Unlocking Leadership
Why Employee Engagement is Essential and How to Ensure It

Why do you do?

Shaking hands 878566_s 123RF“How do you do?” That statement was an integral part of my upbringing.  My parents taught us to say that whenever we met someone new.  And it is so ingrained that even today it is what I say when I meet someone for the first time.

I realise now that it is possibly peculiar to my British upbringing. Certainly it does not appear to be universal. I remember being rather taken aback by the response when living in Canada. There people took it much more literally and almost invariably responded, “ I am good, thank you.”  Yet despite this the habit remains!  

Now, you are no doubt wondering what brought this up, and why I am writing about this here and what relevance it could possibly have, so let me explain.

It was actually a conversation about purpose with a new acquaintance that got me started. It led me to a 2011 Wall Street Journal article, "Is Happiness Overrated?" This got me thinking.  

The article’s clear explanation of eudaimonic well-being and the fact that it comes from “engaging in a meaningful activity” resonated with me. This is the philosophy that underpinned my book “A Feeling of Worth” and is the essence of everything that I am about and trying to achieve. To learn that “evidence suggests that people who focus on living with a sense of purpose as they age are more likely to remain cognitively intact, have better mental health and even live longer than people who focus on achieving feelings of happiness” is a wonderful reinforcement – and validation – of my own purpose.   

If engagement comes from a sense of meaningful activity, then employee engagement requires that you have to ensure your employees do work that is meaningful. Your challenge, of course, is how do you make what can be mundane and menial, meaningful? The only way you can do that is by linking the task to something that is itself more meaningful. This necessitates identifying and invoking an organisational purpose.

In other words you have to move people on from what they do, to why they do it.

Think for a moment about one of the first questions you ask when you meet someone new – after, in my case, asking them “how do you do?” It is usually “What do you do?” This is one of life’s social ice-breakers and not only the gold standard for all networking.  The problem with this is that it reinforces our identifying ourselves and others by what they do. This almost invariably creates an imbalance whereby one person’s perceived standing is higher than the other’s.  This may not even be conscious, but it is almost always there.

Well the same stratification occurs in the workplace, and it is inevitably demotivating, demoralising and disengaging. So why not let’s take it a step further and make the next question, “Why do you do?” Especially in a work context! This will move you beyond the intrinsically negative and engender the sense of purpose that inspires organisational alignment, strategic integrity and the synergy that will enable your results to soar.

After all that is “Why do you do”, isn’t it?


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