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105. The 3 Keys to Creating Meaningful Work

Tamara Myles, a leader who combines high expectations and high support, guides listeners to unlock their potential and discover the power of meaningful work through the 3C's framework of Contribution, Community, and Challenge, inspiring them to rise to the challenge and find a new level of productivity.

"You could also argue that meaning is the new money. There's data that says that nine out of ten employees would switch jobs to take a more meaningful job, even if it paid less, and they would be willing to give up almost a quarter of their lifetime earnings for more meaningful work."

Tamara Myles is an accomplished consultant, researcher, and international speaker with over two decades of experience helping leaders improve business performance. She is the author of The Secret to Peak Productivity and is a leading global authority on meaningful work.

Tamara Myles had a successful career in advertising and started her own business when she had her first child. After hearing the push back from people on how their managers and company culture were not allowing them to be productive and do meaningful work, she went back to school to study the role of leadership in enabling meaningful work. Through her research, she found that nine out of ten employees would switch jobs to take a more meaningful job, even if it paid less. She learned that meaningful work is about contribution, community and challenge, and that with the right support and challenging assignments, people can unlock their full potential and experience true meaning in their work.

In this episode, you will learn the following:

  1. How Meaning is the New Money: Explore the data that suggests employees would be willing to give up a quarter of their lifetime earnings for more meaningful work.

  2. Unlocking Potential Through Meaningful Work: Discover the role of leaders in enabling meaningful work and how to unlock potential in employees.

  3. The Three C’s of Meaningful Work: Learn the three C's of meaningful work - Contribution, Community, and Challenge - and how to cultivate them in your workplace.

Resources shared:

About Tamara:

Tamara Myles

Tamara is an accomplished consultant, researcher, and international speaker with over two decades of experience helping leaders improve business performance. She leverages her expertise on productivity and meaningful work to help leaders create cultures that enable individuals, teams, and organizations to thrive.

She is a leading global authority on meaningful work. Her research is the first rigorous, empirical study to examine the leader’s impact on making work meaningful.

She is the author of The Secret to Peak Productivity, which has been translated to multiple languages and is distributed globally. Her clients include KPMG, Unilever, Microsoft, Google, and Best Buy, and her work has been featured in Business Insider, Forbes, USA Today, The Boston Globe, and Success

Magazine, among others.

Tamara is an instructor of Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she received her Master’s in Applied Positive Psychology. She is also senior trainer for the Penn Resilience Program. Tamara lives near Boston with her husband, three children, and two dogs. She loves to cook and is in awe of the power of great food to bring people together for meaningful connection.


While it's not perfect, we offer this transcription by Capsho for those who prefer to read or who are hearing impaired.


Tamara Myles

You could also argue that meaning is the new money. There's data that says that nine out of ten employees would switch jobs to take a more meaningful job, even if it paid less, and they would be willing to give up almost a quarter of their lifetime earnings for more meaningful work.

Teri Schmidt

Wow. So it seems like meaningful work is pretty important, but I'm guessing you already knew that.

Are you a leader who cares? Someone who wants to create a more just and compassionate workplace and community through your leadership? Then today's episode is for you.

I'm Teri Schmidt, your host and leadership mentor.

When I envision a just workplace, it's one where leaders know that each person has unique value and should be uplifted as such. In a just workplace, diverse individuals belong, and the unique talents of each individual are amplified and aligned with their work so that people and the organization flourish. And as you'll hear today, that has a lot to do with creating meaningful work. As a leader who cares, you probably already want to make work meaningful, but maybe you're not always sure how. You're in luck, because today we're going to talk through specific research backed ways that you can transform ordinary work into something that leads to growth, development, and improved wellbeing.

Our guest today, Tamara Myles is an accomplished consultant, researcher, and international speaker with over two decades of experience helping leaders improve business performance. She is the author of The Secret to Peak Productivity, and her clients include KPMG, Unilever, Microsoft, Google, and Best Buy. And perhaps most importantly for today, Tamara is a leading global authority on meaningful work. Her research is the first rigorous empirical study to examine the leaders impact on making work meaningful. We had a very rich conversation that I can't wait to share with you, so let's get to it.


Teri Schmidt 00:02:33 Hi, Tamara, thanks for coming on today. I'm really looking forward to our conversation.

Tamara Myles 00:02:38 Hi, Teri. Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited for our conversation, too.

Teri Schmidt 00:02:43 I'd like to start just learning more about you, your journey to where you are today, and particularly how you lead in your life today.

