Dear Leaders

A weekly letter with actionable leadership ideas.

Leading through Meaning

By Hamza Shayk

Dear Leaders,

I remember the story of sixteen-year-old Darren Schultz working on his family’s station wagon, which was hoisted by a jack. Suddenly, the jack slipped, and Darren’s right leg was pinned under the car. As his father frantically tried to reposition the jack, it was Darren’s mother who took decisive action. With strength that defied belief, she grabbed the rear bumper and, with a Herculean effort, lifted the back end of the 3,300-pound vehicle just enough to free her son.

At 38 years old, standing five feet six inches tall, and weighing 119 pounds, she was recovering from rheumatic knee issues and thrombophlebitis. X-rays revealed that due to lifting the car, she incurred a compression fracture with one vertebra completely crushed.

These types of stories are memorable because they exhibit extraordinary performance under intense motivation. They also serve as stark reminders of our innate potential.

Now, we can’t build leadership philosophy or practice around such rare circumstances, but the examples are a useful reminder of the power of motives. The world is moved by highly motivated people – people who believe very strongly or want something very much. Certainly, no organization can consistently succeed without strongly motivated people.

How, then, in your role as a leader, do you evoke that same level of engagement and dedication without the crisis?

The Need for Meaning

Fundamentally, it’s a mix of factors, yet the most impactful is the need to find meaning in our actions. As a leader, your critical task is to cultivate this sense of meaning for everyone in your team.

Certainly, there are basic needs within groups and the individuals within them that cannot be overlooked. A leader must recognize and address the need for income, healthcare, and trust in the organization’s stability. Equally important is fostering a sense of community, identity, belonging, and mutual trust. Also vital is ensuring that team members feel recognized, reassured of their individual importance, and appropriately challenged in their respective roles.

Yet, underpinning those needs is the profound need for meaning. And creating meaning that resonates with individual values is key to securing commitment. Without it, you’ll never see the best that your team has to offer.

Into Action

Take time to deeply understand each individual in your group. Discover their values and align them with those of the group and organization. Transformative leaders excel at making everyday tasks feel monumental, linking the personal to the universal. Such connections infuse routine work with exceptional purpose. When people see themselves as co-creators, aligned with larger goals that echo their personal values, they find profound meaning in their work, and their dedication evolves into a passionate pursuit far beyond mere obligation.

In Conclusion

Leadership, then, is less about wielding authority and more about harnessing human potential. It’s taking the time to understand the complex layers of human needs and translating them into a coherent, meaningful path forward.

Your success as a leader doesn’t just come from hitting your targets; it’s measured by the impact you have on others, the unity you cultivate, and the drive you inspire.

Lead with Purpose!

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