Management Book: The Why of Work

The Why of Work by Dave and Wendy Ulrich is a timely and important book. It is about our search for meaning and how “leaders facilitate that search personally and among their employees.”

Importantly, they begin with a discussion of the seemingly inevitable issue of deficit thinking. “When employees lose what they have come to count on and expect—be it a person, an income, a position, or less concrete notions like security, identity, or direction—they are inclined to deficit thinking.” “Deficit thinking,” they write, “can lock us into a prison of our own making, a prison dominated by fear, isolation, disorientation, and competition for scarce resources.” We can’t eliminate the hardships, uncertainties and disruptions we sometimes face, but we can change our perspective—find a different meaning. That is where leaders come in.(…)

Meaning is not found in events but in the way we interpret those events. This means we are not (or should not be) controlled by what is happening around us, but we have to work to determine what it means.

Dave and Wendy Ulrich have proposed seven questions—and devoted a chapter to each—to help leaders drive the abundance agenda—questions that help leaders make meaning, add value, create emotional energy, and foster hope while at work.

1. What Am I Known For? (Identity)

2. Where Am I Going? (Purpose and Motivation)

3. Whom Do I Travel With? (Relationships and Teamwork)

4. How Do I Build a Positive Work Environment? (Effective Work Culture or Setting)

5. What Challenges Interest Me? (Personalizing and Contributing Work)

6. How Do I Respond to Disposability and Change? (Growth, Learning, and Resilience)

7. What Delights Me? (Civility and Happiness)

“Meaning does not ensure ease; it offers hope,” they write. “Abundance emerges from the growing conviction that what we are about ‘makes sense’—that it contributes to something larger than ourselves and that it is grounded in our deepest values. Such conviction does not forestall all problems, but it helps us confront problems with courage and integrity.”

Leaders at all levels can help (and have a responsibility to) make meaning happen.

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