5 Break-Through Insights that Create a Meaningful Workplace

meaning
This is a guest post by Danny Gutknecht, CEO and Co-founder of Pathways, an advisory firm that helps organizations tap their potential. His new book is Meaning at Work – And Its Hidden Language.

 

Create a Meaningful Workplace

Organizations have blundered in their attempts to provide purpose and meaning for employees. But meaning and purpose are not something that companies can provide.

Meaning is a human need that runs an operating system intrinsic to itself. No one can plot it for us; we can’t download it and install it like an app. We can’t live up to or adopt values painted on the wall.

Until we understand the principles of how meaning works for the organization and for human beings, and implement processes that will allow meaning to occur, we’ll continue to experience the churn that comes from lack of alignment.

Consider these five break-through insights that can help create a meaningful workplace:

 

1. Learn how meaning works. 

Meaning is created daily through experience and interactions we have with everything in our lives. We have an inner dialogue with our work, relationships and organizations. Our meaning is the result of how we interpret and interact with our world. When work is meaningful, we strive to improve and engage more deeply with it. When we share meaning with a group or company, each is enhanced and grows. But make no mistake: meaning can’t be given; it can only be shared.

 

2. Make meaning the key to organizational excellence, and to personal excellence.

BE Aerospace won a contract to create a product with multiple iterations in a highly regulated environment. It hired a slew of top engineers in the UK, but the flow of engineers out the door was as steady as the flow coming in. It was killing the company’s ability to deliver. By interrogating and mining the meaning of the company, it became clear that the engineers who were leaving weren’t aligned with those who were staying, even though they thought they were. The message from management in the recruiting phase missed the essence of who they were. Those who left described the work as overwhelming, with impossible challenges and unsolvable problems. The ones who were engaged and loved what they did were fulfilled by the challenge. As one employee put it, “It’s like being dropped into the ocean with no beach in sight — so you start swimming and soon you learn it’s a damn fine beach when you get there.” Because traditional job descriptions and marketing messages dominated the employment conversation, everyone missed the conversation about what mattered most.

 

3. Recruit to meaning.

6 Helpful Insults to Hurl at Your Inner Perfectionist

fire
This is a guest post by Scott Mautz. Scott is CEO of Prof0und Performance, a workshop, coaching and online training company. I highly recommend his new book Find the Fire: Ignite Your Inspiration and Make Work Exciting Again. After I read it, I asked Scott if we could run this book excerpt. You’ll find the entire book full of excellent advice.

 

6 Helpful Insults

 

Nobody’s perfect, but some people try anyway. Perfection seems like a noble goal. Managers expect employees to pay attention to detail and perform at their best. Many spouses think their significant others could strive a little harder for perfection (My wife is the one exception.)
In reality, your inner perfectionist is sucking the life out of you and your relationships. You need to squash it to find contentment and inspiration for your work and your life.
So let’s hurl some insults at our inner perfectionists, shall we?

1. “I’m gonna slap the ‘should’ out of you.”

Seriously, strike the word should from your vocabulary. When perfectionists use the word, like in the sentences, “I should go over this again to make sure it’s 100 percent right,” “This should be a lot better than it is right now,” or “I should have done X and Y,” it’s like granting a license for perpetual revisiting and remorse. Stop. Will more massaging really change the outcome? Tell yourself done is done, dammit.

 

“Strike the word should from your vocabulary.” -Scott Mautz

 

2. “Your perfectionism isn’t just hurting you.”

The collateral damage of your perfectionism is everywhere—don’t underestimate it.

Perfectionists tend to judge and criticize not only themselves but everyone else. The more they see their own flaws in others, the more they pick, as a sort of displacement mechanism. The constant criticism and judging isolates and distances the perfectionist from others, further exacerbating their “I must not be good enough” belief. Perfectionists are often unaware of the impact this corrosive behavior has on others. They’re assuming that everyone else is harshly judging them, so to do so as well is just the way of the world.

Expand your worldview and understand that your misplaced heat, like that of global warming, is indeed affecting the world around you for the worse.

 

“Perfectionists are often unaware of the impact this corrosive behavior has on others.” -Scott Mautz

 

3. “Accept yourself before you wreck yourself!”  

Capitalize on the Gig Economy

Gig Economy

Introducing the New World of Work

 

Work is changing.

Technology continues to change everything, and work is no exception. In just a few years, we have seen companies emerge from Uber to Instacart. New digital platforms are emerging that explore different business models.

Marion McGovern founded M Squared Consulting and Collabrus. Her new book Thriving in the Gig Economy: How to Capitalize and Compete in the New World of Work, is a thoughtful exploration of the new world of work. Whether you’re looking to make some extra money or you’re in management, you will want to familiarize yourself with these trends.

 

“The best gig is the one you’ve got.” –Live Shreiber

 

Gig and the New Economy

What is the Gig Economy?

