inspiration, leadership, management, mindfulness, motivation, training, work life

Creating A Masterpiece


There’s a quote from John Ruskin that has been teasing me for the last few days…”When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”  I love the message, and think we often lose or sacrifice one of these two elements in the workplace.  I know what you’re thinking, ‘ are you really going to raise the spectre of love as an essential element of creation at work?’  Yup, I am.  Before you leap to disagree though, think about your best professional years – or moments – and what they required from you.

Certainly success involves skill – though arguably every success is not a masterpiece.  And not every act of love – as well intended as it may be – elicits a feeling of success.  If there is no love for what you commit to doing on a daily basis, I think your efforts are diluted by its absence.  And at least in the areas of work that I know well, there seems to be less attention given to loving what you do, and a skewed emphasis on just getting it done.  A friend of mine asked me recently where the ‘humanism’ in management has gone.  After participating in a panel discussion at a well known law firm, she was struck by the comments of young associates who attended the session.  Their expectations of upper management were narrow and indifferent, acknowledging that these first years in ‘big law’ required many hours of work, but little of the relational connectedness that makes the ridiculous time commitment worthwhile.  The concerns for their development were formulaic, the environment rich in superficial attention (if you’ve never been in the offices of big law, you’re missing some pretty magnificent work spaces) and sorely lacking in emotional investment.  We’re not talking about daily ‘kumbaya’ moments, rather the contagious, energizing sense that people were engaged in doing work that they loved.

The workplace in general is delicately positioned right now – on the one hand, employers want their people to do more with less; however less and less time is being spent considering what new ideas or programs can be put into play to engender enthusiasm and passion for individual effort.  So if you love the profession you’re in, and little is done to foster that indescribably powerful motivator, love will morph over time into benign acceptance.  The reality is that at some point each of us has the ingredients to create a masterpiece.  As a manager, director, chief officer, etc – what are your responsibilities to develop and/or sustain the professional and personal inventories from which your people can draw to create a masterpiece?   Or in the interest of production, does it even matter any longer that people love what they do?  Personally, I’ve done my damnedest to foster both love and skill instead of accepting skill and personal interest every time.  What about you?


19 thoughts on “Creating A Masterpiece”

  1. You have asked all the right questions. I think that today’s environment makes what should be relatively simple complex. Of course, organizations and leaders have ultimate responsibility for the humanism in their environment. But the struggle for survival over the past years has trumped everything. One option in this situation is to recognize your love for the work and pride in a job well done to your own satisfaction. Like Van Gogh, sometimes masters aren’t recognized in their own time.

  2. Thanks for your comments Susan – as always, they are thoughtful and considered. I do think though that in the current environment, love for one’s work is not self-sustaining forever. Without the acknowledgement, development and nurturing of careers, how do these young people even know that they have done their jobs well? As for van Gogh – a master surely, but at a heckuva cost! (:-)) Have a great day!

    1. Thanks Tina! I really liked it too – provided much food for thought (which is far lower in calories than anything else I’ve chewed on lately :-)!)

    1. What’s a little tree-hugging among friends? 🙂 I get your point though. That said, in my experience it was loving what I was creating coupled with the stretching of my skills that evocative of my best moments at work. I left because I believed Rita Coolidge when she sang “I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love’. The evolution – or devolution – of an environment and culture that I loved, was forming a new ethos that I couldn’t abide, and it ultimately would break my heart. So in my head, I guess love and skill do go hand-in-hand…if one is lucky. Thanks always for writing..

  3. Lots to think about. I suppose that, in the end, we each need to take responsibility for ourselves, to find that fit with values, passion and skill in our careers.

    1. I agree – I do think though that the hard decisions are brought to bear when the environment within which one works, runs counter to the passion and love one feels for his/her craft/skills. Have a great day Mary!

  4. When I spent my days in the classroom, love and skill were undeniably the cement that held my most successful years together. When I “crossed-over” into administration, I believed, quite naively, that the same love and skill, the desire to put children first, would follow and the transition, for me, would be seamless. What’s the old quote, “love what you do and never work a day in your life”? Perhaps, I continue to be naive. The two should go hand in hand and the addition of love should never negate your ability to use your skill to the best of your ability in whatever work environment you find yourself. When the Karma Truck stopped at my door this morning it struck a chord. No longer that naive little administrator , I still believe the two should walk the work environment together; love and skill, an unbeatable combination.

    1. You know I share your philosophy Jo – as well as your disillusionment when they not longer co-exist. But I’ll keep believing if you do…:-)

  5. Mimi, such a good piece. Relevant and timely also. My husband just divorced his former employer after 17 years for the simple fact that he fell out of love with them! It is true. The love he had for that job, for that company, for his people, was the spark plug that kept his little corner of the company not only very successful, but was touted as one of the happiest places to work. His passion was his trademark; a gift he passed on as a tangible thing…to every person that worked for him. Over the last two years I saw the inevitable happening…the love affair was ending. Not with the job and certainly not with his people…but with the company that no longer valued or appreciated loyalty and passion. The decision to jump was very difficult for him; but having done it, I can say it’s the best thing he could have done. Not only has he found his love and passion again, but so far, 1/3 of the 130 associates that worked directly for him, have reached out in hopes of jumping with him. For the job? No. For the company? No. They want to work for the man that loves his job and is passionate about his people. Side note; the youngest among them were the first to jump because they know he values THEIR development more than his own.

    1. There is no better example of what I’m speaking about than this! Kudos to your husband and how lucky are those who are able to join him!!

  6. As for tree-hugging, I’m with ya on this MJ. Ruskin, to your point, came out of the arts & crafts movement, the motto of which was William Morris’s: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. Apply this message to the workplace: without it, work becomes drudgery. If one is well-paid, it becomes well-paid drudgery. If one is obscenely paid, then it becomes obscenely-paid drudgery. If the love for one’s work doesn’t exist, it doesn’t matter if you’re making widgets or The Law. Remember the opening scene of Joe versus the Volcano?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s