Four Leadership Qualities That Inspire Meaning and Purpose in Teams

While salary and benefits still play an important role in attracting quality team members, employee performance and loyalty are more closely tied to finding purpose and meaning in the work that people do. Research shows meaningful work is associated with improved employee health and wellbeing, stronger teamwork and engagement, and a more resilient response to setbacks and errors.

In some lines of work, such as social work or healthcare, much of the meaning and purpose is derived explicitly from the nature of work itself; providing tangible benefit to other people is, in and of itself, meaningful and purposeful.

So how do we go about instilling a culture of meaning and purpose in what might otherwise be fairly mundane, task-focused work? Lewis Garrad and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic recently wrote a digital article on the topic of making work more meaningful for your team. They suggest leaders play a critical part in helping employees understand why their roles matter in any organization. Specifically, they have identified four personality traits common among leaders who successfully cultivate a meaningful and purposeful workplace culture. These leaders:

Are curious and inquisitive . A leader who is open to possibilities and enthusiastic about exploring different ways of getting work done rather than micromanaging or being overly prescriptive will inspire his or her team to contribute new ideas and take initiative. As the authors point out, “…people tend to experience work as meaningful when they feel like they are contributing to creating something new — especially when they feel able to explore, connect and have an impact.” Curious leaders ask questions, explore new opportunities, and engage their people in ideas about the future.

Are challenging and relentless . One of the greatest obstacles to continuous organizational success is inertia. Employees who find themselves entrenched in the status quo with little encouragement to push beyond stagnant waters will be less inclined to work hard and challenge themselves.

“Leaders who remain ambitious in the face of both failure and success, and who push their people to remain dissatisfied with their accomplishments, instill a deeper sense of purpose in their teams and organizations,” the authors explain. The goal is to encourage and reward personal growth and progress, which will contribute to a more positive, meaningful experience at work.

Hire for values and culture fit . Traditional hiring practices focused on finding the best candidate for the job — someone with the skills, education, and experience best suited to tackle the functions and tasks of the position. We now know that skills and credentials are secondary to finding a good fit in terms of core personal values.

As Garrad and Chamorro-Premuzic explain: “Values function like an inner compass or lens through which we assign meaning to the world. Leaders who pay attention to what each individual values are more likely to hire people who will find it easier to connect with their colleagues and the wider organization, all of which help to drive a sense of meaning.”

Are able to trust people . Employees flourish in environments where they have a clear understanding of their role and how they contribute to achieving the organization’s vision and goals, but are also given the freedom to try new things with little or no micromanagement.

Leaders who encourage team members to speak openly about what’s working and what isn’t and provide room to breathe and grow cultivate a team that is confident and engaged. “Overpowering and controlling bosses are serious sources of disempowerment for employees,” the authors explain.

Lastly, Garrad and Chamorro-Premuzic offer some important advice for leaders who want to draw on these four criteria when crafting their personal leadership style:

  • All four qualities should exist in concert . “A boss who is challenging but not curious may come across as a bully, while a boss who’s trusting but not challenging will seem like a pushover.”
  • There is a difference between making work meaningful and making it fun or easy . A good leader will “focus on helping employees find meaning in their achievements, rather than just enjoy their time at the office.”

Leaders who are curious and challenging, yet trusting and tuned into the organization’s principle values will create a workplace culture where meaning and purpose keep teams engaged and committed to achieving success.

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