This posting is follow-up to a conversation started here:
They seem happy enough. — Goal! (published January 2, 2013)
… and then commented on here — (same page; scroll to the comments) triggered by an article written for The Atlantic by Emily Esfahani Smith:
There’s More to Life Than Being Happy
The links above will open new tabs for you if you’d like to read them first for best context: I’ll wait.
This post is also longer than most, and at the end of it I encourage you to pull out your manager’s journal for self-reflection, thus I’ve queued this up for the coming weekend: I’ll give you breathing room before I post again.
There’s More to Life Than Being Happy
Maybe. But let’s not discount happiness. In my comment, I wrote:
Sometimes a person is motivated by the pursuit of happiness, and sometimes the same person can be motivated by the pursuit of meaning: A manager is tasked with knowing which playing field they are currently on, and helping [their staff] achieve their goals there, so they can move forward. A great manager is versed in responding to both motivations — and honoring them.
We will often question people and may even argue with them, imposing our own shoulds, “But don’t you want this to be more meaningful?” when the better approach is to meet them where they are first, and tackle change later when they want it, or feel they newly need it — often we’ll find they’ll initiate that change when they’re ready.
Managers aren’t exactly ‘motivators.’ They’re Facilitators.
Motivation is primarily an inside job: It’s a relevant truth I’ve encountered over and over again in both managing, and in coaching other managers seeking to solve root cause riddles concerning their employees. So I’ve trained myself to stop whenever I say ‘motivation’ and be sure my words are clear in whatever the conversation: Are we actually talking about self-motivation? (i.e whether mine or someone else’s).
It’s frustrating and fruitless when a manager insists on molding someone’s behavior to a wrongly-perceived motivator, and to the expectations they have connected to that motivator. The frustration occurs because the conversation will usually zoom ahead to how-to concerns when ‘why’ is riddled with doubt.
In the workplace, saying “well, I guess we agree to disagree” is rarely good enough: Alaka‘i Managers will press on, looking for agreement until they find it, or can at least focus the work at hand on part of it.
If those feelings of frustration crop up, where you start to think, “This is futile; this conversation is going nowhere fast,” stop and ask the other person directly, “What is your motivation with this? Can you help me understand it better than I do?” Use the word ‘motivation’ so they focus on it too — don’t skate around it. Then, listen so they feel heard, and so you get a better understanding of what they feel they need.
Don’t assume. Ask, and respond.
Life’s 3 Stops in Motivation
Well done. Now do you know when to shift gears?
We managers can be maddening in the way we hold on to our assumptions and revelations about our people. Here’s the constant, pulsing newsflash: People change, and they’ll change under your watch, whether because of you, or in spite of you.
In Managing with Aloha I encourage managers to “interview your people on an annual basis” because the person you hired (or met when you inherited them) doesn’t remain the same over the course of your working together. They change because their self-motivators may change, and so do you: Your partnership has to evolve with each growth spurt — you both have to adjust as needed, and constantly work on how you work together: 5 Essentials Employees Need to Learn — From You.
Interviewing your people on an annual basis need not be formal or complicated: It’s often a matter of just listening for “where they’re at” clues in other conversations, e.g. within annual performance appraisals, goal-setting conversations, and the Daily 5 Minutes.
In his book The One Thing You Need to Know (which actually covers several things About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success), strengths management guru Marcus Buckingham coaches managers to learn 3 levers as “what you need to know about a person in order to manage him or her effectively.” They are: Strengths and Weaknesses (our MWA Key 7), Triggers (which work by keeping strengths turned on and in use), and Style of Learning (whether analyzing, doing, or watching). He considers these 3 levers to be rather constant for people, akin to innate talents, which means they are pretty reliable indicators for a manager. In other words, these ‘levers’ are a person’s approaches with handling change and growth.
Life gives all of this context. As life presses on, we can ‘get off the bus’ to spend some time at what I think of as 3 different HO‘OHANA stops… we purposely interrupt our bus ride and delay the journey so we can stop and smell the roses we see along the way. Sometimes there’s no pressing timetable at all: We’ll catch the bus again when we feel like it.
In my managing and coaching experience, there are 3 main stops:
1. The Pursuit of Personal Happiness
2. The Pursuit of Professional Meaning (whether for Learning or Legacy)
3. The Desire to Give or Give Back (Service)
Let’s take a short bus ride viewing their highlights… this is our ticket for the Motivation Express. Grab a window seat.
