Cultivating Meaning and Joy in the Workplace

As a business leader, you set the example and tone for the culture you work and live in. You set vision and chart a compelling course for the future, aligning teams, inspiring commitment, and empowering others around you to act. You are creating a legacy, and your actions and behaviors speak louder than what you say.

But sometimes you sense that you’ve reached a plateau where the next growth steps become elusive. You can feel out of balance, like you’re not hitting on all cylinders. You might feel stuck. Or you may feel overwhelmed, juggling tasks as you manage complexity, all while maintaining a high need for insightful thinking and building relationships. You may even have some blind spots you’re unaware of, like rigid thinking or limiting beliefs or other obstacles holding you back.

Many struggle with scarcity of time and resources. We feel like we’re not getting enough sleep, and/or not getting enough done. We often work under intense time pressure deadlines with limited resource constraints. In addition, before entering the arena we cover up with heavy protective armor that we carry to protect ourselves from worst case scenarios, or to avoid shame, blame, and criticism. With too much to do, dealing with uncertainty, and being seen by others, we develop power stress.

We excel at solving problems that need to be fixed. We often succeed, but sometimes leaving a trail of dead bodies in our wake behind (physically exhausted, mentally drained, and emotionally demoralized individuals and team). In the heat of engaging the battle, we often treat our people like umpires. We boo them when they mess up, we easily see and flag the problems, but otherwise do not notice them at all while executing their tasks throughout the game. Our impact on others is substantial. Failing to acknowledge and nurture their hopes and aspirational dreams, or provide doses of empathic encouragement leads to poor morale, disengagement, and high turnover. If we manage people like they are automatic machines instead of leading them, they too will burn out.

Dr. Brené Brown shares some guidepost behaviors, actions, and choices we can make for wholehearted living in “The Gifts of Imperfection”. One of these guideposts is cultivating meaningful work and letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”. Another guidepost is cultivating gratitude and joy and letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark. So what are some options and solutions that we can identify, broaden and build upon for more meaning, fulfillment, gratitude, and joy in the workplace and our lives?

Cultivating Meaningful Work

We can find meaning in our internal motivation by choosing and declaring ourselves what is good enough each day, rather than requiring validation or approval from anyone else. What are the most important 3 or 4 things (not 50!) that you want to accomplish today? Maybe for you it isn’t about doing a specific task today, rather being more mindful in the present, self-aware, and awake to notice what unfolds. At any stage or season in life, it is important to make each and every day count. We choose what will be good enough each day. We look ourselves in the mirror at the end of the day, resting in knowing we gave it our best and left all we had on the playing field. No “coulda-woulda-shoulda” regrets.

We clarify and cultivate meaningful work by tapping into, being reminded, or refreshing the memory of what you love to do. How did you first discover your field? Was it a teacher or someone who said something, a book or other source you read or saw that awakened and provoked your interest? Success leaves important clues to what is meaningful. Look back at the ebb and flow of your professional life. Identify and reflect upon some of the peaks and difficult valleys that you’ve experienced on your journey. Our peak experiences impact us by providing fulfillment, and reveal skills you enjoy and want to continue to contribute. Our valley experiences impact us too, revealing strengths that enable us to grow through them, and providing learning, life lessons that shape our beliefs, values, or shift our world view perspective. What have you learned about yourself in adversity and difficult times? How are these life lessons serving you today?

What do you love to do now? Being clear about this and courageously sharing it with others does not diminish your executive presence, it enhances it and also shows your authenticity which attracts. What are 20 things you love about your job? Building and leading cohesive teams? Relationships with direct reports, developing future leaders, interacting with customers and clients? Creating vision, launching and growing new businesses? Planning and implementing strategy, improving processes and solving problems? The variety of activities? Autonomy in making decisions? Having my voice be heard? The culture? Being respected and appreciated? Living in my community?

Cultivating Gratitude and Joy

Brené Brown’s research on wholehearted living found there is one thing that separates joyful people from others. Joyful people actively practice gratitude. They keep their eye on the light. Simply being grateful, having an “attitude of gratitude” is good, but insufficient and doesn’t always translate to behavior. Actively practicing gratitude is doing gratitude, and actively practicing gratitude leads directly to joy.

Actively practicing gratitude is noticing excellence and catching people doing right! Being intentional about telling people who have made a difference in our lives what they’ve done and the impact they have had on our lives. Great leaders prioritize their relationships, build, strengthen and sustain them by noticing the value others bring, and are intentional in reaching out to acknowledge, thank, honor, and celebrate them.

It is a simple and straightforward process:

1. Think of a friend
2. Reflect about what that friend means to you
3. Email or call them, get them on the calendar
4. Look them in the eye AND TELL THEM

Throughout our busy day there are a lot of opportunities for moments to pause, stop and be grateful. For example, every time we stop at a red light in traffic, we can spend those moments impatiently fuming at ourselves for running late. We have other options and choices. How about reframing the situation by claiming those moments as an opportunity to count blessings or express thanks for someone or something you’re grateful for? How many red lights will you encounter the rest of your life?

How do you actively practice gratitude in the workplace, and in your life? What if you approach everything in your life in this way?

Who inspired you today? Who surprised you today? Who touched you today?

I love working with highly motivated people, discovering what makes them unique and successful, and enabling them to broaden and build on their strengths. I love being an empathic sounding board, strategic thought partner, and accountability partner who helps leaders like you achieve their goals, make positive changes that create fulfillment in their careers and lives, and, Iead well while living their personal and professional best.For me, nothing is more fulfilling in business and life than the value of emerging and enduring friendships. I know that cultivating high value relationships is a strategy that drives business value, leadership, and personal success.

Time and again, I’ve seen that authenticity is the key to inspirational leadership.

The potential for your greatest impact lies in wholehearted leadership, in your ability to inspire others to bring their whole selves to work. Great bosses do this with their willingness and ability to show up as themselves, drawing out the best in others by living their own lives with bold confidence, enthusiasm and zeal. When leaders set the example, enthusiasm cascades throughout the organization. It takes hard work and a lot of courage for both individuals and collective groups to create a safe environment culture and enable everyone to tell the truth. And that differentiates them from the competition!

The development challenge is letting ourselves be fully seen. Many of us have been living in a fortress of professionalism for years, if not decades, so being seen means dropping our heavy protective armor, showing up, taking risks, and being vulnerable.

We may need to start over by creating space to hold back the turbulent corporate whitewater (or working with a coach who provides a safe environment). We need to hose ourselves down to wash away the muck we’re covered with and have been rolling around in for far too long.

In order to model what leading and living well look like and invite others to do the same, you have to go all in. We must be willing to step out of our comfort zones, take some risks, let go of the reins and run unrestrained awhile. Be optimistic about the future, and also realize that you can’t plant a garden without getting in the dirt. As he surveyed an unblemished landscape covered with a fresh white blanket of new fallen snow, boy Calvin once told his best friend and stuffed tiger, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy . . . let’s go exploring!”

It is an honor for me to be called upon as a trusted resource during the ebbs, flows and challenges of executive life. But in the end, I want nothing more than to help leaders clarify, cultivate and liberate the greatness that already shines inside you.

To learn more about the guideposts for wholehearted living, read Brené Brown’s books Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection, or come experience them applied in leadership in my Daring Leadership™ retreat May 15-17, 2015, a highly experiential methodology based on the research of Brené Brown to help leaders learn how to show up, be seen, and live braver lives. For more information visit


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