what if all you are good at is holding the universe together

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“She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there, Two hands preserve a green tree against a thunder-stormleaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.”

J.D. Salinger

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Well.

In today’s world if it doesn’t appear like you are doing something … then … well … damn it … you aren’t doing something <even if you may actually be holding the universe together>.

You have to be doing something that can be seen.

You have to because if you don’t … everyone is convinced you are doing nothing. I call this issue … being challenged by the ‘outcome mentality.’

What I mean by that is outcome, or output, is everything.

Well. I have an entire rant coming up soon on that topic. So I won’t debate it here. Let’s assume for today output is truly all that matters <note: that was extremely painful for me to type>.

That said.

So what if your output is … well … holding the universe together.

C’mon.

That’s a metaphor.

I’m not truly suggesting the actual universe but let me talk about business. Sometimes you run across that leader or sometimes a manager or even a young employee <with some potential> who holds the business or the organization together. That said. Sometimes when you look you cannot see what they are actually doing. They may be often seen doing nothing but standing there leaning on the balcony rail.

Uh oh. In today’s business world that person is screwed.

Look.

I’m not suggesting you want people who do nothing … but sometimes people who look like they are doing nothing are actually doing a lot of something. And sometimes it is difficult to measure these people up against ‘outcome focused generators.’

holding universe together ballWhat I mean by that is I have had people in my teams where during review time I have had to stack employees “top-to-bottom” and justify their salary, job status, existence within the organization, whatever review line item you want to call it … based on ‘what have they done.’

Tangible outcome crap.

And, well, sometimes your most valuable employee doesn’t look so hot based on sheer tangible outcome. It is only when you build in intangibles that they rise above the tangible outputters <not sure that is a word>.

Ok.

Any experienced business person reading this will be shaking their head going … “whew … been there” because you have a clear visual of a scrunched up face across the table from you saying things like “well … can’t we get them to do more? … I am struggling to see the comparable value to <insert some ‘outputter name’ here>.” You want to reach across the table and wring their neck shouting they are frickin’ holding the universe together for god’s sake.”

Holding the universe together is a talent. It is a unique talent to make those around you better and more efficient and, well, happier <or maybe just more realistically positive in that they lift productivity – quality & quantity>. And sometimes that talent is embodied by ‘not doing anything but standing there.’

I have run across several business people who had the incredible ability to ‘hold the universe together.’ And I have had the incredibly ludicrous experience of having to encourage them to waste time to ‘tangibilize’ <once again … not sure that is a word> what they are doing so people can ‘see’ their value. As a manager, or leader, I imagine one of your responsibilities is to protect these valuable unique people from the challenges of the typical business world view and foster their abilities and opportunities.

Let’s be clear. This has some unique challenges because it has always been that an ‘outputter’ has never understood this person or value. Never have and never will. That’s okay … because organizations, just as in Life, need a variety of personalities and talents to be successful.

However.

I do get a little concerned that the business world pendulum has swung so far over to outcome & output that those who ‘hold the universe together’ is becoming a dying breed. Maybe I am less concerned for the immediate … but over time. Because the young people with this talent and ability simply cannot protect themselves from an output world without help. And if all we do in business is to promote outputters … well … enough said. You get it.

I am sure throughout my career I have missed people who ‘could hold the universe together.’ And I rue those mistakes. I take solace in that I have holding universe together lennonrecognized others and tried to herd them through the business gauntlet of ‘all that matters is results <or output>’.

All I can say is that while as a leader you take pride in every employee you have the ones who have the ability to hold the universe together hold a special place in your ‘list of things done’ <or list of things ‘I didn’t screw up as a manager’>.

I imagine that is a reminder that in the end, as in the end of your business career or Life, the intangible often  measures up more so than the tangible in reviewing ‘what I have done.’

I imagine this is all a reminder to all of us there are people all around us ‘holding the universe together’ in ways we just don’t see — but we benefit.

So before you judge someone for ‘not doing’ take a closer look just to be sure they aren’t holding the universe together.

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Written by Bruce