Before I answer that question, let’s clarify the meaning of the word “gig.”  The term was first used with jazz musicians in the 1920s, where they would book one club for a week and another for a few days in a different club across town. A gig referred to work that could vary in duration and was for a variety of employers.  So gigs have been around for a long time. I started my company, M Squared Consulting, in 1988 to match independent consultants with projects. It was a gig economy company long before the term had even been coined. The “Gig Economy” refers to the people who work independently for a variety of entities as well as the companies that enable that work, both the new digital talent platforms, as well as traditional intermediaries and staffing companies.  Additionally, you could include the vast eco system that has sprung up to support this work, including co-working space, productivity apps, collaboration tools, and financial service products targeted at the independent workforce.

 

Successful gig workers have grit, resilience and learn from mistakes.

 

A few years ago, you received two calls that got your attention in a new way. How did that alter your thinking?

Actually there were three random and unrelated calls from venture capitalists and private equity guys who wanted to talk to me about digital talent platforms. One idea was for a platform for professional moms who wanted to work flexibly after the kids were older. Another was to build a pool of on-demand oil field services workers in Western Africa, and the third was to create a product to hire recent college graduates into entry level management positions in a way that would require no human intervention.  All of the players were technologists who had never run a service business, let alone a people-intensive one.  Much of the magic was to be in the algorithms which would match talent and opportunity seamlessly and quickly.  Many of the fairly basic questions I asked—like who would hire the moms? Would they be employees or contractors? And how would the platform make money?—had not yet been answered.  I was struck by the disconnect of talent being the most important thing to the success of an organization, but nonetheless the goal was to eliminate humans in the process of securing that talent. It inspired me to take a much deeper dive into the burgeoning world of digital talent platforms.

 

How is the Gig Economy growing?

Personality at Work: The Drivers and Derailers of Leadership

The Link Between Leadership and Personality

Organizations are shaped not only by products and marketing but also by the characteristics and traits of their leaders.

Organizational psychologist Ron Warren in his new book, Personality at Work: The Drivers and Derailers of Leadership, discusses the impact of a leader’s personality on an organization. He created the LMAP 360 to help leaders have a perspective of their impact.

I recently spoke with him about his research.

 

“Personality is to a man what perfume is to a flower.” –Charles M. Schwab

 

You’ve been researching personality and leadership for decades. What are some of the more surprising conclusions you’ve reached?

Surprisingly, that the same traits that drive individual and team performance and those that derail effectiveness haven’t changed in the last 50 years. While almost everything associated with the world of work now evolves very quickly as technology transforms every 18 months per Moore’s Law, humans are quite similar to Stone Age humans.

There are four key domains of personality in play: Grit: the Task Mastery Traits, EQ: the Teamwork Traits, Dominance, and Deference. Broad research identifies behaviors associated with Grit and EQ as key drivers for leadership, teamwork and communications. Fortune Magazine editor Geoff Colvin calls them “high-value skills.” Broad research also identifies behaviors associated with Dominance and Deference traits that derail leadership, teamwork, and communications. Others refer to these derailers by different names like over-aggression, difficulty managing emotions, failure to build teams, excessive caution, but they are rooted in basic dominance and deference behaviors.

Interestingly, Grit and EQ appeared latest in human evolution – called phylogeny – and also appear latest in individual development – called ontogeny. And a basic law of human development is ontogeny follows phylogeny. Neuroscience shows that for many people, the full maturation of the frontal cortex goes on into the mid-twenties … and for many people, this might be required for their full maturation and thus ability to access Grit and EQ. In contrast, Dominance and Deference behaviors are almost inborn and evident in toddlers – and in other animals. Some people develop Grit and EQ, but many do not.

One lesson for emerging professionals is to be aware of a need to think before they act to summon and leverage Grit and/or EQ – which may not be abundant naturally. One way is to suppress Dominance and/or Deference habits and behaviors if they are prominent, as they actively interfere with Grit and EQ. Grit requires planning and thinking about projects and work; EQ requires attending to and considering people and relationships.

 

“Personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

How Personality Impacts Leadership

Share an example of a personality trait and how it impacts leadership.

Sure. Consider someone very high on Need to Control, a Dominance trait. They are domineering and bossy, opinionated and like to advocate ideas rather than listen or seek collective intelligence; they get impatient and are vulnerable to the confirmation bias; they may act before thinking it out. Not too surprisingly, Need to Control is negatively associated with leadership, teamwork and communications … Now, Skip, of course personality traits do not operate in isolation, so what also matters are the other traits in a Profile with Need to Control!

The LMAP assessment is a Circumplex model where traits are organized on a circular chart that represents how they interact with and are influenced by the presence or absence of other traits. I’ve been building systems like this since 1984 – how weird is that!  Anyway, in my book and in our assessments, the focus is on overall Personality Profile – combinations of 13 personality traits – rather than one trait.

