March 8, 2023 posted in Business
“Truly inspiring, transformative leadership requires the wisdom to understand that the overarching role of business is to serve people. To give them what they need to do their jobs and smooth the edges of their days. To bring them joy. To relieve their suffering. To give them the essential tools and hope that will empower them to step into the best versions of themselves. To ease their loneliness and isolation.” Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40.
These profound words come from Ridge’s essay in the book Work is Love Made Visible, a collection of essays about work, leadership, and purpose. There are few books I have highlighted more than this one. The title—Work is Love Made Visible—comes from a quote by Kahlil Gibran, who wrote about the importance of working with joy and love. I suggest this book as required reading for anyone interested in how their role impacts work, organizations, and society.
By serving people, Ridge does not differentiate between employees and customers or society at large. What if we started the day with Ridge’s mission in our head, “What can I do today to serve people?” I believe this one question can affect how we think about our jobs and how we approach our role in our companies, families, and communities. Ridge does not differentiate the kinds of work leaders do either. Regardless of the type of work, corporate, non-profit, government, or volunteer as a leader, if you value being of service to others—some call this servant leadership—you will find greater joy in your work. Those you serve will be inspired to be of service also.
I found another impactful approach to work in Organizational Life Cycles by Ichak Adizes. I first read this book several years ago, and I keep coming back to it to assess how I am leading Austin. Adizes theorizes that there are four stages to an organizational life cycle: startup, growth, maturity, and decline. He explains that the startup and growth phases are energized by the ultimate mission of serving people in some way or another. Maturity occurs when the organization has been stabilized by its structure, processes, policies, and procedures to enable proper governance and effective utilization of resources. Decline is the result of an organization existing to serve itself. Its purpose is more about sustaining its bureaucracy than serving the people it was created to serve.
For Adizes, serving people is what defines great organizations and effective leadership. To avoid decline, he suggests organizations create a rebirth that reconnects the organization with its original purpose or a renewed one. When the organization embraces the change required to reignite the passion that fueled the growth phase, it can rekindle its excitement about the future.
I have also been listening to The Way I Heard It, a podcast by Mike Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy. Rowe is a champion for the joy of work and the feeling of self-satisfaction that comes from a day of hard work. His podcasts are both entertaining and enlightening. He has hour-long interviews with people ranging from his mother, Peggy Rowe, who became a New York Times best-selling author for the first time in her late 70s, to an interview with a guy who scuba dives in the frozen Bering Sea to mine for gold. Whether it Is a Dirty Jobs segment or the exploration of the source of an innovation or impactful research, Rowe continually explores why work is important beyond the monetary benefits.
The common thread through these pieces of content is that work should be rewarding psychologically, mentally, and emotionally. When organizations mature, they tend to become bureaucratic. This is the point at which the “why” of the organization changes from its original purpose of serving people to serving its own existence. And, it is when leaders of people devolve into managers of structure. For those who derive joy from fulfilling the purpose of their work and serving people and not just the organization, this can become demoralizing.
There is a direct connection between leadership and the ability of an organization to truly serve the people in its sphere. The challenge is to make a connection that is sustainable and grows. Effective leaders do not exert power over people. Rather, they empower people to serve those in their sphere in the most authentic way.
This is fine, but how do you avoid the decline that Adizes predicts in his model? How do you create the environment Ridge envisions and foster the contentment Rowe reveals? How do you avoid stagnation, complacency, and bureaucracy? The answer lies in staying connected to the people you are there to serve.
If a company’s values truly represent the organization, and you—the leader— stay true to those values, you will see those values everywhere you turn.
In closing, I challenge you to be open and humble enough to consider your role and impact on those you serve and manifest an environment where your work fosters satisfaction, joy, and accomplishment. Lead so people find joy in their work and you just.may discover this is where your own joy is found.
Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power, but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those who are led. The most essential work of a leader is to create more leaders.
Mary Parker Follett
Your first and foremost job as a leader is to take charge of your own energy and then help to orchestrate the energy of those around you.
Our most valuable currency is relationship, emotional capital, without which we have nothing
and accomplish nothing.
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