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Are you a Shaper or a Pawn?

In his Bestseller “Principles”, Ray Dalio coins the term “Shaper” as a person with a vision who can execute. A Pawn is someone who is leveraged for gains by the powerful. If you go to work every day and just do what you are told, you are a pawn. The good news is that Pawns can become Shapers simply by changing their perspective.

Why are so many people content to live as Pawns? What does it take to become a Shaper?

Many of today’s corporations base their management structure on the Industrial Revolution. You may be familiar with Frederick Winslow Taylor who taught that efficiency comes from having workers follow a strict set of instructions, determined by management. Many managers today believe that you can’t have everyone thinking. “Too many cooks in the kitchen”, “Too many chiefs”. These phrases come from old factory thinking. Henry Ford famously said, “How come when I need a pair of hands, it comes with a brain attached?” Over time, punishment for thinking has created fear, and that fear has gotten people to stay in their box.

The truth is the more people that are thinking and shaping, the better the outcome for the organization.

What can you do to become a shaper?

  1. Shapers have a vision. The vision doesn’t have to be audacious. Start small. How do you want your current reality to evolve? For example; Establishing better relationships with your counterparts. Automating status reports. Whatever you see that makes your corner of the world a better place.

  2. Shapers view everything as an opportunity to execute their vision. It amazes me how many people reject opportunities without realizing it. A client came to me once and said “I have 5 people, Jane doesn’t want them. What can you do with 5 people?” Once I got over my shock at someone turning down this offer, I answered: “With 5 people I can solve your dirty data issues and build trust with your customers.” And I did. Note also that dirty data had nothing to do with my work, but it was a big problem for the organization and I was dying to get my hands on it.

  3. Nothing is “Above (or Below) a Shaper’s Pay Grade.” When people say “that’s above my pay grade” they are signaling that they are a pawn. Absolutely start with things you can control, but nothing is above your pay grade. It’s just a matter of figuring out a strategy for affecting things outside your box.

  4. Shapers bring people along. Shapers have the passion and communicate in a way that people understand. Shapers have the ability to mobilize people around a vision. People follow Shapers even when they don’t have authority. I often think of this as a social movement. Gloria Steinem didn’t have authority over women, she didn’t assign tasks and follow up to make sure each person was liberated. Yet many women took action, and not such easy action, based on her ideas. Shapers do much the same thing.

  5. Shapers don’t give away their power. The first time I heard the term “give away your power” I didn’t understand it all. But once I understood it, it changed my life. Hopefully, it can do the same for you. Giving away your power means that you allow someone else control of your destiny, mood or success. This sneaks up in unexpected ways, such as through Blame. For example, if I say “it’s Joe’s fault that I didn’t get the report done on time because he didn’t give me his update”, I’m essentially saying “I do not have control over this report. Joe holds the power.” What would a Shaper do differently? A shaper is working very closely with Joe to ensure delivery. And a shaper has a backup plan. They will get the update from somewhere else if Joe fails to deliver because Joe does not have power over a Shapers success.

What have you done to be a Shaper? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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