Commitment to Growth: What Separates Truly Bolder Leaders from Ho-Hum Managers

Commitment to Growth: What Separates Truly Bolder Leaders from Ho-Hum Managers

“All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.”
– Sir Walter Scott

Commitment. Now there’s a seemingly dirty word! Valentine’s Day around the corner or not, all one needs to do is to dip her toe in the dating world to see that many people find all sorts of creative avenues for shying away from this “C” word…not that I would know anything about that personally … lol.

But seriously, what is it about the essence of committing ourselves that can seem so daunting? As I reflect on this for myself, I recognize that historically, it’s a concept that has felt forceful, full of obligation and “musts” for me. And how could it not? The phrase we’ve all heard at some point or another describes the weight of a commitment – “You can’t be a little bit pregnant or a little bit married: you either are or you aren’t” And it didn’t fall on deaf ears with me.

Indeed, I heard the message loud and clear: one cannot only dip their toes in commitment, they need to put their whole selves into it. This full-on nature of the “C” word would scare anyone – especially if there is an element of duty attached to it….but does there have to be?

In all my years of working in transformation, no one – including myself – has authentically stepped even one foot toward evolution by being coerced or pushed. Instead, most of us find ourselves on the transformation journey by simple choice. Yet, by the very nature of the discomfort and arduousness which transformation can ask of us at times, one does indeed need to be committed to the process to be able to keep on it and reap the rewards it promises.

Motivation is what gets you started. Commitment is what keeps you going.”
– Jim Rohn

Commitment: The Vehicle to Getting What We Really Want

So how can the two – staying the course and without the heaviness that often accompanies the notion of Commitment – converge? By being committed to our own growth. That’s it. Not to another person, not to some external rules others are trying to impose on us, not on drinking the metaphorical Kool-Aid. But committed to ourselves, to our own development as humans and as leaders.

How can that not be freeing?

I don’t know about you, but when I look at commitment in the light of overcoming my own challenges, working through my triggers, reframing my limiting beliefs and just generally creating a more of a joyful life I don’t feel the need to escape from, being committed feels pretty darn empowering. And it should.

Leadership in Three Steps

While leadership itself is a vast topic with many different points of view of what constitutes it, in the transformational facilitator and strategic consulting networks I am part of, we boil down leadership into three steps:

  1. Awareness: We become aware of something which might need shifting. You may remember that I wrote about resetting to become more aware in my December 2022 blog.
  2. Choice: We have the power to choose – or not – to do something about that shifting. In my January 2023 article, you can read more about the Power of Choice.
  3. Commitment to Practice (new behavior): Now, as the third in a series of leadership traits, I give you Commitment to our Development as Leaders. Once we choose to move forward with the transformation, we commit to tiny actions to carve out new neural pathways in our brains as a means of reinforcing that new behavior and anchoring it in our comfort zones.

Commitment, therefore, is an integral part of becoming better versions of ourselves – and of creating the optimal conditions for our teams and organizations to step up to their highest levels, too.

Seen this way, such a “dirty” word becomes one of hope – for ourselves, those we get to influence and, ultimately, the world.

Bolder Leaders Commit to Themselves

“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.
It is precisely that simple and it is also that difficult.”
– Warren Bennis

Every expert was once a beginner. In fact, in my experience, most experts remain so because they maintain a Beginner’s Mindset. When I graduated from the Newfield Network as a brand-new Executive Coach, guess what their parting gift to my classmates and me was? An aikido white belt. What in the world would motivate them to gift such a (seemingly bizarre) gift? Because apparently, in aikido (I haven’t yet practiced it), once a student achieves black-belt status they go straight back to the white belt: they are lifelong learners. Talk about commitment! …Lol.

Truly, as we look around, most of us will probably notice that those humans who are fairly serene and joyful despite the many obstacles our VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world frequently throws at us tend to see life as all about learning. That is, instead of getting too far into the “poor mes” or “Why bothers?,” they learn to master challenging situations by looking at what they can learn from them. It’s not always easy to swallow their pride, but their eyes are on the larger prize of peace-of-mind and fulfillment.

