As someone who studies human motivation, here’s what I have observed, when people talk about striving for a bonus, or driving company earnings, they tend to look eager, and frankly quite stressed.
Yet when people talk about making a difference to their team, students, customer, or constituents, they beam with pride. Their whole face lights up, they smile
The difference between these two experiences is startling. Try it yourself. Think about hitting your target for the year or quarter, where does you mind go?
Imagine you hit it; you made the number. Do you feel excited to do more or simply relieved that you’re done? What if you didn’t hit it? How excited are you to start another year?
Now think about improving the life of a colleague or customer. How do you feel when you accomplish that goal? It’s a completely different experience. If you’re like most people, you don’t feel exhausted, you feel inspired. You’re more energized, rather than less.
Funny isn’t it? Having an impact on others energizes us in a way that achieving our own ends doesn’t.
There’s nothing wrong with being eager to make money. Trust me, we set financial goals for our team, and we’re very driven to hit them.
But what do you do after you after hit your target? In most organizations, you keep moving the number up ever year. After a certain point, even the most motivated person grows weary, of endlessly chasing a dollar.
Taking pride in your work is different. When you’re proud of the impact your work has on others, you experience more satisfaction along the way. When you’re engaged in a cause bigger than yourself, your pride becomes a self-sustaining force. It motivates you to do more. Looking out across another year feels like a great opportunity to have a bigger impact, rather than simply another cycle of rushing towards a number. Said another way, eagerness has an end point; pride does not.
In my work with senior leaders I consistently notice, when leaders focus exclusively on earnings and stock price, they rarely smile. Conversely, leaders who have a sense of higher purpose almost always smile; they have a kick in their step. Now I’ll be even more blunt, in my experience, the CEO’s trying to drive stock price are usually looking toward their exit strategy, they want a way out of the business. CEO’s working for a larger purpose are playing a different game, they’re excited to be in the business. It’s no surprise to me that purpose-driven CEO’s I meet are happier and more well-liked than CEO’s who focus on earnings.
People with purpose in their work are proud of what they do. They talk to their friends and family about their jobs. They’re excited to tell strangers about their company. People with purpose tell their kids what they do for a living. Their job is part of who they are, and they like it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud that I’ve been able to make money to provide for my family, and it’s fun to have money to do interesting things. But sitting on top of a big pile of money at the end of your life doesn’t feel nearly as interesting as making a difference to hundreds of people along the way.
When it comes to work, there are two stories you can tell yourself. You can tell a money story, or you can tell a meaning story. Which one would you rather have in your head everyday?