As you can guess, I don’t necessarily agree with Victor Frankl or Emily Esfahani Smith in concluding that “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness,” or with the researchers who pronounced, “Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others.” — we’ll get to that on the Service stop.
If happiness is the self-motivator, it’s something that person needs before they can move on to anything else. Where is the common sense in denying or belittling what someone else feels they need? A manager can be of great help with fulfilling the need for happiness — it’s no secret how much our work affects everything else in our lives.
People feel thwarted or drained when they are called upon to do things that they simply have no desire to do, or can’t imagine deriving any joy from: At these times, visionary cause doesn’t really matter, no matter how noble the mission. There seems to be this instinctive natural selection process we are born with, which looks out for our best health and sense of well-being — it’s called wanting. Call it wise, source-fed, self-preserving intuition we can trust in (NĀNĀ I KE KUMU).
A manager will help their people be comfortably present in current reality, dealing with things completely and honestly instead of avoiding them. They don’t push for work/life balance, but for work/life integration. We’ll often see the happiness with one’s lot in life that was there all along:
As Anneliese puts it,
“If everyone were to throw her problems out into the street for a swap you would look at all the others’ and run as fast as you could to collect yours again.”
— FYI: The Grass is Green
Please don’t underestimate the necessity of taking this stop. Happiness is a great thing as a perspective-shaper, giving us optimism and positive-expectancy: To be happy is to feel somewhat secure. To be happy is to be confident, and to have more courage in seeking experimentation, creativity and innovation. As I’ve already said on this blog, happiness is readiness.
What I did concur with in the article though, is that happiness can be fleeting. At some point people will get back on the bus because they feel a restlessness; they sense that happiness wasn’t quite enough for them anymore (Article link to: A Sense of Place Delivers True Wealth)
Their readiness has shifted.
According to Gallup, the happiness levels of Americans are at a four-year high — as is, it seems, the number of best-selling books with the word “happiness” in their titles. At this writing, Gallup also reports that nearly 60 percent all Americans today feel happy without a lot of stress or worry. On the other hand, according to the Center for Disease Control, about 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Forty percent either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose. Nearly a quarter of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful. Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression.
— the research cited by Emily Esfahani Smith writing for The Atlantic
As a manager and leader, I do think of meaning in professional and aspirational terms, associating it with business vision and workplace mission (the MWA value of ‘IMI OLA). Happiness tends to be a more personal and individual pursuit in the workplace, whereas meaning opens us up to partnership potential, even if we initially pursued it for our individual purpose or learning. Workplace culture is conducive to our joining forces with others to gang up on a bigger objective. Teamwork after all, is a rallying-the-troops pursuit, where we march toward meaning together, KĀKOU and LŌKAHI.
Countless authors and philosophers have waxed eloquent on meaning. We often read (in several philosophical quotations from the older and supposedly wiser) that the answer to that quintessential question on the meaning of life, is simply to live the life you are given, living it as fully as possible.
Not that satisfying, is it. Such a swooping generality tends to evoke another question: And what, pray tell, does “fully” encompass? Yet no wise person will answer that question definitively, except to press back with, “What would it mean to you?”
We managers are much more pragmatic, and thankfully so! We search for a connection to meaning we can hold in our hands. We are hoping to help our people find it, so they can latch on to it for the exhilarating ride. As we just spoke of in an earlier posting, we harness our good impatience and get it to work for us with setting priorities, shaping new goals, and honing laser-like focus on either mission or vision, or both. We capitalize on workplace energies by directing them well.
Hurray for managerial impatience! As you know, our objective within Managing with Aloha is to elevate work, and to bring the everyday potential for meaning into worthwhile work. Meaning need not be so lofty, as a one-of-these-days pursuit.
Get out of those cloudy intangibles and pursue clarity when the conversation turns toward meaning. Sharpen those edges of fuzziness so people can connect to definitive action steps — when ready for the pursuit of meaning, they crave worthy calls to action. They want to seize KULEANA and take a stand. They want to champion a cause and be its vocal ambassadors. They want to perform and be part of worthwhile work that makes sense, and is important.
It’s as simple as that. Let’s not overly complicate it. Let’s just make the magic happen by getting good work done.
This is a stop you take, when compelled by a cause that might not be your own.