And if we want to feel more empowered, as though we are mastering our lives and our leadership, we will learn to see it this way, too – even if it means we first need to commit to learning to seeing it this way.

There will, after all, always be situations which, if we so choose, we can learn (and grow) from. All it takes is making a commitment to ourselves to continue our personal and professional development – however dull or irritating it may be at times.

Here are some ways we can do that…

Eight Steps to Expand Your Leadership Development:

  1. Develop a Vision for the Leader (Human) you really want to be: As Maya Angelou wrote, how do you want to make others feel? What values do you want to live? What legacy do you want to leave behind? What do you want to be known for? Why?
  2. Uncover your Purpose: What is it that most moves you? Calls out to you as the cause most worthy in your eyes? What are you best placed to do? Thanks to a deeper understanding of my own purpose, I am beginning to open up my business’s focus more toward Adult Children who underwent trauma in childhood. As a topic affecting 25% of the world (at least), it seems it was never before published about in a business context. This is both an impactful and deeply meaningful subject for me – for those affected and for those they touch.
  3. Define your Values: not the ones you think you should have, but the ones you want to have. Living our aspirational values are what help us make our Vision a reality.
  4. Set an Intention to live your Values and Purpose and to manifest your Vision.
  5. Increase your self-awareness: we all can be doing this, even those of us devoted to this profession ;-). Get feedback. Reach out to sponsors, mentors and other role models.
  6. Leverage your Network. Connect with everyone who can offer support, inspiration and accountability.
  7. Appreciate yourself! Once smart people reach their goals, guess what we tend to do next? That’s right: set another goal! We forget to acknowledge themselves for all of their hard work. And in so doing, they inadvertently contribute to their own dissatisfaction in life (the number one reason for it being – statistically speaking – not appreciating their own wins! So bring out those party favors – it’s time for a dance party… in honor of you 🙂
  8. Share your new experiences through writing blogs or articles, or with an accountability group or mentor, for example.

Staying the Course: The Ultimate Challenge for all Leaders

It’s all fine and well to lay out concrete steps for expanding our development as leaders and even to highlight the need for commitment to our own growth throughout.

But this article wouldn’t be complete unless it also brought in how freaking hard staying the course – any course – can be. Especially in this crazy, heartbreaking world we live in which can seem to throw wrenches in our progress at many turns.

It’s at this point and also when we don’t seem to be making progress – things feel BORING and FRUSTRATING – where most of us probably want to throw in the towel. Yet that is exactly the time we need to hang tight and remind ourselves of our vision for ourselves and our leadership. For this bumpy road is just part of our Yellow Brick one which will lead to greater freedom and joy for us.

“When confronted with a challenge, the committed heart will search for a solution.
The undecided heart searches for an escape.”
– Andy Andrews

This means that even when we can’t see immediate results, even when we want to pull our hair out with boredom or stress, we keep going. Remembering one important fact might help all of us here: through our commitment to growth, we are making an investment…in ourselves.

Many, many times over the course of earning my last degree, overwhelmed with yet another paper (23 in total!), I wanted to call it quits. With two little girls at home, clients to take care of and a business to run, who wouldn’t? But I didn’t. As hard as it was and as much as I ground my teeth and wanted to run out of my house screaming, I stayed put. And now I have a diploma which grows my credibility, and which will stay with me no matter where I go, no matter what I do next.

And that’s the sort of thing I want for you, too. You can do it. We all owe it to ourselves and to those we touch to make the investment in ourselves to be the humans and leaders we have always admired. In this world of increasing darkness, after all, even one additional light is sorely needed and desperately wished for.

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The Power of Choice in Bolder Leadership

The Power of Choice in Bolder Leadership

Identifying and making courageous choices is where our power lies in our leadership and beyond.

“Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made.
If you want a different result, make a difference choice.”– Anonymous

Bolder Moves Through Bold Choices

Anyone who has followed me for any amount of time knows that I am all about Bolder Moves – bold choices leading to greater levels of impact and fulfillment through the rewards such moves promise.

This is because I want to help as many of you as possible to reap the same benefits I have of getting your courage on and of making those moves most in alignment with your True Selves so you can accumulate every thriving point in your favor.

