We live in a world in which the vast majority of people are simply tolerating their jobs and we think it’s normal for things to be that way. Very few people are excited about going to work, something that holds true regardless of industry or place on the organizational chart. Although there are some solid statistics that show this is the case, you don’t have to look further than the people around you or your friends—or even in the mirror—to know that most of us aren’t celebrating the opportunity to go to work and participate in making a meaningful contributions to our teams and clients while growing and feeling recognized and rewarded. While there are definitely external causes involved in this epidemic of workplace disillusionment, more often than not, the responsibility for transforming our workplace experience remains solely in our control, despite our belief to the contrary.
We all know that there are some people who feel great about their work, but we rarely know the true reasons why this is the case. Most of the time, we assume that either their job must be fantastic, or that they are just one of “those people” who have the magical ability to always be happy. I hope I don’t need to say it, but both of those excuses are clearly nonsense; nothing good happens by accident, and this is no different. People who are happy and satisfied at work didn’t just “get lucky,” they are doing something the rest of us are not. But behind these excuses, there is a genuine confusion and puzzlement about why they happy at work, but others, including ourselves, can’t. Wouldn’t it be nice if the percentage of people who were satisfied and fully engaged with their work were closer to 100% than the 20-30% that it stands at today? Can you imagine the benefits? The impact on people’s personal lives, their health, the level of success and prosperity they would experience? Wouldn’t it be nice to know the secret for yourself? I can’t promise to reveal the “one thing” that will change it all, but I can tell you that the answer is simpler than you think.
Why is it that more workplaces haven’t made more progress in improving their culture and morale, and why are they still tolerating the mediocre results that their current unhealthy culture produces? I believe it’s because everybody within the organization is waiting for somebody else to make it happen! Hardly any of us, including executives and managers, have had training in organizational effectiveness, so we hardly even know where to begin. The majority of us are only looking at our situation through the lens of our own experiences and whatever common sense we can use to come up with solutions. This approach may work at first, or in a narrow set of circumstances, but eventually we hit a wall. As a result, we get overwhelmed by the thought of all the moving parts that have to come together to sustainably improve the culture and results at our workplace.
Even when we make a few disjointed attempts to influence certain factors that we can control, we get disappointed and give up at the thought of all the elements outside of our control, and we let ourselves off the hook. We end up settling for the status quo and, eventually, even take pleasure in complaining about our dissatisfaction to those who are willing to commiserate with us! Instead of ultimately taking responsibility for transforming our workplace experience, we decide that it is someone else’s job and we place ourselves at the mercy of those who know just as little, or less, than we do about how to achieve it.
In the absence of a guide or some concerted effort to change the culture at your workplace, there is one thing you can do to completely transform your experience of workplace, even if nothing else changes around you. This one thing is guaranteed to work and you can implement it in a nano-second. The toughest part is the decision to actually give it a shot. That one thing is this: decide to focus on giving instead of receiving! It is extremely simple and yet it goes against our instincts, especially in situations that are less than ideal, and most of us will either not try it or talk ourselves out of it at the first sign that it may not work. This is the modus operandi of servant leaders, and this is why it is so powerful, and sometimes difficult, to adopt the mindset and behaviors of a servant leader.
Assuming you’re still interested in what seems like a solution that’s too simple to work, let me unpack this further. Isn’t it fair to say that the first and most important step in improving your workplace experience is to eliminate the things that you are dissatisfied with? If so, we should look into what it is that’s robbing you of your joy at work. Perhaps you have a difficult boss or unsupportive peers. Maybe you don’t think you’re making enough money. Maybe you got passed over for a promotion you deserved. You may not be getting the information or the resources you need to adequately do your job. We can go on and on, but I think these few items are fairly typical of the things we are dissatisfied with at work. If you look more closely at these items, you’ll see that unless your dissatisfaction stems from you being in the wrong line of work altogether or having to endure extreme abuse in the workplace, most of these items have one common root cause and that is your unmet expectations. In other words: you want something that you’re not getting, and the same is likely true of your “difficult” boss and “unsupportive” peers.
Can you see that shifting your focus from receiving to giving could make a huge difference for you? What if you showed up to work everyday looking for ways to be of service to your boss, your peers, your clients, and others? Do you think there would be a shortage of people who could use your help? I don’t think so. At least in all the years that I have coached people, I have never had anybody complain that there just aren’t enough people that I can help and serve! More importantly, don’t you think that helping meet the unmet expectations of your bosses and peers might generate a significant amount of goodwill for yourself and others as well? When people receive something beneficial, it is only natural that they would want to reciprocate. Can you see how adopting a mindset of generosity could start a cascade of boosted morale and satisfaction at work if everyone started paying it forward?
One way this works, even in the absence of any results, is because you are in the center of all of your problems. It is all about you. If you remove yourself and your needs and expectations and focus on a goal greater that yourself, most of your problems disappear from your experience. When you adopt the Transformative Leader’s mindset of “I am the One, and it’s not about me,” then even though your problems are still “there,” you don’t experience them as such because they seem insignificant in comparison to your commitment to a greater cause.
You may have already talked yourself out of trying this, as it may seem a bit too “kumbaya,” but before you completely write it off, hang in there for a few more minutes. All I’m asking for is a 5-day test. What have you got to lose? If you don’t see any change in your level of satisfaction, you can go back to complaining around the water cooler anytime. I know from personal experience, that these “soft skills,” these small shifts in language and behavior, more than anything, are what drives a culture to deliver unprecedented fulfillment for employees and extraordinary results for an organization.
The objections you may be thinking about may have to do with the fear that others will take advantage of you and you will be an even bigger sucker if you just aim to please others. All I have to say is that, first of all, focusing on serving and helping others lines up with your true nature and by acting according to that nature, you will bring out the best part out in yourself and others. Secondly, I know from my own experience on countless occasions that this approach is much more disarming and effective than any other in causing others to want to cooperate and support you. Is it possible that some people will take advantage of your giving spirit? Yes. Is it possible that it may take some people longer than others to come around and change their ways? Of course. But the reward in this case is absolutely worth whatever minor risks there may be.
You may also be thinking, "What if I take this on and others don't? Guess what? They are thinking the same thing! Everybody is waiting for someone else to go first. Be the one that role models the willingness to go first. That's what leaders do. The icing on the cake and the bonus effect will be that as more people come around to taking the same approach, you will end up influencing the culture to embrace a giving spirit. Soon it becomes clear that everybody gets more if everybody focuses on giving more, and what ends up happening is that those who refuse to embrace the same mindset find themselves isolated and uncomfortable. They will find that they don’t belong and will either jump on the bandwagon or leave. Ultimately, if you keep at it, your seemingly trivial decision to embrace a giving spirit could be the thing that ends up transforming the culture of your entire organization.
Will you give this a try for the next five days? I’d love to hear about your experience, one way or another, in the comments below. Until next time, may you boldly declare, courageously pursue, and abundantly achieve the Extraordinary!
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About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.
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As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!
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