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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Oct 16, 2020


Motivational speakers encourage us to find our purpose in life - our why. But leaders are better off focusing on creating meaningful work.



Hello and welcome to episode 99 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we explore how to create meaningful work.

Motivational speakers often encourage us to find our purpose in life - our why. If we know why we do what we do, then the things we do become more important and meaningful. 

Thankfully, as leaders, we don’t need to help our people to uncover their purpose in life. We do, however, have a significant role to play in creating meaningful work. While meaningful work isn’t quite the same as a life purpose, it is still a significant part of a meaningful life for many.

Reseach which I’ve included in the show notes demonstrates that meaningful work links strongly to work engagement, commitment and job satisfaction. In addition there are weaker links to life satisfaction, life meaning, general health and intentions to stay at a workplace.

If I provide meaningful work, I’m providing significance. There’s an appreciation that the work really matters.

Now, clearly, there are some parts of our work that aren’t wrapped up in deeper meaning. Thankfully research shows that our sense of meaning in work is made up of the various episodes and elements of our work. As humans, we effectively weigh up the various parts to determine, on balance, whether our work has meaning. In fact, the overall sense of meaning makes the meaningless activities tolerable. I will put up with the meaningless parts of my work if the meaning bank account balance is in credit.

To build meaning we can help our people to answer these questions about their work: Why does it matter? What does it contribute to? How does it contribute? 

Five whys is great technique to use to explore meaningful work. We covered it in more detail in episode 20. It helps us to take our focus further up the meaning chain. Let me share an example.

I used to manage a team, and part of their role was packing boxes with materials that would be used on leadership programs - all the handouts, materials and everything else that would be needed on that program. They would then send the box to the venue. Now, that job sounds pretty boring and devoid of meaning. So it prompts me to ask five ‘why’ questions. Packing boxes with materials - why does that matter?

Packing the boxes allows consultants to run leadership programs. That’s okay, but why does that matter?

These leadership programs help increase leadership capability for thousands of leaders. Why does that matter?

As those thousands of leaders improve their leadership, it also improves the work lives of tens of thousands of other people. And why does that matter?

That increased satisfaction multiplies out to all of their connections, to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Okay - now maybe that was one step too far, and perhaps we didn’t need the full five whys. But hopefully you can see how using the five whys can help us to create meaningful work for our people. Try it out this week and let me know how you go.

Thanks again to Lauren Staveley, our research assistant, who tracked down the research for today’s episode. As a reminder, we are still offering a free 30 day trial of our Leadership Today On-Demand service. It includes two online courses, together with recorded webinars, and quick hits on a range of leadership topics. Just go to the website and follow the on-demand link.

Have a great week.



Blake A. Allan, Cassondra Batz-Barbarich, Haley M. Sterling and Louis Tay. Outcomes of Meaningful Work: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Management Studies 56:3 May 2019