We spend so much time in our physical surroundings, so why shouldn’t they inspire joy? From the home to the office and everywhere in between, the way things look can really affect how we feel.
In January 2020, none of us could have imagined that the idea of simply “going to the office” would mean something else entirely. For many of us, the office is now a place in our home, and we’ve navigated new challenges daily to perform at our best in a new environment.
But Dan Cable, the guest for our season premiere, says this new idea of the workplace has some lessons we can learn about unlocking more purpose in our work. Dan is a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, and he’s the author of several books, including “Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do” and his newest book, “Exceptional: Build Your Personal Highlight Reel and Unlock Your Potential.” He joined Alex Liu on Joy@Work to discuss the neuroscience of purpose, the skills leaders need now, and how a single act of personal kindness can help us build more confidence in ourselves.
Customizing the leadership relationship
Working from home has upended many people’s relationships with traditional work hours. Many have found new work routines as they juggle professional and personal responsibilities. “Work almost starts to feel more entrepreneurial when you’re able to do it at your own pace,” Dan says. “It’s working better for a lot of people.”
But even though working from home allows for personalization of our schedules, it also creates new kinds of stress—namely, loneliness. To help people manage the new normal, Dan recommends that leaders customize their relationship with each of their employees. “More than ever right now, leaders have to be really in tune with where each of their people is—mentally, emotionally, and even psychologically—in a way that we maybe weren’t demanding six months ago,” he says. He recommends that leaders check in with their employees regularly, asking how they are doing and what support they need.
The power and science of purpose
Another way to customize the leadership relationship is to personalize purpose for your team members, a topic Dan recently wrote about in the Harvard Business Review. Purpose, Dan says, is a powerful tool to bring joy to people’s work. But it has to be cultivated.
To do this, Dan recommends emphasizing the power your team’s work has on others. Ask your team members not just who your customers are, but who your customers’ customers are. “That’s a form of personal connectivity,” he explains. “[Your customers’ customers] might be outside the company, but they are human beings that are affected by what you do all day long.”
Personalizing purpose, though, is more than just emotional. It’s also biological. “Mammals are innately interested in cause and effect in the environment,” he explains. “When we have a sense of purpose—like why I do what I do—we’re more resilient,” Dan says.
The Point Positive process
Purpose is only part of the equation. Positivity can also bring people a greater sense of purpose and meaning, specifically through an exercise Dan calls Point Positive.
“Get people to tell you what they appreciate about you at your best,” Dan explains. “It’s almost like hearing your eulogy while you’re still alive.”
And though the exercise is simple, it delivers significant impact. Dan has seen in his own research that those who get these “highlight reels” have much more confidence. They’re willing to share their ideas in group settings, even when their thinking might not align with the group’s. “It empowers them to bring their unique best to the team,” Dan says. “It lets teams innovate.”
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