A Kentucky girl from a single-parent low-income household who moved to Paris with little money, no job lined up and limited French skills, I somehow managed to make a life in this country.

This has included learning to get around in a foreign language (albeit with a strong American accent – lol), graduating from two of its schools and being able to navigate the (thick) red tape to set up a bonafide business here.

It all started by trusting that nudge I felt in my body. That was the choice I made, among many others which have enriched both my professional and personal lives.

One of my beloved teachers talks about the distinction between decision and choice: decision is of the mind (rational, logical), while choice is of the heart (intuitive, pulled by body sensations).

She also says that when it comes to joy and fulfillment, in the war of the heart and the mind, the heart will always win. It always has for me. No question. And that’s my wish for you, too.

Choice is power. Being able to claim our choices – and providing space for others to do so as well – is what distinguishes Bolder Leaders from the not-so-much.

The Power of Choice in the Workplace

Most leaders are aware of their ability (or inability) to create thriving environments for employees to flourish in.Choice

Two basic elements allow humans at work to thrive, the ability to:

  • choose
  • have structure

Based on studies, having choice and control in the workplace are what matters to employees – and their work performance.

Tracy Brower, PhD, writing in Forbes, highlights the issues of choice and control, citing the late Barbara Ehrenreich in her book, Nickel and Dimed, who asserted that lack of control – where employees feel they have no choice – is detrimental to the work environment.

Studies have indicated that employees are more involved when they feel they have control over matters that affect them.

When control is taken away or little is available in jobs of high levels of stress, employees’ health is affected. Not surprisingly, it makes a difference when workers feel that they have some say in their next steps and can make their own choices.

When employees have a greater freedom in their workplaces, stress is lessened and performance is enhanced.

The Goldilocks Choice: A Leadership Analogy

Too much choice – or too little choice – have their downsides.

We all remember the childhood story, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. While the bears are out of their little cottage, Goldilocks tastes from their three different porridge bowls and decides for herself that one is too hot, one too cold…and it’s the middle one, neither too hot or too cold, that she likes best.

Thus, the Goldilocks Principle: just the right amount.

That analogy mirrors how most employees feel about their experiences with choice in the work place.

Experiments have uncovered that if people aren’t given enough choices, they aren’t satisfied. Yet giving people too much choice can result in a feeling of overwhelm and may hinder effective decision making.

We’re all pretty much like Goldilocks. Not too much, not too little. It’s a little bit of both. Leaders who communicate and listen will be aware of what level of choice their employees are comfortable with.

“Leadership is a choice, not a position.” – Stephen R. Covey

How Leaders Can Empower Through Choice & Control

So how do we take the Goldilocks Principle from the fairy tale and transform it into everyday business?

It’s all about providing choices. Where to start?

Communication and trust-building are essential. Leaders need to both empathize with employees’ individual needs and to co-create the path to achieving a common vision with them. In giving workers the space to work out how to both follow their own priorities while remaining true to what the organization requires, leaders are setting the tone for higher levels of engagement and impact from their team.

Brower highlights areas where choices may abound:

  • In work scheduling and locations: Research by Steelcase found that 87% of leaders foresee offering much more flexibility to workers, as to location, hours, and how they work in general. These issues are important (and challenging) to balance. On the one hand, employees face school/day care concerns, other family obligations and the need to take better care of their physical and mental health. On the other, leaders need to have times where teams are gathered physically together.
  • Through work content: Yes, of course leaders need to ensure they and workers are on the same page about what needs to be done and by when– but providing variety in how or where this is done is key. It motivates and lessens burnout and can provide new opportunities to boost enthusiasm and create a sense of being a part of something in the workplace.
  • With colleagues: For sure, we tend to work together well with those with whom we feel ‘in tune’, but oftentimes diversity enhances new lines of thinking and fresh creativity. It’s important for leaders to allow employees choices when working together.
  • Via technology & office settings: Specific chair designs, visibility of windows, lighting and reduced noise levels can all contribute to increased productivity. Yet, most people feel even more motivated when they are able to also have choice in their office location. Technology and the various apps it includes allows for tracking categorized time, working from home and even having a dance off with colleagues!

