It isn’t just a flippant question or the sign of a neg-head. So what can be a great question when asked with the right intention and at the right time.
I spend a lot of time talking to business owners and business leaders, who take great pleasure in telling me what they do, and how they do it. “We do people’s accounts”, “We minimise companies’ tax bills”, “We take aerial photographs with a drone”, “We make steel structures” and I am so often tempted to say “So What?”.
So What? What does that mean? What significance does that have? How does that change anything or benefit anyone? You see unless what our business does has an impact, has a relevance, why should anyone care? And when I say anyone there are two group of people to whom I am specifically referring; your potential clients and your team.
As Dale Carnegie observed In 1936 in his seminal work “How to Win Friends and Influence People” “Sigmund Freud said that everything you and I do springs from two motives; the sex urge and the desire to be great.” As human beings we have a deep lying urge to be great, to be significant to be important and that means to be associated with things, causes, enterprises that are significant, great and worthwhile. Mediocre has never cut it.
Abraham Maslow realised that man’s highest need was ‘self actualisation’, in other words to be living a life of significance, doing significant things and creating a legacy. So my question really is why do we as leaders of people and businesses condemn ourselves and others to spending 8 hours a day doing something that has no perceived significance?
Whether our business is about doing accounts or welding two pieces of metal together surely it is a major part of our responsibility to help our team and our customers understand the significance of what we do and how we do it. People deserve to like their jobs and it is up to managers and leaders to make that possible.
Why would anyone want to do a boring, menial job? If that job had significance, had importance then it wouldn’t be perceived as either menial or boring. Serving food to an unappreciative line in a canteen might seem boring and menial yet hundreds of people volunteer to do exactly that, for free when the venue is a soup kitchen for the homeless or for displaced disaster victims. What is the difference? The difference is the significance the two activities represent.
Telling the story of the significance of what we do, turning the work into worthwhile work is, I would argue, the major role of the leader. Helping everyone understand the significance of what we do as a business and how every individual in that business contributes to that significance is important and empowering. I wonder why we don’t manage to do it insistently persistently and consistently both with our teams and with our customers.