Want to Make the World a Better Place? Start by Being a Better Leader
As a mother, I spend a lot of time thinking about the culture my son will grow up in. And lately, my analysis has been somewhat grim. The most pressing cultural issues seem like problems that I simply can’t address. I’m not a lawmaker, a psychologist, or a social worker. I’m the Chief Strategy Officer for a marketing and PR firm, and I struggle to keep up with the latest parenting research, much less strategies for saving the world.
I’m guessing many company leaders feel the same way. Our job is to generate revenue and grow our businesses—it’s somebody else’s job to fix America’s biggest problems, right?
But, it turns out, that’s not the right way to look at it. A growing body of research shows that the workplace is actually a realistic space to begin initiating cultural change.
Gallup has been researching the relationship between workplace involvement and overall health for years, and it’s found that employees who have “high well-being” (strong relationships, financial security, a sense of belonging) and “high engagement” at work are happier, more resilient, more adaptable to change, and more likely to volunteer. In other words, supported employees are better citizens, and better citizens make a greater, more positive impact in their communities.
Sure, one happy person won’t change the world—but one manager can do his or her part to encourage that sense of well-being and engagement. “Too many people in leadership positions don’t realize how much power and influence they have in people’s lives,” says Danielle Posa, a leadership advisor who has co-created a course with Deepak Chopra about how leaders can promote well-being.
If you’re in a leadership role at your office, here’s how you can get started:
Step 1: Reflect
Now is the time to reconnect with the reasons you built your company, went for that promotion, or accepted this management position. How do you want to be remembered as a leader? How do you want to make a difference? How can you lead in a way that’ll improve the lives of your employees?
Analyze your performance to date—what’s been effective and what hasn’t? How can your leadership foster a culture of happiness, respect, and gratitude? Set goals for yourself that are aligned with your overall well-being goals, incorporate them into your personal development plan, and make them as important as your other targets.
Step 2: Announce, Audit, and Formalize
After you’ve self-assessed, begin by formally announcing your commitment to strengthening your own team’s engagement and well-being. Clearly define your goals and your reasoning behind the launch of the program. This is the time to be authentic and open with the people who work under you.
Ask yourself: Why is employee well-being important to you? How would you like your organization to impact your community, your country, and the world? Then share your honest answers with your staff.
It’s critical that you’re visibly involved. Identify employees, regardless of position, who are naturally passionate about this type of work and invite them to join a well-being committee. You can give them the opportunity to self-identify or ask for nominations. The purpose of the group is to bring together diverse perspectives so that you have a better, more honest understanding of how it’s going and what steps make sense to take next.
Step 3: Create Team Values
The first task for your committee should be creating values for your team. Many organizations already have values, but they typically are designed to formalize processes and high-level philosophies (i.e., “We embrace bold thinking”). So you want to develop a few that are specific to what your people do.
Include statements that are directly aligned with your well-being goals. If you want to create a culture that prioritizes kindness and compassion, for example, you should back it up with a formal, stated value.
Step 4: Enable (and Require) Positive Change
Your values will never translate into actual employee behavior unless you create an environment that encourages and facilitates acting in accordance with them. It’s critical that people have the appropriate resources and opportunities to pursue any new initiatives.
Let’s say you want each person to feel a sense of purpose in his or her work: How will you enable that? Will you allow employees to explore alternate pathways if they’re dissatisfied? Will you help each person see how his or her work fits into the bigger picture? Will you advocate for more flexible work-from-home policies? There’s no right answer here—but each value must be backed up by processes and programs.
Likewise, it’s important to clearly condemn behavior that’s not in alignment with your new direction. For example, if one of your goals is to promote a healthy work-life balance and you see someone working 12-hour days, you’ll need to address that behavior immediately. (And, of course, any behavior that clearly damages employee well-being—discrimination, sexism, homophobia—shouldn’t be tolerated.)
Step 5: Institutionalize, Measure, and Evangelize
Though the speed at which you can make changes will be dictated by available budget and resources, you should do more than write your culture goals on a whiteboard. If possible, include well-being as a component in your team’s performance reviews. Think about developing an accountability system that will track and measure employee happiness, as well as empower your culture committee with the time and tools they need.
Some of the world’s most successful and influential leaders (Arianna Huffington, Richard Branson, among others) are embracing the importance of corporate well-being. If you’re a team leader, investing in employee well-being is a no-brainer: improve performance, increase productivity, increase employee retention, attract better talent, and change the world.
Rikki Rogers is a writer and marketer working outside of our nation’s capitol. When she’s not stuck in traffic, she enjoys writing poetry and running after her son. Since earning her BA from University of Virginia and her MFA from University of Utah, she's served in marketing and communication positions at a number of tech companies in the DC area. You can read more about her obsession with language and culture at www.rikkiwrites.com.More from this Author