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Posted by on Aug 13, 2013 in Culture, Featured, Leadership | 6 comments

9 Leadership Essentials to Cause Meaningful Work


I’ve written about the characteristics of meaningful work. But what are its catalysts? It’s one thing to know what this type of work looks like. Its creation, however, something altogether different.

Creating a culture where meaningful work occurs is a shared responsibility between managers and employees. Employees must be willing to see that the workplace can be a source of meaning to their lives. Additionally, employees must be willing to contribute to the possibility of meaningful work. However, it is the manager’s first move to create an environment where meaningful work can emerge if it is to take hold across a team.

Before we look at what creates meaningful work, let’s first look at its definition.

It’s a belief that work has significance in a larger context and its meaning is understood and believed by those doing the activities.

Meaningful work stirs up internal satisfaction through doing the work and releasing it for others to benefit and experience.

While meaningful work is experienced at an individual level, its power is fully unleashed when it’s a characteristic of workplace or team culture.

So, then, what do leaders need to do to cause meaningful work? Here are nine essentials.

Clarity in Your Values

Know what you stand for to anchor your leadership. Creating meaningful work will challenge your colleagues. Consequently, some will vocally share their resistance with you and your actions.

Culture of Optimism

The work environment needs to lead employees to believe that great results are possible through their contributions – individually and collectively. Additionally, employees are inspired by the good works of others and by their own output.

Concentration on People

A leader must believe that employees are the cornerstone to a business’s success. Leadership actions and decisions essential for meaning are made from this central belief.

Connection Among Employees

Meaning expands when people have a sense of belonging. Brené Brown advocates that people need to believe they can be themselves and not worry about fitting in. When connections exist among employees, belonging can emerge.

Constancy in Purpose

Leadership 101 always asks us to paint a picture of where we need to take the team. Purpose helps paint such a picture.

Creative Conflict

Deeper meaning emerges when there is conflict between what we believe and do, and with different beliefs and approaches presented by others.

Charisma for Learning

Meaning thrives on insight and awareness. These two criteria are only possible when we stay in a continuous learning loop. Diversity in work assignments also results in meaningful work.

Courage to Care

Address half-ass work and missed deadlines. Celebrate milestones. Give just-because recognition. Have the courage to show you care about people and quality results – consistently.

Continuous Progress

Work that results in little or no progress frustrates, infuriates, alienates, and decimates meaning and hope. People must see progress and alignment with the purpose you communicate. Without progress, meaning wanes.

This list presents a major leadership challenge. The weak leader will choose to procrastinate in creating a culture where meaningful work abounds. However, given the abysmal state of the workplace, it’s a choice that cannot be overlooked if a thriving culture is important to producing results and keeping talented people from leaving your team.

Photo courtesy of Doris Hausen

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Shawn Murphy

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and Co-CEO of ExchangeGain. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post.

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  • Alan Kay

    Great perspective / insights / list. I particularly like Creative Conflict which moves people beyond unproductive debate about who’s right towards dialogue that allows diverse opinions and innovation.

    • Shawn Murphy

      Alan, Creative Conflict is one that I’m engaged in quite a bit. Working on projects with brilliant people who have respect for others’ ideas helps make the conditions for conflict possible. Brilliant people isn’t a requisite for it, however. Curiosity is a must, however.

  • Christopher Hayes

    A great list, thank you for sharing. Would be nice to see leaders to abide by some or even better, all of these. Often it’s far too command and control, Which stifles creativity, diverse debate, and lack of engagement.

    • Shawn Murphy

      Hi Christopher, I agree that we need to see more of this. It’s an emerging topic that is gaining traction. I can only be optimistic that more managers will take on the responsibility to create an environment for meaning to emerge. Ultimately it’s up to the employee to act on the opportunities for making meaning.

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  • Maria

    Shawn, great insights from this blog, appreciate your sharing with us. Creative conflict this is an interesting subject to me, because during my experience I actually encourage this at some point, however you will be surprise how many other managers or leaders I worked in the past look at this so negative. Even to the point of labeling people as not being team players. Glad to learn your point of view on this. Connection among employees is another big one I see often, and I can’t understand why so many fail to realized this is a good thing, but sometimes I think the problem lies on one definition of who we are, for example I think many leaders don’t see themselves as leaders, they see them selves as managers, to me this makes the big difference between lead and manage. Thanks very much for this interesting and instructive post! Great job

    • Shawn Murphy

      Thanks, Maria. It’s a topic important to me professionally and to help others learn about the importance of meaningful work.

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