The most important element in any choice we give our people, however, is the strong sense that they matter to the team and to the company.

The Power to Choose is Powerful in Leadership & Life

Surviving – and thriving – post-pandemic has shown us that we can think outside the box and work in ways never before thought.

Most leaders recognize how debilitating it feels when the power of choice is taken away. We must also remember that those who work for us feel no differently.

In a LinkedIn article aptly titled Leadership: The Power of Choice, author Utpal KC reminds us of Viktor Frankl, the groundbreaking Austrian neuropsychiatrist who believed that we humans have a choice of responses to any stimulus. In other words: between stimulus and response exists the freedom to choose.

Yet, he shares, “My experience is that individuals are so used to their spontaneous response to stimuli that many of them cannot even recognise a possibility of freedom of choice between stimulus and response.”

As I look at my own life and leadership here, I chuckle: how many times have I seen myself as a victim – “stuck with absolutely no way out”? Give me a break! How shortsighted I can be when I am unable to identify all my options and see that I am always at choice. Even choosing not to decide is a choice.

Providing choices is key, this we know.

But perhaps we should also recognize our own power to choose – between that moment of stimulus and our subsequent response to it exists the vast, all-powerful realm of one little word: choice.

As we begin to recognize this freedom within ourselves, so also will we be more effective at offering those we lead the dignity and power that comes from the opportunity of choice.

It was the renowned Frankl who spoke the profound words:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—
to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Choice comes in many forms: from setting simple boundaries to speaking up to stating our needs. The truth is, our choice probably isn’t going to be someone else’s choice. One is neither good or bad.

Rather, it’s the freedom of choice that provides the golden key.

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Hitting the Reset Button: Why Backing Up and Punting is an Impactful “New Normal” Leadership Move

Hitting the Reset Button: Why Backing Up and Punting is an Impactful “New Normal” Leadership Move

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.
– Anne Lamotte

I love Anne Lamotte! She makes me laugh every time 😊. A professional writer known for her witty – and raw – takes on what it means to be human in this messy, painful, and complicated world, yes. And she’s also a human being who, like many of us, is on her own journey of learning to be her Best Self.

When it comes to unplugging for a bit, boy can I relate! For a long time, running around like a chicken with busy-ness was my primary drug of choice: I loved it. It kept me from not having to feel or work through things I really needed to feel and work through.

Extreme Busy-ness Worked For Me – Until it Didn’t.

I distinctly remember one Saturday evening sitting down among friends in Paris fed up with my own unhealthy pattern of pushing myself way past my limits – to the degree that I had mistakenly filled up my diesel car with gasoline instead and arrived abashedly late to our gathering!  My plan to rush ahead and save time had backfired, to say the least…(lol)

While meditation, yoga and regular trips to the beach do a good job of slowing me down often enough now, so that I can role model “Go Slow to Go Fast” – a leadership tenet I often speak of – I can still find myself with a way-too-full-plate and a never-ending agenda. That’s when I need to unplug in a different way.

The end of the calendar year is perfect for resetting for many of us. Whether we celebrate one of the holidays, take off to warmer climates (as I love to do 😊), or just plain take stock of the previous year, re-setting away from our normal schedules is not only good for our physical and mental health, but it also helps us to understand what’s working well in the normal course of our lives – and what needs shifting.

And this is especially necessary with the “new normal” we have all found ourselves in.

Leaders Need to Respond to New Challenges

As I look around, it seems most everyone is on continual overwhelm with the constant changes that beset us each day.

In an interview, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and CEO of SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) and author of Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval, says that post pandemic, the world is all over the place:

“What was yesterday isn’t today and that’s going to require some intentionality around changing people’s mindset around that.”

Time for a Reset: How Can Leaders Navigate These Unprecedented Changes?

