External engagements

Mar 18, 2019

Successful people will overcommit where their passion meets a purpose, where service is not a burden but a privilege.

If you are successful, your professional life will involve engaging in industry and community organizations, and I don’t mean just attending industry functions. More than likely, you will be invited to serve on a steering committee, help to fundraise for a worthy cause, or even take the helm of a board that seeks your business advice and experience.

When the commitment requests start arriving, do you accept them – all of them? Or do you step back and gauge the energy and focus that will be required to help?

For those of us in leadership positions, we have come to accept these invitations to serve as a function of doing business in a community. Ego is one of the drivers that encourages us to jump in and get going, but ego may also be the demon that has to be fed.

If you visit with other firm leaders, this is the one conversation that comes up a lot. Typically, it begins with how hectic and difficult their schedules are. Yet when you break down the discussion, it is almost always about the extracurricular engagements that demand so much of our time.

So why do we embrace community engagement? There are benefits. Most firm leaders who embrace community involvement are helping to build a better brand. External engagement in industry committees often leads to a broader, more inclusive and dynamic network of contacts, too. Plus, there is the experience of collaborating with others within and outside the industry that leads to both personal and professional development.

Of course, a great deal of energy and time are required to dedicate yourself to various organizations. For example, one of our Fort Worth leaders has been involved with the International Concrete Repair Institute Inc. locally for decades, and, progressively, has assumed more responsibility and contributed his time to the success of this trade organization. At age 63, he is now president-elect of the national ICRI organization. That’s quite a high level of commitment, but he has spent decades involved in an organization that has become his personal passion.

When do you say “no?” Overextending yourself may be a driver of your firm’s success and visibility, but when you commit to too many things, you run the risk of not being successful at all. Overcommitment means not accepting dozens of invitations to participate in numerous organizations but, rather, narrowing your focus so that your engagement is both meaningful and fulfilling to you as a professional and as a leader.

Of course, selfless service or sacrificial giving has to be something you put into it, other than just showing up to an event. A commitment to any organization means that you are doing things to help drive the success of that organization or event.

By examining your schedule and estimating the hours you contribute to external affairs, you will have a much better idea of what is needed to find a balance between involvement and disengagement. Factor in those things that you do best. Then match them to the organization’s needs and determine whether or not your skills are being put to their best use. If not, identify someone else on your team who might benefit from this engagement. Invite him or her to get involved, and, if he or she does, you’ll be able to mentor them to success as well as having expanded their network of business and community contacts. Disengagement of this kind can become a “win-win” for both you and the organization that seeks your firm’s support.

Embracing commitment with a passion. One of the most important elements of committing to any external activity seems to be guided by a passionate focus on the goals of that organization.

This is particularly true when it comes to engaging millennials. To commit to both work and external involvement requires a balance between work and life because millennials do not want to become so overcommitted that they believe their personal lives are just an extension of job-related responsibilities.

Understanding what their passions or hot buttons are enables them to find an avenue for engagement. As our workforce diversifies, understanding how we can facilitate engagement that strikes a balance and enables millennials to follow their passion become equally important criteria to fill.

For our female engineers, we recognize the value of participating in regional and national leadership conferences that are geared toward helping to support their career success. By identifying seminars and conferences that align with specific gender issues, we have found greater interest and support as they build solid career paths, and we readily cover their expenses and time off to develop the skills and insights needed to lead.

Getting graded by how involved you are. We want to engage in community activities, and we often gauge leadership potential by those who are willing to take on extracurricular activities. But should we also grade them? Some firms include this criteria in their formal evaluation process which then becomes a way of assessing promotions and raises. I am not sure I believe that is the best way to encourage external participation because such incentives may lead to overcommitment which can affect productivity and longevity at a job.

What is the happy medium? Jack Kornfield, in Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, says, “The trouble is, you think you have time.” Most of us would agree that by putting things off, we may never get around to them. The same might be said that by doing everything and packing our schedules with nonstop commitments, we may never do anything completely or at our best.

While organizations value our commitment and energy, we may wear ourselves out so that poor health or lost opportunities for our firm are the net result. For this, we should take a cue from those millennials who demand a work/life balance that incorporates one or two outside commitments for which they are most passionate. The rest of the time, they would prefer to spend it wisely with productive work lives that ensure career success and equally productive down time with their families.

Do any of us blame them for that? At the end of the day, successful people will overcommit where their passion meets a purpose, where engagement is not a burden but a privilege.

Striving to support your team’s involvement with balance, both professionally and in the community, will pay back many fold to the company. The effort you make to encourage, underwrite, and appreciate your future and current leaders’ engagements will translate into loyalty and productivity, and may help you free up your schedule by bringing them into those organizations that match their interests and talents.

Stephen Lucy is CEO of JQ with offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Lubbock and San Antonio, Texas. Contact him at slucy@jqeng.com.

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.