Ideals and Leadership

The best performing brands are “ideals” driven, according to Millward Brown’s recent study.  An exhaustive study identified 50 brands that report superior performance, and found that five fundamental human values drive brand performance:

  1. Eliciting joy
  2. Enabling connection
  3. Inspiring exploration
  4. Evoking pride
  5. Impacting society

It would seem to me that these same ideals are great places to start with your organization’s internal brand. Is your organizational purpose aligned with one of these five ideals? Do they give you reason to get out of bed in the morning and go to work?

A recent article in Rotman Magazine (Winter 2012) by Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer suggests that employees need a strong inner work life in order to be effective in the workplace. Our inner work life is the emotions, perceptions and motivations that are part of our internal thought processes as we work. Motivation is strongly derived from meaningful work.

As leaders, part of our job is to make meaning of the work we do for our followers and our customers. Basing our workplace on one or more of the five ideals noted earlier can help us make meaning and purpose of our work. But let’s not kid ourselves. Just because a job has meaning, doesn’t mean that every aspect of that job will be enjoyable and fulfilling. But the meaning can make the less enjoyable aspect of a job more tolerable, since the drudgery is still contributing to the accomplishment of the ideal.

Let’s take the example of the sanitation engineer (read garbage man). Smelly, unpleasant, hard physical work. Not much fulfillment or higher purpose here, right? Wrong. If the leaders of the municipal sanitation department focused on the ideal of evoking pride, this job suddenly has meaning. The workers and community can now take pride in being a clean, environmentally safe community. Why does this matter? It attracts tourism. It attracts new, tax-paying residents. It creates a sense of community ownership.

At my college, with its emphasis on learning and leadership, we aspire to inspire exploration and impact society. What ideals does your organization aspire to? How do you communicate them? How do you live them? Do you believe in them?


4 replies »

  1. Colleen – thanks for your post on a subject that is often ignored. Meaningful work and connections are so important and yet so often being missed in reality in too many workplaces. These are often bucketed into the ‘soft-skills’ component of workplace culture and relationships, with a quick reference to the ‘too hard basket’ as a result. Short-term thinking based on tangible outputs is the mantra represented by many leaders – maybe in contrast to their words, yet clearly evident through their actions. As a Customer Experience Leader in a national role, I can clearly see the link between internal employee success and end-customer satisfaction and retention. Meaningful work often is listed in the top 2-3 values or needs in employee satisfaction surveys. The gap between what employees want/need and what employers/leaders are able and willing to provide remains a challenge for many organisations.
    Keep on writing the good stuff, Colleen! Loving it.

    Steve Riddle:

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