The question of meaning

A few days ago, I read an article that dealt with the question of managers about the meaning of their work. Specifically, it was about managers who wanted to make a change in their career despite the Corona crisis. This was obviously triggered by questions like “What actually keeps me in my current job and in my current company?” or “How meaningful is what I’m doing anyway?”. The article speculates whether lockdown and home office led to distancing from the company, more time with family, more reflection and more awareness in general. Have leaders perhaps finally had time to reflect on the meaning of their work and also the meaning of their lives?

Being able to create again

There are certainly people who simply strive towards higher goals, such as helping to make the world a little better and therefore only work in sustainable industries. But many simply want to have more time again for their family and their private life. However, I’m also sure that a lot of managers, especially those with a few more years under their belt, are thinking about a change because they want to get out of the vicious circle of reporting, endless meeting marathons and internal political games. People are happy to give up titles, large teams and probably even part of their salary if their work simply is appreciated again and they have the feeling to be able to really shape something.

Higher and faster

Even during the biggest crisis of the post-war era – I’m certainly not exaggerating with this phrase – the principle of “higher and faster” still seems to be the only maxim in many companies. While many businesses need to close down around you and thousands of employees are losing their jobs, leaders of other companies are critically questioning themselves why they were not able to actually use the crisis as an advantage and grow even more like for example Amazon, Netflix, or Zoom. In such situations, one or the other good manager quickly gets the label of failure, even though he has steered his ship quite well through the storm so far. I know several managers who constantly had and still have to fight the question “Why aren’t we growing even faster?”. They were then often asked to leave their chair to make way for a successor who would then drive the herd faster ahead of him. This successor, however, then often drives the cart up against the wall.

Thinking longer term

Right now, we need leaders who have not lost their grip on the ground and who use crises like this one to create a change in leadership and corporate culture. This does not mean at all to turn every company into a petting zoo. Of course, you need to keep an eye on economic success, strive for healthy growth and set challenging goals. But you shouldn’t let yourself be driven by short-term shareholder value. In the end, long-term success also benefits shareholders. At least those who are also interested in a long-term investment.

The ideal job

At some point, many former managers ask themselves the question of meaning of their work and then proactively choose a completely new path. That’s what prompted me to exactly take such a step 15 years ago, and I’ve never regretted it up to now. Quite the opposite. What do most managers say when asked how they would imagine their ideal job? At first, you always hear the usual and common phrases. But if you then ask for the spontaneous, honest answers that are really on people’s minds, the world suddenly looks very different.

Create value

Shortly after I read the article described in the introduction, a participant in a TV talk show asked why many company founders today are primarily only interested in increasing the value of the company as quickly as possible in order to sell it as expensively as possible, making the partners or shareholders rich. He then said, somewhat provocatively, that entrepreneurs should be obliged to invest all profits back into their own company in order to create real value, to drive more innovation, to train and develop employees. Yes, and also to pay employees a decent salary. It is certainly not possible to oblige entrepreneurs to do this, but they should really think about it. At least those who are interested to make sure that their employees don’t ask the question of meaning.

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