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Work Life Lead: What Do We Want From Our Life & Work?

Life-Work Goals

At the beginning of a year, it is helpful to step back and reflect upon where we are in our life and work. I ask about my goals for my life and work, and how to approach the next 12 to 18 months with more focus and intention. What I’ve learned has really come from listening to other people, and asking the question,

What do they want from their life and work?

What I’ve heard people say is pretty simple, logical and compelling.  Not surprising, it follows the design of the Circle of Impact. See here the connection.

What people are saying is that there are three goals that encompass all aspects of their life and work.  We want our life and work to be:

Personally meaningful

Socially fulfilling

Make a Difference that Matters

Let me describe what I’m hearing. Then offer some thought on how these three goals factor into organizational leadership.

Personally Meaningful: Meaning comes from values that give us purpose and a sense of identity. When they are not present or affirmed in what we do, we find ourselves disconnected from the people and places where we live and work.

For example, if we value respect, and fine that we are not respected by a colleague or even a boss, we find work is not a very meaningful place, and possibly begin to look elsewhere. This is true even if we are a successful contributor to the company’s success.

Our personal values guide how we view what is happening around us. The more those values are experienced day-to-day, the more our life and work is personally meaningful.

What I have found is that people are quite emotionally in touch with their values, but are not that clear about what they actually are. They intuitively know when something isn’t right. The greater our cognitive awareness of what we value that better chance we have of developing those values to be an integral part of how we live and work each day.

Socially Fulfilling: Fulfillment is related to our sense of the potential that exists in a situation. I hear the term used often about social experiences that people have.  Typically, these experiences are endeavors where a group of people join together to achieve a goal.  A challenging project at work, or a volunteer team works on building a Habitat for Humanity house, or even a community that rally’s around a family in need.  At the conclusion, there is a sense of accomplishment, a sense of fulfillment that comes to us together. A sports team wins a championship, or a son earns the Boy Scout Eagle rank, or a daughter sets a personal best time in swimming. These are shared experiences that are Socially Fulfilling.

The desire for socially fulfilling experiences functions on three levels.

The collaborative team work level of a group accomplishing a goal.

The experience of a group enjoying one another’s company in a social setting.

The foundation of the other two, a desire for whole, healthy, respectful, caring relationships with people.

If you listen to people, you’ll hear them talking about relationships. Often they are about disappointment, deceit, betrayal and out-right rejection. When we have these experiences, we feel loss and disconnection, especially when we feel that we have given our best to the relationship, and still find the relationship broken.  As much as we don’t want to take these experiences personally, meaning that it is a statement about who we are, we do take it personally. When relationships fail in the work place, it is hard to repair them. It is why so many of the complaints about work have to do with relationships.

We want our relationships in life and work to be Socially Fulfilling. We want community, and not just activities with strangers. We want our relationships with people to elevate the work we do. We want to experience freedom and openness with people. We want to be able to share the best of ourselves, and all of ourselves in the work we do. It is clear to me that it is the failure to achieve a socially fulfilling workplace that is the single most unaddressed inhibitor to a company’s success.

Make a Difference that Matters: There beats within every human being the desire to matter. We don’t want to waste our lives. We want a reason to go to work and a purpose for our lives. We want to be recognized, acknowledged, appreciated and thanked. We want our lives to count, to make a dent in the universe and to matter at the end of the day. To live and work making a difference that matters is to create change whose impact validates the commitment and energy invested in our life and work.  In the end, making a difference that matters is a simple way of describing the purpose that every human being has.

There are two very big questions that accompany this desire. The first is what is the difference that we want to create? And the second, is how?  The first question is answered by defining our purpose. The second is finding an appropriate social and organizational setting.

For most of us, we make that difference through our work.  Work is not just a way to make a living, not just a place we go to everyday, but where we live out the values that are personally meaningful to us, and the place where we seek to establish relationships that are socially fulfilling. At least that is what we believe it should be. Unfortunately, for many, many people this is not true. They go through their lives marginally in touch with the values that matter, never really discovering true friendship, and never having the pleasure of making a difference that matters.

Leadership and Life / Work Goals

If what I suggest about people is true, what does this mean for how we manage people in workplace. Let’s create a list.

1. It means that people are more than the roles and responsibilities that they have within an organizational structure.

2. It means that what people are looking for is more than a paycheck and a steady job.

3. It means that the traditional hierarchical structure of businesses hides the truth about people.

4. It means that the human dimension of a business is more complex and demanding that ordinarily understood.

5. It means that with the right structure and support, people will make a difference that matters to customers, clients and the business.

6. It means that values and relationships are not soft skills but core skills for leadership and organizational management.

7. It could mean that most businesses have no idea the potential that is latent in the people who work for them. If this is true, then the emphasis on quality needs to be broaden to include these other factors.

8. If means that there are approaches to leadership and motivation that are largely unexplored.

9. It means that leadership is more than a role or a responsibility. It is a behavior and an experience based on shared values, healthy relationships and each person’s freedom to take initiative to make a difference that matters.

10. It means that the future of a business is found in creating a community of leaders.

Three simple goals that we all share. That’s all. Just three, and when they align with the mission of the company, and the structure allows for individual initiative, then an increasing number of employees will be able to say, “Working here is personally meaningful, socially fulfilling and gives me an opportunity  every day to make a difference that matters.” An excellent validation for all the hard work that is required to lead any business today.

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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