You know that feeling when you nail a project or presentation? Or when you land a big deal? Or when someone tells you how great a job you did or how much they love working with you? You know that feeling when you see the impact of your work on others? I bet you do, and it feels damn good. It feels good because work is personal.
Our identity and feelings of self-worth, as well as our health and life outcomes, are deeply tied to our work. It’s why I’ve always had a tendency to work too much (I love what I do!) and why in her late 70s, my mother is still running a company that she and my dad built, even though most of their peers are retiring. We get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from making a contribution. We want to make a difference. We want to be of service. And we want—and need—to provide for the people we love. There’s nothing more personal than that.
It is all connected—our identity to our sense of belonging; our job to our self-worth; us to our colleagues, our bosses, and the people we lead. Our work matters, and so do our relationships at work. So, I have an idea for us to explore.
What would it look like to lean into making work even more personal? It might go something like this:
We start to really get to know each other. It can take just a few minutes to build a stronger connection. Asking someone how they’re doing. Inviting colleagues to chat about something good that happened this week or over the weekend. Watch the impact it has on them and on your relationship. And yes, this has everything to do with work. Relationships are the foundation for trust and strong collaboration, which improve performance, motivation, engagement, innovation, and results.
Find the humanity in others, especially when they make it challenging to do so. These individuals are likely already coming to mind for you. We’ve all worked with people who are really difficult, can bully, and/or be ego-driven. Breathe. Say something kind to yourself, and remember there is a whole story, a life’s worth of stories, that are contributing to the way that person is showing up in the world. When you are ready, consider forgiving them (think this in your own mind) because forgiveness improves our health, lowers the risk of having a heart attack, improves our sleep, and reduces anxiety, depression, and stress. Or as Nelson Mandela put it, “Forgiveness liberates the soul, that’s why it is such a powerful weapon.”
Find humanity in ourselves. We’re often our own worst critics. If you’re anything like me—a recovering workaholic—we never think we’ve done enough. We’re very tough on ourselves, and at times, these high expectations of ourselves translate to how we lead. As a result, we exhaust ourselves as well as the people around us. The opportunity: take a pause. Even if your pause is minutes, that counts. Find what soothes you and know that doing it role models Leading Human to the people you lead. And try to do equal parts pushing for more, while also talking about and celebrating the wins, including the small ones. They count more than you know.
Make the “why” personal. Help your team define the why for themselves at work. Why do they do what they do? Why is it meaningful to them? Why does it make them feel proud? I’m not saying throw out your company mission and vision statement. I’m saying let individuals find their connection to their work, to their job. This can be a very powerful part of a team session. I have done this with leaders, and it can bring people to tears (in a good way!).
Uplift others. There’s nothing better than seeing the positive impact you’ve had on someone’s life and career. Right? Whether it’s inspiring them to learn something new, or helping them think through a challenge, be there for others. When we uplift others, it uplifts us, and it raises the performance and potential of the entire organization. All ships rise. We can keep competing with each other at work, or we can remember that the stronger our colleagues’ and team members’ performance, the stronger the results, which leads to more for everyone. Scarcity Thinking is poisonous. Abundance Thinking—the mindset and approach that there is enough for all of us—is the antidote to toxicity at work.