What Gets You Up?
It’s 8 a.m. Do you know where your inspiration is?
“What keeps you up at night?” is a question constantly posed in recent years, especially in interviews with senior leaders. It’s so familiar that it’s come to seem tiresome and rote. But I believe it’s effect is more pernicious than mere boredom, for the question assumes that we are all in the habit––indeed we almost have a responsibility–– to let worry pervade our every hour. Even those precious few required to refresh, balance and sustain our daily effort.
That’s why it was bracing when the chief economist of a global bank I heard speak recently described how his CEO shot the notion down. “I’m sick of that question,” the leader bluntly objected. “Besides, it misses the point. More important is, what makes me leap out of bed in the morning?”
Now, not all of us leap out of bed. But being eager to engage in what inspires or excites us each day is hands-down better for our health, more fun and vastly more productive than the defensive crouch brought on by post-midnight agonizing. It’s also a far more powerful way to lead an organization, a team, a project–– or to simply lead one’s life.
It’s also the key to engaging and motivating others, the number one concern in many companies these days. For as engagement thrives, builds and is stimulated by those on the lookout for opportunity, so does it pall when worry saps energy away.
Recently I’ve written about Steven Covey’s insight that we do better when we focus on that sweet spot where our circle of influence–– the things we can control–– overlap with our circle of concern–– the things that preoccupy us. If we’re concerned about a lot of things we have no control over, we risk just grinding our gears.
But the worry vs engagement question is about more than just misfiring.
Over the last month I’ve been reflecting on the enormous shift in how people relate to their work as a result of how the pandemic has upended norms and expectations. And I’ve come to the conclusion that, for many of us, the benefits of this shift have deep personal resonance. Whether it's the decision to no longer put up with a dispiriting or abusive workplace, or the desire to have more autonomy or family time, people are making career decisions that are about way more than their careers.
No one denies that these epiphanies or transitions have been stressful: there’s been more than enough to “keep us awake at night.” But the upshot is that people are somehow–– often through necessity–– learning how to lead themselves.
With this idea in mind and the Great Reckoning as the context, I consulted Beverly Kaye, whose engagement classic Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay is now in its 6th edition. Bev has been examining the sources and advocating for the importance of employee engagement longer than anyone I know.
Bev notes that “One of the first questions we asked people when doing our original research was what about their work motivated them to get out of bed in the morning. If you understand that, you can understand what engages people.”
As she points out, “People want a few basic things in their work. They want to feel valued, they want to be able to use their skills, and they want to be challenged by new ways to exercise and build those skills. If their jobs don’t give them the chance to have these needs fulfilled, many of them–– often the best–– will simply leave. And those who stay will often check out mentally and simply disengage, which from an organizational point is probably worse.”
Over the years, Bev and her researchers have also asked thousands of people why they left their organizations. “What we hear usually comes down to some variation on their being unable to see any opportunities in their job.”
This is why focusing on opportunities is critical.
It’s interesting to note that many of us now feel that the best way to find opportunity is to look at other kinds of work or even create our own. And it is not surprising that companies that remain heedless of employees’ desires and well-being are seeing staff leaving in droves.
A recent survey by Inc. about return-to-workplace policies and procedures found that more than half of employees had never been asked for their feedback. By declining to solicit team members’ thoughts about what is or isn’t working, companies end up demotivating their talent. And by not engaging in meaningful conversation about policies that affect employees at the basic level of health and safety, companies demonstrate a clear failure of leadership that is bound to boomerang and undermine their ability to attract talent in the years ahead.
And the employees? 11 million of them, as we have seen these last months, have by hook or by crook set out to search for either more meaningful work or more humane conditions, or both. They are challenging the process and going beyond the status quo-- innovating their own solutions and creating their own opportunities to improve both work and life.
Finding their own reasons to set that alarm clock.
Doing this requires some degree of experiment and risk, as well as a willingness to accept the consequences when a risk does not pan out.
But in today’s uncertain and rapidly shifting work environment, risk is part of the new normal. It’s going to be there whether we seek it out or not. So rather than tossing and turning all night about what we cannot change or believe we cannot accomplish, we may be wiser to leap––or to stumble–– out of bed to embrace what we can in in 2022.