky wheels. Firefighting is the rule rather than the exception in many, if not most, organizations. But this is not the way to great work. Those with great work consistently report planning the time to plan. Tim Gallwey speaks of this as the STOP tool: we Step back, Think, and Organize our thoughts before Proceeding. Steven Covey describes this as the important-not-urgent quadrant. Whatever the name, it’s clear that great work requires frequent short, medium, and long stops for planning. Here we can weigh the value of our activities, consider the wisdom of our strategy, visualize the sweep of our performance, affirm the intention of our being, release the creativity of our spirit, and breathe in the stillness of life.

Step 8. COACH THE SITUATION. By now one thing should be clear, if it wasn’t already: great work is generally not handed to us on a silver platter. In fact, it takes work to get great work, not only in the job search / job creation phase but also in the job performance phase. Great work, like great gardens, takes constant weeding, feeding, watering, pruning, and waiting. Sometimes we have to coach the situation in order to make work great. By paying attention to what’s really going on, without illusion, hype, or distortion, we can often transform the situation • or at least our relationship to the situation. Tim Gallwey recommends that we have a “conversation for awareness.” What’s happening? What stands out? How do we feel? What do we understand and don’t understand? What are the critical variables? What’s been working and not working? What’s the truth of the situation? Just asking ourselves and others these questions is sometimes enough to improve the situation. When seeking the truth of every situation becomes standard operating procedure, work moves inexorably from good to great.

Step 9. COACH THE INTENTION. If there’s one thing we can control, without any dependence on others, it’s our attitude. There’s no way for work to be great when we show up with a bad attitude. Our intentions shape the world. This truth has been expressed in many different cultures and many different words throughout history. It is a universal apprehension of how the world works. “Since it’s all invented anyway,” notes Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, “we might as well invent a story or framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.” Of course that takes some doing, especially if we’re in a difficult situation or if we’re in the habit of doing otherwise. But if Victor Frankl can learn to do it in a concentration camp, we can learn to do it in a cubicle • or wherever else we happen to find ourselves. Tim Gallwey’s “conversation for choice” can assist us to move in this direction. We are not victims. We can freely choose our relationship to the world around us. What do we want to be happening? Why? What are the benefits and costs? What are the alternative possibilities? What changes would I have to make? Do I have any conflicting intentions? Once we get clear about the intention, it won’t be long before our focus creates an experience of greatness.

Step 10. COACH THE COMPLETION. Unfortunately, the work of intention is not magic. Intention is not a “set it and forget it” commodity. There is no genie, ready to grant our three intentions. On the contrary, intention is something we bring into being through great work. But this only happens when we believe in our ability to see intention through to completion. Self doubt and miserable work go hand in hand. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Regardless of how much water has gone over the dam, Tim Gallwey’s “conversation for trust” can get us back on track. Have we ever dealt successfully with anything like this before? What’s the most difficult aspect of the task at hand? Are there resources we could call in to help? What are the first steps? At our best, what qualities, attributes, and capabilities do we bring to the situation? An honest assessment will often reveal new strategies and generate new hope for the performance and enjoyment of great work.

Coaching Inquiries: How many of these steps have you taken? Which ones are more solid and which ones need reinforcement? Who could you talk with to move you forward? How could your work be great?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


Last week’s Provision seemed like it was written directly to me. Thanks for your timely encouragement.


In Christina’s last Parenting Pathway, she wrote about bracketing as a way to fight the urge to deny your children’s feelings. I am not sure what she meant here. Do you mind putting it in different words? Are you saying that we, as parents should prevent our urge to deny those feelings of our child who cries? (Christina’s Note: Bracketing is when we turn down the volume on our own internal chatter in order to understand another person’s words, thoughts, or feelings. Using this with our children is a very effective listening tool and can be helpful when, as parents, we have unproductive urges that might get in the way of our children exploring and sharing their feelings.)


I am participating in your “Awakening through Art” teleclass. I have gotten so much out of this free Pilot Program and it has been a real learning adventure. The six Pathways to Creativity are excellent tools that I now have in my cache of knowledge and I thank you for your friendly professionalism and generosity in inviting me to participate. I look forward to using the tools, techniques, and books as I kick off my own Life Skills Coaching Practice in a bigger way.  



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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