As the saying goes, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. We can debate exactly how true this is, but it’d be difficult to deny that this is fundamentally a statement about purpose. Not just what you have to do at your job, or your job description, but true, authentic purpose.
Zach Mercurio; academic researcher, consultant, and author of The Invisible Leader; explains in this interview how the search and need for purpose is one of the fundamental things that unites us as a species. From the moment toddlers learn to speak, Zach explains, they begin to question everything. Why do things work? Why are things how they are? What’s the point? Why? Importantly, as we grow up, we don’t lose this need for purpose, but we might not be in a position to engage with it sincerely, especially in the workplace. Let’s dive a little deeper.
Authentic Purpose in the Workplace
In the same interview, Zach gives an example of one instance in which a company came alive with purpose in a matter of minutes. While giving a talk, it was clear to Zach that the employees were rather disengaged both with the event as well as with their employment in general—I think we all know the feeling. Since the talk wasn’t going anywhere this way, Zach asks, “why do your jobs exist?”
One woman raises her hand and explains that, while under the MRI machine, she recognized the brand logo on the equipment—a brand that depends on their company specifically. To her, in that moment, her job exists to save her own life. Almost immediately, her co-workers came alive with a newfound passion for their jobs, and a drive to perform that had long been lost. In a matter of minutes, they had found their authentic purpose at work: saving lives.
This isn’t a standalone example or a flowery feel-good story, either. Research shows that a purpose-driven workplace results in a more successful company. Making sure that your employees find this purpose to connect with isn’t just about creating a better workplace environment, it’s also good for business. Putting people first and having the business thrive as a consequence is, after all, the idea behind servant leadership.
Gen Z, Millennials, Etc.
Related to this is the other saying we tend to hear a lot: young people don’t want to work. While it might not be entirely inaccurate, Zach says that it also isn’t a bad thing, and it’s just more of what we’ve been talking about this whole time. It’s not that young people hate work as a generational thing, Zach hypothesizes, it’s that technology has raised them with an elevated collective empathy, and that this need for purpose is even stronger (and less negotiable) among them.
These new generations grew up with a phone in their hands. Good or bad, that also means they grew up with immediate access to every bad thing that happens in the world, and with constant calls to action to help make the world a better place, and to help others along the way. It’s not that young people don’t want to work, it’s that they’re more committed to authentic purpose. As a consequence, they’re more likely to dump a job that only offers superficial benefits and culture.
Since time is linear, one way or another, these young people are going to be the ones working in your business. (They probably already are!) That means that these last few paragraphs aren’t just fun facts to pick up and learn, they’re a specific call to action for you to make sure your leadership style is promoting a purpose driven workplace. It’s either that, or eventually ending up with no workers at all!
Purpose as a Leader
A trickier part of Zach’s title, The Invisible Leader, is that it doesn’t refer to a person at all. The Invisible Leader isn’t a boss that lets people do what they were hired to do, The Invisible Leader is the purpose. When employees find and commit to a sense of purpose that is aligned with their responsibilities, that drive and passion is a leader, and is the leader that drives some of the most successful brands with great workplace environments.
Your job as the “actual” leader? Foster this workplace environment. Find the way to make sure everybody in your workplace finds their purpose and commits to it. It builds a better environment, it builds community, and it begets results! Exactly how to achieve this will depend on each specific context, but the philosophies of Servant Leadership and Mentor Management will certainly serve as a great foundation.
Living Pono is dedicated to communicating business management concepts with Hawaiian values. Founded by Kevin May, an established and successful leader and mentor, Living Pono is your destination to learn about how to live your life righteously and how that can have positive effects in your career. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or contact us here. Also, join our mailing list below, so you can be alerted when a new article is released.
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