Some simple advice:

  • Expect change. All the time. Employees today aren’t interested in decades of seniority. Today’s workers job jump. Seeing several jobs in as many years on someone’s resume isn’t a “bad” thing anymore.
  • Reconsider what is an employee. Part of pressing “reset” involves looking at everything differently – including and especially people. An employee today doesn’t fit the definition of an employee from 50 – or even 20 – years ago. And thank goodness! More and more people want to be shown that they matter and belong – as they should and do.
  • Be mindful of how you think about (and value) employees to cultivate more trust. Remember to address the needs of all of your people – not just the more visible ones. For instance, during the pandemic, media often reported “everyone” was working remotely – but what about the nearly 52% of employees who never had that opportunity?
  • Remember who you really are. The constant changes, rush-rush and sense of being out of balance most of the time has led many of us to forget who we really are – human beings. The more we can make that front and center again, the more we can help others to do the same.
  • Have empathy. There is a deficit of it in our world today. This is a subject I’ve written about often, because it’s key to connecting in an authentic way with others – a critical tool to leading anything or anyone.

“The greatest blessing of being present in times of uncertainty is that you can take a step back and really evaluate who you are and where you are going.”
– Rennie Curran

Reset, Re-imagine: Leaders Need to Rethink Their Role

We leaders can’t expect to successfully operate in this new climate of continual change without resetting ourselves: we must deep-dive to ensure that we’re able (and willing) to adapt in every aspect of our business – when the need arises.

To be sure, the old way of thinking about anything – any old expectations, for example – must be transformed by creative thinking – the kind of thinking which can only come when we slow down and take a balcony view on things.

In an HBR article titled simply “Reinventing Your Leadership Team,” the authors noted that we as leaders need to be ever agile, “…to be willing to challenge every aspect of our company: its purpose, its business model, its operating model, its people, and ourselves. And conventional ideas about managing have to be inverted.” Talk about hitting the reset button, right?!

Instead of the old way of doing business of routinely responding to needs and concerns, we (leaders) need to work as a team, refocus and reshape the future – and map a path toward it.

Drawing on research gleaned from studying companies, they formulated a 4-point plan for building a leadership team that can meet these new changes:

  1. Analyze what leadership roles will model the company for the future.
  2. Get the right people in place.
  3. Center the leadership team on steering the company towards its transformation.
  4. To build trust and a culture that fuels its goal, take ownership of the team’s behavior.

With Continual Change, Avoid Perpetual Urgency

“Take a step back. Life gets distorted when you examine things from too close up.”
– Richelle E Goodrich

To cope with the “new normal” of constant change, some businesses have taken to operating in a state of perpetual urgency.

To be sure, many issues require urgency. Yet operating in an atmosphere where a heightened state of urgency is the norm may indicate a leadership or management breakdown.

Having employees in a continual crisis mode has an impact. In a Fast Company article by Camille Preston, researcher Liz Kislik noted a company culture of urgency can lead to overreactions in employees – not to mention poor decision making and a continual state of stress which only creates vicious circles and an unhealthy work atmosphere.

So, how can we lead without urgency in times like this?

It starts with building genuine relationships with employees, visioning a future for the company and mapping a plan to get there.

Another leadership tenet I often refer to is “Relationship Precedes Results.” This is supported by both Patrick Lencioni’s Five Elements of an Effective Team and many, many experiences of being called in to rescue teams who tried – and failed miserably – to prioritize results over the relationships among people. (Wonder how much time – and budget – they may have saved by simply focusing on their true assets in the first place?!)

After focusing on relationships, Preston suggests:

  • Incorporate different types of motivation – other than fear or urgency, which cannot lead to anything optimal anyway
  • Take the time to build and maintain relationships. Again. And always.
  • Encourage and allow employees to take ownership of their work.
  • Frame a culture that focuses on the development of leaders. We can never go wrong here!


“Great Leadership sometimes requires taking a step backward in order to take a leap forward.”
— Todd Stocker

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Transforming Longing into Belonging

Transforming Longing into Belonging: The Most Impactful Way to Bring Out the Best in Everyone at Work

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”
– Maya Angelou

Oh, how we all long to belong.

We yearn to be a part of something.

And it’s completely normal: belonging is one of our most basic needs.

Something inside of us craves a connection with the outside world, to validate that we are a part of it, to let others know we are worthy of being seen, heard and, yes, acknowledged.