In Managing with Aloha I speak of service in the chapter on HO‘OKIPA, the value of hospitality, and I describe the person I think of as Mea Ho‘okipa, or service provider:
“I have been taught that if your were called Mea Ho‘okipa in old Hawai‘i, it was a compliment of the highest possible order. It meant that the person who accorded you that recognition [of character] felt that you embodied a nature of absolute unselfishness. With the compliment they were also saying MAHALO (thank you), appreciative of the hospitality you extended to them with complete and unconditional ALOHA (the outpouring of your spirit)… The Mea Ho‘okipa were those who already seemed to radiate well-being, with an inner peace and joy that came from the total satisfaction they received from their acts of giving.”
— Managing with Aloha, chapter 6
As the person writing this posting for us to reflect on, I must admit that I have never thought of myself as Mea Ho‘okipa by nature, but as aspiration, truly wanting to “get a lot of joy from giving to others.” I’ve spent a great deal of time at my service stops, but I can’t say I’ve settled at any of them yet, for I constantly look for the bus to amble down my road again, wanting to learn more about happiness or about meaning. In my case, I believe the other two work with fleshing out my third.
I honestly don’t know that I’d understand people in pursuit of service at all if not for seeing them through my learning about the value of hospitality: It has been my handle on the empathy required by my Managing with Aloha viewpoint. I’ve come to see hospitality as a higher calling rooted in Lokomaika‘i — that value which is ‘generosity of good heart.’ Yes, I’m stuck on seeing goodness, and I’m very, very glad I am.
Others have told me they see age or tenure connections to the pursuit of being of service, and that this is a stop we grow toward. I don’t think so, for there are many cases where our youth will serve, setting magnificent examples for all of us. To serve is simply another calling, one more pressing to a person than others currently are, and they are in that sweet spot of readiness for it.
So if “the Mea Ho‘okipa [are] those who already seemed to radiate well-being,” where does the manager step in to support and serve them? By giving them ample opportunity to be the givers they thrive in being. There is an abundance of possibility, whether with customers or co-workers.
I think we come closest to seeing service potential as Mea Ho‘okipa (both in ourselves and in others) when we think about this question: “What will I joyfully volunteer for?” In the managerial view of this, compensation, leverage, positional power and advancement get eliminated as motivators or as the means to other ends, and we are reminded that our Mea Ho‘okipa give for the pure joy and delight of the giving. The service stop is fertile ground for what we refer to as servant leadership (ALAKA‘I), much as we see ‘informal leadership’ and ‘leading without title’ germinating at stop 2’s pursuit for professional meaning.
The service stop, is also where I think about stellar followership, something we don’t hold in high enough esteem. To be a stellar follower, is to support a good and noble cause in an exceptional way. You need not be a founding father to put your own signature on an initiative, and make an outstanding contribution to it. Think about that phrase, ‘standing on the shoulders of giants.’ There are so many examples where the second generation of an initiative has been far superior to the first one. Followers are more likely to have the analytical, unemotional distance a founder is unable to have; they can be more objective. Objectivity doesn’t necessarily put a damper on passion and enthusiasm though: Stellar followers will be among the most devoted people you’ll ever meet.
As for those bus routes, direction may not matter.
These 3 stops aren’t necessarily progressive or sequential. I’ve worked with people who start with meaning or service, and then return to happiness later — it’s pretty common. Truth be told, that’s been my own journey too; I was your classic early achiever. In any given mission, I’ve ricocheted between all 3 motivators like a ping-pong ball!
Seen as pursuits, these 3 stops aren’t right or wrong per se; I caution managers about levying those judgements on them: Consider them timely for the person pursuing them, and you’ll have more success in being accepting and supportive unconditionally, only seeking to align your efforts so you can work on the same ‘why’ at the same time.
And so my dear Alaka‘i Manager, pull out your journal and list the names of your team: Where’s their self-motivated, smell-the-roses stop right now; happiness, meaning, or service? How can you help support them while they’re there?
If you have any doubt about the stop you picture them on, banish that doubt as soon as you can. There are no complicated or messy diagnostics involved, just ask them. I’m sure it will be an enlightening conversation for both of you. As we learned about HO‘OKIPA in Managing with Aloha:
“One of life’s greatest laws is that you cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening your own as well.”
Related reading in our ManagingWithAloha.com archives:
What should you do with your life? Find out!