Recently, I did some reading on the notion of ‘work’ and came across these definitions:
- an activity involving mental or physical effort in order to achieve a purpose or result
- mental or physical activity as a means of earning an income.
This got me thinking about the driver behind the need for the work in the first place. Fundamentally, work exists to serve others. Whether work provides a product or a service, there will be no work if others don’t need or buy the product or service that is end the result of the mental or physical effort one puts in.
Some of the synonyms for ‘work’ put a wry smile on my face – toil, slog, drudgery. Sadly, that’s what work has become for most of us, though there are those out there who are turning it around by defining a humanly or environmentally good reason to be in business that serves two objectives:
- Our inherent need for meaning and purpose – a hard-wired desire to contribute to the greater good.
- The need to save ourselves from ourselves – to help the one in three people living in poverty and to try to resolve the global environmental disaster we are facing.
The days of endlessly long hours, not getting enough sleep, feeling overloaded, overwhelmed, confused and stressed out for years on end must come to an end. Business has had a good run with us workers, to the point of ingraining a mind-numbing work ethic deep into our very being. Many business environments have encouraged and promoted ‘aggression’ – aggressive results, aggressive leadership, a FIFO (and I don’t mean Fly In Fly Out) mentality that meant you could only get ahead if you were just a little more ‘aggressive’ than everyone else. Such an approach is mostly not spoken about but it’s there, and eventually you realise it’s there.
I found the only way I could get ahead was to focus on reducing expenses, cutting costs, being super deadline driven, and stretching myself to ridiculous lengths. I had something to prove – that I was smart and could get great results for the business. I tried very hard not to compromise my team leadership – I’d like to think that most of the time I didn’t, but sometimes I had to put my people second. This is how I progressed and it didn’t make me feel good, or give me any sense of connection, contribution or certainty that was of any real value.
We so want to do good work. We so love reward and recognition that we put in the effort and put up with all the crap the workplace has to offer. The good stuff inevitably doesn’t outweigh the bad stuff and eventually we fall over or make a choice to do something different.
When I left my last corporate role, it took me six months to get over the fatigue and what was going on in my head. The only thing I missed was the people I worked with.
Things are changing, although I’m not sure if it’s enough or fast enough. The majority of organisations and businesses still operate according to the ‘old rules’. Mindless leadership and management practices still exceed the soulful, purposeful practices of the emerging business environment. The good news is that unless existing business takes on the new rules, authentically so, they will get left behind in the very near future.
Most leaders say their leadership reflects the values of the business and genuinely believe it. They have a blind spot when it comes to seeking feedback or holding a mirror up to themselves. This applies to the sole trader, the partnership, micro and small business. If you are a business owner or manage a business, the world and your stakeholders expect more of you.
A lot of CEO’s and people in leadership positions aren’t go to make the cut unless they take action now to develop their capability to meet the requirements of the new leadership era, one where Gen Y and Gen Z don’t trust the ‘profit at all costs’ institution. These guys don’t feel optimistic about the future of the planet; they don’t feel safe and secure – the terrorism threat looms large for them. They want to know the “why” behind the business – a “why” that in some way is going to help mend a decaying planet and contribute to resolving inequality across the globe. They expect clarity and certainty about where they’re headed. They want to be part of the design and have an impact rather than mindlessly implementing stuff that doesn’t seem to add much value to anything. They are less interested in the “numbers” and more interested in connection, development for personal growth and learning.
What can you do as a leader right now to change it up?
- Affirm the mindset that leadership is about positively influencing your stakeholders, including the community your business derives benefit from. Such influence is only achieved through trust, caring enough and strong relationships.
- Find a mentor – someone who is doing things differently, more sustainably; someone others see is a great leader. Ask them questions, observe them, learn from them and try things out.
- Get coached to become more self-aware than you are – learn to look inward to find focus (we’ve lost the art of focus), to find mindfulness (a biological leadership advantage rather than a fad) and to find out why you do what you do.
- Know how the brain works so that you can understand your own responses, actions and behaviours better; so that you can understand others and interact with them effectively.
- Develop the skills of outcome focussed conversations so that you are not giving people the opportunity to vent in detail because they are either problem-focused or caught up in drama. These are the conversations that put people into a reward, positive state and create better outcomes for all.
- Simplify everything.
- Ditch the numbers and focus on connection, trust and positive influence.
- Ask others how you’re doing.
This isn’t going to be easy, but it will be worth it for to serve
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