How can a simple gesture give work more purpose?

1. Send a note: This past week I received two thank you notes from clients – one from a leadership coaching client thanking me for “never giving up and helping me get back on track”, and the other saying thank you for our organizational work across a range of multi-level leadership journeys: “our partnership has never been closer”.

I’ve smiled about those messages for days. I’ve felt the energy they’ve given me; a clear sense that what I do matters and that all the work and thinking, project management and execution is worthwhile.

And that got me thinking about the big, hairy topic of PURPOSE.

Many organisations and leaders I talk wrestle with how to make sure their people have a sense of purpose. And this anxiety has been heightened by the ‘great resignation’: people are recalibrating the value of time vs money, questioning their position in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, rebalancing what they want from life and work…

2. Keep it simple: Thank people frequently for being reliable, for being good team players, for effort, consistency, collaboration or kindness. A few years ago, working with Professor David Cannon at London Business School, I was struck by his description of ‘hot passion’ versus ‘cool passion’ in leadership. He challenged the orthodoxy that leaders are charismatic individuals driven to change the face of an industry and inspiring everyone else with that vision. He pointed out to the leaders our workshop that not every job or sector is (or should be) about some seismic shift in how we live our lives. And he reassured them that for most people, most of the time, it’s enough to know that what they do is creating security for families (their own and others’). And if a leader can add to that a bonded and engaged team environment, some ways to help people learn and grow, and the power of noticing individual strengths and contributions – the result is powerful. It’s a way to offer a sense of contribution and fulfilment to the individuals in the team we lead. I think that’s a pretty good sense of purpose.

3. Show people the point: I remember a financial sector company that we supported took up our suggestion to regularly invite end-user clients in to speak with middle office and operational staff. They’d talk about how loans or funds had been used, so that the ops teams could see what their administrative endeavours enabled: chocolate manufacturing, R&D on medical devices, and precision engineering for racing cars were a few memorable highlights.

Essentially, the clients simply – and kindly – took the time to come and say ‘thank you’ to the often overlooked ‘cogs’ in the middle of the big business machine.  The effect on the staff was visible, immediate and lasting – just like my thank you messages.

I celebrate and admire those business leaders who bring hot passion and a world-changing positive purpose. And I invite the rest of us to make a positive and purposeful impact with a regular dose of gratitude. A clear, specific and sincere “thank you” remains the simplest and most effective way to connect individuals to a vital sense of daily purpose.

If you’d like to talk to us about this blog or any other aspect of developing high performance people through leadership development journeys, coaching or Theatre-Led Learning, you can reach us here on Linkedin, on +852 3481 3473 or through [email protected]

Sally Dellow

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