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How Work Can Fulfill Our Deeper Longings

How often do you get up in the morning and decide how you’d like your day to go? If you’ve made a habit of being that intentional about your day, your next meeting, or the task you’re about to engage in—high-five yourself—because it’s all too rare.

For many of us, we easily fall into the habit of entering life like the ball in a pinball game. The momentum of the day casts us about, bouncing us off from the metaphorical bumpers we encounter along the way.

When we decide to step into a Thriving state of mind, however, we become more intentional; we clearly decide how we’d like things to go; we get clear on what we want and what we long for. Ultimately, while a core aspect of the Thriving approach is about getting the results you want, we also like to approach this quest in a very novel way.

For example, traditional achievement strategies are sometimes summed up in the phrase “the end justifies the means.” In other words, we might be clear about our ultimate, tangible aim, but we lose sight of our deeper values; we forget about our impact on others and the unintended consequences of our actions. When this occurs, we may get the specific result we aimed for, but we may also injure those involved in your project and, ultimately, do more harm than good.

At a recent entrepreneurial summit the other day an investment advisor recounted a prior business “success” where he and his three partners were totally stressed out. “We all came down with shingles!” he said. There were plenty of nods in the room. The investment advisors were certainly not the only high achievers in the room who had endangered their health, in order to succeed.

In our consulting and coaching practice and in our book, Thriving in Business and Life, we suggest there’s another way—a better way—that can get us the results we want without that kind of dangerous sacrifice.

This involves a fundamental shift in thinking. It starts with reversing that familiar phrase to this Thriving alternative: “the means determine the end.” This emphasizes the importance of how you achieve your results. With this thriving mindset you aren’t solely focused on a product launch, a successful advertising campaign, or the bottom line,” but also on the way you go about achieving those goals.

For hard-charging leaders, the question of motivation often arises. If we don’t focus on the bottom-line results we want and if we don’t motivate our team with performance bonuses, how do we keep them engaged when the going gets rough?

Notice the all-or-nothing thinking?

We’re not suggesting that it’s not important to be very clear on the outcome you want and to provide incentives that actually motivate people to hang in there when it’s difficult. What we are suggesting is that rewarding people for how they go about achieving success is equally important.


Because focusing on the “how” enables us to build team rapport, to better mine our group intelligence, and to be aware of actions that could cause unintended harm that could cost us in ways we otherwise would never anticipate.

Hand-in-hand with paying attention to how we accomplish a goal, is another important aspect of intrinsic motivation—the “why.” In other words, why are we working so hard? What’s the ultimate benefit or value that’s being created by our work? What are gaining from the actual experience of working on this together?

This realization often invites people to tap into their deeper values and their desire to be involved with something bigger than themselves (which research indicates is one of the longer-lasting, more powerful motivators we can tap into for ourselves and others).

Author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, presents a fascinating perspective on motivation. He writes, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Here’s the special skill that Thriving leaders develop . . . the ability to inspire with vision. They communicate the real rewards we want, which are never just physical but include the experience— especially the emotional experience—that achieving that result will give us.

In Saint-Exupery’s quote, the achieved result wasn’t just a ship but the experience that being in a ship would create: enjoying “the endless immensity of the sea.” When we can help our team members engage with a vision that way so they can truly feel the value of what we are creating together, this provides a very different kind of motivation, powerful enough to keep us focused no matter what obstacles arise.

Your Thriving Breakthrough opportunity for the week:

Choose some project you are working on with colleagues.

Ask yourself: “What is the physical result we want?”

Then ask, “What experience will achieving this result give us?”

Finally, contemplate how you might communicate this vision,

motivating others (and yourself) to create an effective, enjoyable process

that will propel you towards success,

without the stress that traditional bottom line thinking can bring.

Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding

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