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Become the architect of their vision

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Leaders can develop tunnel vision about performance, so it’s important not to lose sight of your role in conveying the meaning of your organization.

Here’s how your job helps people make sense of their own jobs beyond their paychecks:
  • Leaders decide how to structure the organization, arrange jobs and divide the labor and responsibilities to carry out its mission.

  • Leaders give shape to the mission through stories, symbols, rituals and other high-profile activities.

In other words, your job is to act as both architect and visionary.

Two ideas on how to do that:
  1. Develop a set of morally sustaining ideals. Examples: a drug company eliminating cancer, a music company spreading joy, an airline offering everybody the chance to travel, and a textbook company eradicating illiteracy.

    Such ideals give life to work. Although they’re never fully realized, they provide important goals to strive for.

    Ask yourself: Does each person’s job fit his or her self-identity and aspirations?

  2. Build community. When people’s work gives them an acute sense of awareness about the people with whom they share a mission, a journey and even the same fate, that gives the work extra meaning.

If those ideas seem “soft,” consider what happens when leaders focus only on performance and the bottom line. Without meaningful work, folks tend to think of themselves only as “employees.” They become rigid or shallow and the life of the organization seems petty.

On the flip side, a workplace driven by meaning can enjoy a long-term competitive advantage. While meaning-making is not strictly required, it does provide a powerful opportunity for leadership and may contribute to the long-term health of your organization. Try it.

— Adapted from “How to Put Meaning Back Into Leading,” Martha Lagace, HBS Working Knowledge, http://hbswk.hbs.edu.

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