How to stop sheepwalking at work

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Seth Godin defines sheepwalking as “the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them brain-dead jobs and enough fear to keep them in line.” These are the people who don’t question their purpose at work, who color inside the lines, and are compliant with managers who lead by fear.

“The fault doesn’t lie with the employee, at least not at first,” says Godin in his book Tribes.

But what happens when you instead build or work for an organization that treats people with respect and trust? Simply put, “when you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff,” explains Godin.

A simple test for sheepwalking
Godin says that a thermostat is far more valuable than a thermometer. Here’s the difference:

  • A thermometer points out when something is broken. “They criticize or point out or just whine,” says Godin.
  • A thermostat, on the other hand, changes the environment based on the outside world. “Every organization needs at least one thermostat. These are leaders who can create change in response to the outside world, and do it consistently over time,” asserts Godin. And a thermostat doesn’t have to be at the top to make change.

How to escape sheepwalking
Godin outlines a three-step process for stopping sheepwalking:

  1. Recognize the behavior as sheepwalking. Are you passionate about solving new problems and work and given the freedom, respect, and trust to do so? If not, you’re sheepwalking.
  2. Realize you can stop. If you’re a sheepwalker, you can claim the career you deserve by not walking down the same path everyone else does.
  3. Embrace passion and drive. If you teach or hire, reward passion and drive. “Great leaders embrace deviants by searching for them and catching them doing something right,” says Godin. If you’re sheepwalking, look to work at a company that exhibits company growth and believe in yourself. In a more positive environment that helps you make a difference, you’ll be more productive and happier.

“Think for a second about the people you know who are engaged, satisfied, eager to get to work. Most of them, I bet, make change. They challenge the status quo and push something forward—something they believe in. They lead,” says Godin. “You don’t have enough time to be both unhappy and mediocre. It’s not just pointless—it’s painful. Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you ought to setup a life you don’t need to escape from.”

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