My manager caught me in the hall, beaming. “Hey Alan, really great job on that training today. Let’s have you do more of that.” I smiled back, “sign me up!”
That was a long time ago and the first notably positive feedback I can remember getting from a boss. It was a big deal because immediately after college I had a hard time hitting my stride in my chosen field of HR, and rather than hearty praise I was often on the receiving end of a “critical feedback session.” It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort. I simply kept attempting jobs in which I could not thrive.
I got a boost when this manager, who was paying close attention, took a chance and asked me to help facilitate the new employee orientation. Suddenly I was reveling in the work and performing well. It was like sprinting out of quicksand.
For the first time, I was ending the workday feeling energized. As the years progressed and I advanced from facilitating employee orientation to creating leadership development programs the days kept getting better.
Looking back on that experience I see how my manager served as a source of inspiration for me to find my path. She was a great developer and leader. She drew an arrow sign over something I was good at, which ultimately evolved into a passion for training and, now, leadership coaching.
A central responsibility of a great leader is to help their team members do what they do best every day. Gallup knows from their research that, “people who focus on using their strengths are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs.”
And when teams are engaged they’re having their best days at work:
On those days, we are different: We are passionate, proactive, and productive. We are energized, efficient, and better able to deal with challenges that pop up without missing a step. We look forward to coming to work and have stronger relationships with coworkers and the people we serve.
Gallup’s research illustrates how engagement is good for business: “The greater the percentage of engaged employees and teams a company has, the more likely it is to meet and potentially exceed business goals.”
So, how does a leader cultivate an environment where everyone gets to do their best work and feels engaged?
Not surprisingly, it involves the leader being engaged themself. As Gallup puts it, “When managers are categorically engaged, the teams they lead are 59% more likely to be engaged.”
This adds up to one big idea: If engaged teams are better for business if leaders who use their strengths are more engaged, and if engaged leaders inspire engaged teams, then leaders have a noble purpose to start using their talents on purpose.
What stops leaders from fulfilling this purpose?
- They haven’t discovered their strengths.
- They know their strengths but aren’t deploying them.
- They are distracted.
What can leaders do?
- Find your talents. Take an assessment like CliftonStrengths by Gallup. Or carve out quiet time to self-reflect with questions like: What do I do well, without even thinking about it? What activities was I drawn to as a child? On my best days at work, what am I doing?
- Give your talents a job. If you think your current job isn’t a match for your abilities, invent ways to intentionally use your strengths at work or somewhere else. Get busy crafting the job you want.
- Get help. Distractions, in many forms, will always be present. Whatever that looks like, sometimes the best way around or through those obstacles is a coach.
My leader was engaged. Using her strengths as a developer of people she helped me harness my talents. Thanks to her, driven by a passionate purpose, I can be intentional about self-generating my best days at work. I hope my own engagement will pay-forward and inspire my team and the leaders I coach.
Aiming to always have a “best day at work” is truly aspirational thinking. But, when a leader activates their strengths on purpose it can lead to the kind of inspirational spark that lights everyone’s fire. And pretty soon it’s everyone’s best day at work. Every day.