Profound Leadership Thoughts – The meaning of “Meaning”
Meaning: Your Responsibility!
During a recent conversation with my colleague, Dean, a conversation had whilst driving through the beautiful Ascot in England, a thought was expressed to which Dean responded, “Keith, you really need to blog that thought”.
This then is the blog that captures that thought.
It is a simple thought but one that I believe is fundamental to finding meaning in life, or at least in our avocation – that which we do. It is something that we all need to engage with, regardless of our role and responsibility in the organisation or business in which we serve.
Dan Pink in his book Drive, explores the science of human motivation. He makes a compelling case for the need to employ intrinsic motivators for the definitive tasks of the 21 Century rather than the more usual extrinsic motivators, which he describes as ‘carrots and sticks’. Intrinsic motivators he articulates as, autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Pink describes ‘purpose’ as the understanding that we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves; another way of perhaps understanding purpose would be to describe it as ‘meaning’. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor wrote his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaningin which he argues the fundamental need is for people to have a sense of meaning in their life. Frankl’s book is a ‘must read’ – at least it is on my list of books that every leader should read.
So then, what was this ‘must blog’ idea on meaning?
It is that meaning is not to be found in what we do, but is rather, something we bring to that which we do.
If meaning is to be found in what we do then for the majority of jobs and occupations would seemingly be ‘without meaning’? For those involved in saving the world, saving the rhino, feeding the orphans or restoring sight, it is not difficult to find meaning in what they do. But what then for those who pack boxes, clean-up, sort, file and do any number of tasks that might seem ‘meaningless’ when viewed in isolation?
Meaning is brought to work not found in work. Meaning is your responsibility. It is something that comes from within. It is a little like happiness in the sense that when we understand this, the agenda changes. Of course meaning can be found in work but then what if we no longer get to continue with that work? No, meaning is our responsibility and understanding it as such changes everything.
Of course this thought implies a journey, an inner journey, one that if you are willing to make, will yield rich dividends. It is a journey that has to be explored personally and although there can and should be help along the way, it is always an intensely personal journey.
So let me not clutter this thought with more words. Meaning is something we bring to that which we do.
That’s the thought. It is a thought that begs a question: So what meaning do you bring to work? Careful how you answer that!