|by Nick Charney|
Understanding how you derive meaning from your work is incredibly important. But that understanding only comes with experience, or more rightly experiences — breadth, depth, variability, trial, error.
It takes both successes and failures.
Exposure. Reflection. Self awareness. Vulnerability. Honesty, with yourself but also with others.
Understanding what brings you meaning in a visceral way — which is to say when you feel it in your bones — can be an incredibly empowering experience. It can help you dial in your career, cut the noise, and focus on what is driving you in the service of a larger mission.
It can also be frustrating.
If you aren't deriving enough meaning from your work, you start to wander, get distracted, and lose sight of of how your work connects with those around you.
The easy part -- what I find meaningful.
Personally, I derive my meaning from — and forgive me if you've heard me pronounce on this before (i.e. See: Innovation is Tricky, Literally and/or Finding Innovation, and/or Book Review: Lewis Hyde's Trickster Makes the World.) — from being a 'trickster', from being the conduit between different groups of people, introducing new ideas, translating knowledge between them, and bringing new ideas to life.
It's why I'm fullest when I'm meeting directly with stakeholders, briefing senior management, helping public servants scheme virtuously, or mixing it up with my team during times of personal and professional growth.
In short, I thrive in environments that are high volume and high velocity, in the collision prone spaces where new ideas and relationships flourish.
The hard part -- shaping meaningful experiences for others.
I've been thinking about the role of meaning not only in my own personal context but also in the context of managing a team. I feel as though — and views may vary — that as a manager I am responsible not only for not only finding meaning in my own work but also helping my team find meaning in theirs.
This latter part is complicated. What if what drives your team isn't what drives you? What if team members differ significantly when it comes to what they determine is meaningful? How do you steer work in a way that maximizes meaning and employee engagement on a daily basis?
Some incomplete thoughts.
First, you need to accept that shaping meaningful experiences for your team is a part of your role. Some managers would argue its not their job to worry about such things but I disagree, understanding that this is no small feat, that it takes work, and can often be resource intensive.
Second, you need to recognize that your ability to actually deliver on this part of your role is often severely limited. At best managers can help shape what people find to be meaningful experiences.
Third, you have to engage in explicit conversations about meaning and motivation with individual team members and reconcile the needs of each individual team member with the overall needs of the team. Again, no easy task, and honestly something I could be much better at.
I want to talk with more managers struggling with this issue because I'm not sure its something organizations are taking very seriously at the institutional level, that is to say helping employees understand and find meaning in their work might not be a widespread management practice.
As always, if you are interested in discussing these issues, please let me know.