I just completed a whirlwind week-long tour of client workshops in five different countries between North America and Europe. Every other time, such a rhythm would have exhausted me physically and mentally.

But not this one.


Because in each city where I landed, I felt home.

Yes, it helps that I have two passports, children of a third nationality and lots of time working in each of these cities.

But what was even more nurturing than geographical familiarity was the sense of belonging I felt with dear friends with whom I was able to spend quality time in each place.

It’s this depth of connection – this gift of really “seeing” and “hearing” each other – I get to experience with colleagues, my closest friends, and many clients (who often turn into friends) that make my job not feel at all like work.

“You can’t build a society purely on interests, you need a sense of belonging.”
– Valery Giscard D’Estaing

This inner need to belong has shown itself boldly in the workplace, where over-worked, frenzied and worn-out employees want to feel that they are a part of something meaningful. The top leaders I work with are grappling with how to navigate the higher-than-ever rates of depression, absenteeism and attrition befalling their teams and organizations.

The answer lies in helping their people to feel a part of something – to belong to a bigger cause.

As I wrote about recently, this means cultivating a greater sense of meaning in the workplace, yes. But it also means helping people first belong to themselves and then with each other so that they can derive meaning from that meaning.

Before even getting to the place I described above of feeling cozy with the people around me in several different countries, I first had to get to a place of belonging to myself. Having undergone a traumatic childhood which hard-wired me to feel “Not part of” no matter whom I was around, I can tell you this was not an easy task. But it was well worth the effort.

Ever been in a room full of people and still feel lonely? That’s what I’m talking about here. Feeling like we truly belong means interacting with people we jive with, yes. But first and foremost, it means jiving with ourselves. Astute leaders aim to cultivate this for their people.

Show Them the Money – or a Sense of Belonging?

Nearly three quarters of employees feel their sense of purpose is defined by their employment, according to research by McKinsey. Unfortunately, companies oftentimes don’t provide an environment that communicates a sense of community and caring, which leads to employees feeling bankrupt in belonging.

And that emptiness has repercussions. Having just completed writing my master’s thesis about the unhealthy coping mechanisms many of us adopt when we feel we don’t belong, I can say with confidence that not experiencing a sense of belonging is at the root of our acting out with unhealthy coping mechanisms.

This means that, until we condition ourselves otherwise, many of us get lost in addictions, re-enacting past traumas and generally wreaking havoc in our present lives – including at work.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
– Mother Teresa

McKinsey & Company’s research discovered that most employees don’t leave their current jobs in search of a bigger paycheck.

Rather, 54% of workers left because their ideas and contributions weren’t appreciated and 51% didn’t feel as if they belonged at their workplace.

And for those employees that remain in a workplace where they do not feel that they are valued, imposters are born. They create a persona to “look like they matter,” according to Ron Carucci. “Looking smart, put together, competent, and “good” to others becomes the need they pander to when the genuine need isn’t satisfied.”

That, Carucci says, breeds insecurity and falseness. Not to mention a waste of energy and time that could have been put to more productive use.

Or, employees simply punch-in and punch-out in an empty cycle of unfulfillment. This, according to my research, unfortunately becomes the case when we don’t do the inner work to process our resentments and trauma so we can belong to ourselves and take on more fulfilling roles – where meaning and belonging with others comes more naturally to us.

When Longing to Belong Becomes “Covering Up”

That sense of longing to belong can be at the forefront of “covering,” according to Rhodes Perry, author of Belonging at Work.

When our inner selves tell us we don’t belong, we purposely hide particular aspects of ourselves that may cause us to be seen as outsiders.

Covering up sacrifices our authenticity
a foundational element to true belonging and to Bolder Leadership.

In a particular culture, certain traits are valued. And if an employee has attributes that aren’t perceived valuable by that culture, they are unable to be their true selves. They cover up, pretending to be something or someone they’re not – and creating a vicious cycle of falseness around them.

A Deloitte study revealed that 61% of employees hide an aspect of themselves at the workplace. For marginalized groups, the percentages are even higher.

