The critical leadership link between meaning and business results

meaning innovation links
Credit: Matson

Meaning and performance aren't conflicting ideas, they’re absolute synergies. We can reshape our role and leadership style without ignoring our core responsibilities or compromising business results.

Finding meaning in leadership

As a CIO, my life would be complete without ever doing another email upgrade or desktop refresh. And it’s freeing to say that.

But as IT leaders, we don’t really have that luxury, do we? We need to innovate through technology, reduce operating costs, improve customer satisfaction, differentiate where possible, and deliver shareholder value. Period. Any good CEO will view a CIO’s performance through this lens. And, we need to do all of this without failing on essential operations -- doing the heavy lifting of maintaining uptime and response time, ensuring security and compliance, controlling spending, and nurturing executive relationships. So that’s our job: do the big stuff well and don’t screw up the day-to-day business.

That job description in and of itself does have meaning -- at least some -- for me. AND, as fortunate as I’ve been in my career, I don’t view my job description in a vacuum, to innovate and deliver shareholder value, as deeply meaningful in and of itself. I just don't.

A small percentage of us, directly through our jobs, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and house the poor and unfortunate. However, most of us don’t. We're in high-tech, biotech, manufacturing, insurance, banking, finance, or transportation. Together in these verticals, we make the world better through indirect means. We innovate to improve customer satisfaction, eliminate inefficiencies, reduce costs, improve profit margins and reduce carbon footprints for our companies and industries. These are all necessary and important efforts.

AND, for those of us who seek more meaning than that, there is plenty we can do as leaders to enjoy more meaningful careers that will benefit both ourselves and our organizations.

Why meaning matters

Seeking meaning guides us as leaders to the highest and best use of our energy, focus and time. Our careers are finite, yet the velocity of our lives continues to increase, due largely to an explosion of information in our society. As a result, we leaders can expect more disruption, more conflicting forces and therefore more search for meaning from all employees.

Our careers are too short to constantly worry about the next promotion and too long to spend on work that doesn’t make us feel alive. So, focusing our very finite career time on seeking meaning yields a more satisfying life. Further, studies show that a meaning-based approach to leadership significantly improves organizational performance.

How? By increasing what I call sustainable passion (as opposed to “burnout passion”), which I view as the single most important factor in achieving prolonged career excellence. This in turn creates sustainable innovation, which I view less as a direct series of steps, and more so as an outcome. It’s an outcome that’s achieved by ensuring that both you and your employees find meaning in work.

We can reshape our role and leadership style without ignoring our core responsibilities or compromising business results. Meaning and performance aren’t conflicting ideas, they’re absolute synergies. So, when you have ideas that you believe will add meaning, tell yourself it’s right. And tell your CEO “there’s money in it.” There truly is.

When in doubt, lean towards meaning.

How would I define meaning? Stay tuned.

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