Previously published on Forbes.com.
It used to be that work was a place to show up, do your job, get paid and go home. People didn’t expect their employer to invest in them or help them become better people. Times have changed.
Today’s employees have very different expectations of their boss and their company than previous generations. They’re looking for meaningful work that they can feel personally connected to, work that helps them tap into and fulfill their own inner purpose.
You’re probably aware of the growing volume of studies that speak to this trend. And as a leader, you might be looking for more ways to invest in your people to help unleash their intrinsic inspiration. After all, it’s not just good for the employee; it’s good for the organization. As Bain & Company’s Eric Garton points out, “An inspired employee is more than twice as productive as a satisfied employee and more than three times as productive as a dissatisfied employee.” He goes on to explain the unexpected conclusions of their research, conducted in conjunction with the Economist Intelligence Unit: “From a purely quantitative perspective…it would take two and a quarter satisfied employees to generate the same output as one inspired employee.”
But here’s the thing about leadership. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in thinking about how to inspire and engage others in meaningful work, we overlook one very important player in this scenario: ourselves.
In fact, for leaders specifically, it’s easy to shift into auto-pilot and focus on meeting those demands and goals that are always in front of us — from the organization, customers, investors — while endlessly putting off the investment in our own continual learning and growth.
But ask yourself: Can you truly inspire others and help them find meaning in the work when you don’t adopt the mindset and practices yourself? Can you effectively lead an innovative, successful organization through today’s twists and turns without evolving your skillset and stoking the inner passion that motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
Dan Pontefract, author of The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization, has said that we should never consider ourselves “done” when it comes to the search for purpose at work. It’s a lesson for our employees, but also for us as leaders. In a world that’s experiencing constant change and disruption, you have to continually find ways to slow down, reflect and re-engage your strengths and passions.
How Inspired Leaders Lead by Example
Brian, a VP in a mid-sized financial firm, was a hard-driving leader who led mostly via a command and control. He micro-managed his team members — which made them feel like he didn’t trust them — and was slow to make decisions, needing all the facts lined up first. His leadership style made it clear that he didn’t really value collaboration or diversity.
Fortunately, his CEO saw the potential in Brian and encouraged him to make changes. Here’s what he did:
1. He slowed down. Brian implemented a few daily rituals that took less than fifteen minutes but allowed him to pause and reflect before acting or, worse, reacting. One practice you might try: Keep a journal. It can help boost your intentionality.
2. He got real about his leadership approach and impact. Increased self-awareness is often the catalyst for change. Once he recognized that his own unconscious motivations and fears were shutting others down and making them feel discouraged and demotivated, he saw the opportunity cost in that behavior. With those insights, he started working with a coach who helped him change his practices and engage differently with his team.
3. He reconnected with higher purpose work.Because Brian didn’t have to be down in the weeds managing every detail anymore, he was freed up to do more personally fulfilling and impactful leadership work. The big picture stuff.
4. He made it part of the culture. Inspired by his own results, Brian made important changes to the one-on-one meetings he held weekly with his team members. This helped to develop a culture that promotes self-reflection and personal growth. The structure of his one-to-one meetings goes like this:
a. Check-in – Brian asks, “How are you? What’s happening in your life that you would like to share?” And he really listens.
b. Accomplishments – He asks, “What accomplishments are you proud of for yourself or your team?”
c. Project Progress – He invites each team member to share a list of their current projects, with one or two sentences describing the progress of each.
d. Roadblocks – Brian wants to hear about any roadblocks that are keeping projects from progressing.
e. To do – He wants to know what the high-level to-do list is for each of his team members over the next week or two.
f. Areas to Develop – Brian asks his team members to identify areas of personal and professional development needed.
g. Goal tracking and Action Plans – Together, they review monthly, quarterly or yearly goals and action plans.
h. How can I help? Lastly, Brian asks, “What do I need to do to support you? What should I stop doing that may be getting in the way?”
You spend roughly one-third of your life at work. This is no small investment of time and energy in the context of a life. The question is, are you a better person because of it?
Remember: Your career capital is you — it’s what you have to bring to the table. The ROI on investing in growing yourself and finding meaning in your work will reveal itself over and over again as you continue your journey, both professionally and personally.