Covering up squashes individuality and expression of ideas – and it naturally inhibits authenticity, creativity and stronger impact.

Why Build a Belonging Workplace Culture?

“True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
– Brene Brown

When workers feel that sense of belonging, companies benefit.

Engagement Multiplier writer Sarah Skerika notes an HBR article that cited a sense of belonging at work creates a:

  • 50% decrease in turnover risk
  • 56% increase in job performance
  • 75% reduction in sick days

How Can Leaders Create That Sense of Belonging?

Writing in HBR, Julia Taylor Kennedy and Pooja Jain-Link offered a measurable definition that notes we feel a sense of belonging at work when we:

  • Are recognized for our contributions
  • Feel a connection with our coworkers
  • Experience a supportive culture
  • Take pride in the company’s values and purpose
  • Derive meaning from the work we do and the relationships we build there

Ways to Cultivate a Sense of Belonging in the Workplace

The authors suggested simple ways to cultivate a sense of belonging that go a long way in making employees feel appreciated.

Consider the following strategies:

When a project is brought to a successful conclusion, make sure to acknowledge each team member for their specific efforts. It’s all about creating a workplace where employees feel they are valued: where they know that they and their contributions matter, and they truly feel as if they have meaning at the company.

Another strategy? Let go. Great leaders in organizations today are those who know that letting go fosters innovation, collaboration, and a sense of -belonging – being a valued member of a team.

These are all simple steps. Yet, as leaders – and their employees – are stretched thin because they are expected to perform 24/7+ in their work efforts, it can seem that a focus on belonging in the workplace has taken a back seat.

We are each overwhelmed digitally…emotionally…physically…as we try to navigate a “new normal” that seems anything but.

Let us strive to never ignore the true, human value that each person offers in the workplace – and beyond.

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Meaning: The Inspirational Thread Running Through Only the Most Impactful Cultures

“If you know the ‘why’, you can live any ‘how’.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Recently I led a CEO Roundtable in Lyon…the topic? Creating Meaning at work for leaders and their teams. And it was a lively discussion – this despite the fact we were all nearly strangers at the start of the meal.

Indeed, with the lingering effects of two years of COVID and now new, hybrid working models, the ever-present Ukraine upheaval and resulting dispossession from home for millions of people and drain on world fuel options, etc. – all of them are facing the unprecedented at-work crisis of depressed workers.

Absenteeism and resignations are at an all-time high. And these CEOs – already dealing with their own sense of chaos and loss – are simply out of ideas for what to do.

The Meaning Quotient: a New Concept for Leaders

That’s where meaning comes in. That’s why our discussion was so energizing.

Even in a country like France which most professionals would agree is behind the curve in understanding what it means to develop leaders, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is now a known factor for creating better relationships at the office.

But MQ – Meaning Quotient – was completely new to them. And, in my experience working with leaders across the world, they are not alone.

In their 2011 business strategy book Beyond Performance, McKinsey Senior Partner Scott Keller and Leadership Expert Colin Price point out that when MQ is low, employees put less energy into their work…they tend to see it as ‘just a job’/ paycheck.

But with high MQ, there’s a strong sense of excitement and challenge, a belief that “this matters” and “I can make a difference,” and a freedom to innovate and adapt to do “what’s never been done before.”

Clearly, then, meaning is worth learning more about and embedding more deeply into the day-to-day of our companies.

Leaders, we have the power to give our lives and careers meaning.

“When you’re surrounded by people who share
a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.”
– Howard Schultz, Starbucks

As with the Lyon CEOs with whom I met, the route we choose towards a fuller life begins within each of us. Not only is this the only way to truly embody meaning in all that we do, but also role modeling what we would love to see more of in our organizations is a sure-fire way to get it.

Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries cites an example common to many leaders I work with:

As CEO of a large and profitable company, to the outside world, Philip {seemed to} ha{ve} it all.
But all was not what it seemed: his inner world was falling apart.
He felt that life was simply an endless task and felt he was drowning in a sea of other people’s needs.
And because he was never present on the home front – physically or emotionally – his wife left, and his children more or less ignored him.
He felt without hope and wanted a new life.