So consider High Control and:

  • Add high Rigidity, Hostility, Competitiveness (Dominance traits) and I can guarantee there will be problems and it will be unpleasant.
  • Or add in Achievement Drive and/or Conscientiousness and/or Innovation – better yet, all three Grit traits – and you get a high performer, great at cranking results but not to lead and positively motivate a team – without at least average EQ.
  • Finally, take away Hostility and add in even-average Helpfulness or Sociability and it looks like the Profile of a super effective Managing Editor of a major newspaper I assessed, an introvert with high Control, Conscientiousness, Achievement Drive, Innovation and about-average Helpfulness: a great editor and leader in a tough business and a journalist coach and mentor for his direct reports.

For this fellow, the prominent Dominance wasn’t a derailer because he had just enough EQ traits to temper it… And managing editors of major newspapers must have strong opinions.  But take away his average EQ and mentoring style and then his dominance would go unchallenged and impair his leadership effectiveness.  I like how Angela Duckworth, the University of Pennsylvania Professor and Macarthur Genius Grant winner, says in her book Grit: “As a psychologist, I can confirm that grit is far from the only—or even the most important—aspect of a person’s character . . . There are many other things a person needs to grow and flourish. Character is plural.”

Define Your Personal Leadership Identity

Your Personal Leadership Identity

You have a personal leadership identity that has the potential to influence and motivate others. Achieving results and driving others to a common vision are within your reach when you focus on that uniqueness.

What you need is to think about your differentiators.

One of the reasons I study leaders and various leadership styles is because each of us can learn something from the greats while moving toward our own uniqueness.

And that’s why Danielle Harlan’s book, The New Alpha: Join the Rising Movement of Influencers and Changemakers Who Are Redefining Leadership, appealed to me. She packed this book with advice on how to become the best version of yourself and to use your influence for good.

Danielle Harlan, PhD is the Founder & CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential. She completed her doctorate at Stanford University and has taught courses at both Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension’s Corporate and Professional Development program.

I recently asked her about her new research, focusing specifically on her concepts of a personal leadership identity.

 

“Each of us possesses the innate potential to make a meaningful impact in the world.” –Danielle Harlan

 

Your Unique Identity

What is a Personal Leadership Identity?

danielle harlanPersonal Leadership Identity (PLI) is the unique combination of qualities and talents that make you unique and distinctive as an individual and that you can easily and naturally draw upon in order to enhance your leadership effectiveness.

The example that I share in The New Alpha is about a new manager who struggled as a “stern and commanding” leader (which matched the “image” that he had in his mind of how good leaders should act) but had a breakthrough when he identified his PLI, which was actually the total opposite of this. As soon as he found his “real” self, his leadership effectiveness increased dramatically.

The big idea here is that many of us have this “cookie cutter” image of the “type” of person who makes a good leader, but the reality is that each of us is at our most powerful, and our most impactful, when we allow the best aspects of who we are naturally to guide our leadership “style.”

Knowing your PLI is also really helpful in terms of creating a vision and plan for our lives—based on who we actually are, rather than who we think we should be.

 

“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.” -Warren Bennis

 

Make Work the Pursuit of the Meaningful

How can you use it to determine whether you’re in the right role and pursuing the right vision?

At its best, your career should be a professional manifestation of your Personal Leadership Identity…if there’s general alignment between your PLI and what you’re doing or where you’re headed, then you’re in the right role and pursuing the right vision. If not, then it might be time to think about how to change or adapt your role to better suit your PLI, or to make a career pivot.

 

“Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.” –Victor Hugo

 

This is, of course, much easier said than done, and many of us put off the hard work of aligning our life and career to our Personal Leadership Identity because it’s a big task and we’re busy. However, not addressing this disconnect only results in deep misalignment and unhappiness in the long run. In these cases, instead of work being an opportunity to pursue what gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, it becomes a chore that we must do in order to survive, pay our rent or mortgage, etc.

 

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

 

How to Define Your Personal Leadership Identity

What’s the best way to define your Personal Leadership Identity?

Chapter 6 in The New Alpha book spells out a step-by-step processing for doing this, but the gist is that our Personal Leadership Identity doesn’t usually come to us out of thin air; rather we uncover it by reflecting on our life and experiences and by identifying the values, strengths, skills, passions, and ideal conditions that have facilitated our best and most enjoyable successes.The New Alpha

For example, if you ask me what qualities I bring to the table as a leader, I might say that I’m intelligent, empathetic, and gritty. However, if you ask me to reflect on my best successes as a human being—those where I achieved something AND enjoyed doing it, and then asked me to analyze these accomplishments in terms of what they tell me about the aspects of my personality that I could draw upon in order to be a good leader, I might find intelligence, empathy, and grit in there—but I might find other more unexpected qualities too—like love, curiosity, and a sense of humor.

This retrospective and holistic approach often yields more interesting aspects of our PLI than we might come up with by simply “naming” our best qualities or relying on other people to tell us what we’re good at.

 

“By working to become the best version of ourselves, we develop the foundation competencies that are necessary to effectively lead others.”-Danielle Harlan

 

Do you have an example or story of someone who understood this concept and how it changed their future or perspective?