It’s a hopeful truth that several of the highly successful leaders I work with – partners in upper-end consulting firms, VPs in tech companies and global humanitarian professionals alike – all reach a point of no return when they realize that the “why” they had been working so hard to fulfill up until now far from satisfies their inner longings for meaning.

Yes, the titles of status, multiple homes, and walk-in closets filled with designer goods can feel good – up to a certain point.

But when that’s all we are shooting for, we are setting ourselves up for emptiness indeed.

In his discussions with senior leaders, Kets de Vries found that a common thread emerged: most had a desire to become the best version of themselves.

But how do we get there?

Moving past our current selves and take control by targeting things that we can act on like defining and living our values and purpose is the only way to accomplish this.

Kets de Vries further writes that “life can only be meaningful if we give it meaning.” He breaks it down by noting that meaning applies to how we experience life by our valued goals: does whatever we are doing truly matter to us?

Here are some suggestions Kets de Vries offers on leading a more fulfilling life:

  • Define what makes us feel alive
  • Release the unpleasant relationships or situations around us
  • Convey empathy and compassion by kind deeds
  • Create more meaning at work
  • Be grateful for what you already have

What Predicts a Meaningful Life?

“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others,
devote yourself to your community around you, and
devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
– Mitch Albom

Research has found that meaning in life is closely linked with a sense of purpose and direction. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. As Arash Emamzadeh writes in Psychology Today,

“…despite engaging in activities you consider meaningful (e.g., volunteering or teaching), you may feel your life as a whole is not meaningful.

In addition, people may perceive certain aspects of their worldview or self-view (e.g., occupation, talents, abilities, intimate relationships) as more meaningful than others.”

Meaning is Very Subjective

What may look meaningful to some people may not feel meaningful to us. It’s all about the meaning we give to, well, meaning.

My two little girls are the lights of my life. But I have also set a strong intention to be very present in their lives, which can be challenging at times. If I hadn’t had such a clear intention, then I could easily be one of those folks who claims to be Mom, but who also secretly feels resentful about the time and energy any sweet little being requires.

And while I definitely have my moments (lol), instead, I get to enjoy tremendous meaning with my daughters through actively living out my values of family and motherhood and my purpose of helping these bright lights live their own purposes.

And so it is with all of us: to what degree are we actually giving our attention to what matters most in our lives?

Believe it or not, research has come up with some predictors of a meaningful life, even if as mentioned above, how we each define meaning is indeed subjective.

These predictors are:

  • Existential mattering
  • Coherence
  • A sense of purpose

To Enjoy a Meaningful Life, Ask Deep Questions

“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.”
-Kofi Annan

We all deserve to experience a deeply meaningful life – in the workplace and beyond. In order to enjoy meaning at work and in life, we must first be willing to look within.

We may not think we have time to slow down for the space such contemplation necessitates. But as a single mom and successful business owner completing her second Masters (and buying her first property abroad!), I can promise you that none of these things would be possible for me without my daily quiet time. I would be too off-centered and veering in all directions otherwise. Once we are able to create some quiet moments for ourselves, Emamzadeh proposes a contemplation of some deep questions to gauge where we are on.

  • Existential mattering: If you had never existed, do you think the world would have noticed or cared? Do you believe your existence has value? What impact(s) have you made?
  • Coherence: Does it feel like you’re always in the middle of a windstorm, tossed to and fro in an endless cycle of confusion? Or does it usually seem that all the pieces of life fit together?
  • Purpose: Where is your life headed? Are you aiming for (and committed to) clear goals? Or does life feel fuzzy, like you’re not striving for any particular target?

These questions aren’t meant to be answered once then forgotten.

They are meant to be chewed on, creating space for realizations to come and then more chewing, deeper realizations, etc.

By regularly (and honestly) asking ourselves these questions – through mere reflection or through journaling – we can gain clarity on how meaningful we perceive our life experience to be in the present moment – and over time.

And clarity gives us the power of choice: we can then choose to shift where we put our attention so we can gain greater enjoyment – and meaning – through how we spend our time.

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
-Viktor Frankl

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