Tamara Myles 00:02:51 Thank you. That is a question I don't get asked often about how I lead, so I'll think about that one for a little bit. But I'll tell you quickly about my journey to where I am today. I started my career right after college in the world of advertising, and I did that for almost ten years, and I loved it. But when I had my first child I have three teenagers now, but when I had my first one, I took a little break from corporate. I was traveling a ton, and I wanted to have some time to stay home with her. But, you know, my old agencies were asking me to consult, so I started kind of consulting very informally, and from there, I started building my business, which I'm about to celebrate my 17th year in business in April. And a lot of what I started consulting on was on how to be more productive.

Teri Schmidt 00:03:44 Right.

Tamara Myles 00:03:44 Because in advertising, I managed so many timelines and clients, and I had developed systems that worked really well, and I was sharing those systems with others. From there, I ended up developing my own productivity system that was based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I ended up writing a book. It was published in 2014, and that one was all about individual productivity, a personal productivity system. And I was speaking and doing a lot of training on the system. And I started hearing at the back of the room after a training, like, oh, this is really great. And I can do most of it, but I can't only check email every couple of hours, because in my company, the culture is such that I don't have this autonomy or my leader doesn't let me do this, this and that. And I was hearing the pushback about the company culture or how their managers are managing them. And so I went back to school to really look at the role of the leader in enabling people to do their best work, because people want to be productive, they want to spend their time and work that matters. But I was hearing firsthand that that wasn't happening because of the leaders and the culture. So for the past four years or so, I've been studying the role of leadership in enabling people to do work that matters and be productive in that way. And so that's my journey. And the way I lead, I would say, is a combination of high expectations and high support. So one of my number one signature strains so that's a positive psychology tool where we can find our signature strains any listener can go and find for free. It's the Via survey of character strengths. And your top five to seven are usually what we call your signature strengths. And so my top signature strength is a strength that they call love. And that's really about caring about relationships, investing in relationships, getting your energy from relating to others. And that's completely true for me. And so I lead in a way that really cares for people that they feel cared for. But I also expect a lot of them because I do think that people rise to the challenge when you can challenge them. And I actually find this again and again in my research, too.

Teri Schmidt 00:06:14 Yeah, I was just going to say that ties in so nicely to your current focus on meaningful work. And we'll talk about the three C's, but I hear them in your statement right there about how you lead.

Tamara Myles 00:06:28 Yeah, thank you.

Teri Schmidt 00:06:29 Well, speaking of meaningful work, I know you mentioned that you're focusing on the role of the leader, the manager, to enable people to do their best work. How did that then go into your focus in meaningful work?

Tamara Myles 00:06:45 Yeah, so I went back to school, I went to the University of Pennsylvania to get a master's in Applied Positive Psychology. I really wanted to understand meaningful work is the construct that's the name of the term that's used when people are doing things that they feel have significance that matter. Right? And so that's what I always cared about was not productivity. The way I define productivity is not about doing more and less time. A lot of people think that's productivity productivity is really about doing more of what matters. Right? We spend so much of our time being so reactive. We're checking hundreds of emails, we are doing little tasks, but by the end of the day we don't feel like we did anything to move our big strategic projects forward or big thinking. And I really wanted to help people spend time on those things that matter. And so the meaningful work ties really beautifully with that. Right? My productivity model is called the peak productivity pyramid. At the top of that pyramid is a level that I call possibility. And that's what happens when you go through the first four levels and you are organized and you have good time management systems in place. You're planning, you're prioritizing, you're aligning the things you do with your goals, then you get to that top level possibility. And that is really about unlocking your potential, doing things you never thought possible and all of that. And so the closest construct to that that exists in the world of positive psychology is meaningful work. And so that's how it all ties together. I went back to school to really study the role of leaders in enabling meaningful work and we found that that wasn't really looked at very much. There's a lot of research, a lot of giants that I stand on the shoulders of incredible researchers that look at meaningful work. But most of the time meaningful work is looked at from the individual perspective. Because if you think about it, meaningful work is a highly individual experience, right? What's meaningful to me is not always or not necessarily what's meaningful to you.

Teri Schmidt 00:08:56 Right?

Tamara Myles 00:08:57 And so most of the research is on how individuals can increase their own sense of meaning at work. There are practices like job crafting and connecting what you do to the impact that it has and things like that. And these are all great, but I was really curious about what is the role of the leader? And so my good friend and partner Wes Adams and I, we joined forces in graduate school and we started this research that we're still conducting. And I believe it's the first research that looks at specific practices that leaders are doing to unlock meaning such important work.

Teri Schmidt 00:09:39 Because as listeners of this podcast will know, I believe so deeply in the power of the leader to influence the lives of those that work for them, that work with them. And I love your definition of productivity as well because I think sometimes we do just think of it as doing more, but doing more of what matters is so important in the way that prioritization factors into that. And one of my pet peeves is when people say that they don't have the time to do something.

Tamara Myles 00:10:15 That's actually how I closed my book with this I don't have time is such a cup out. And I close my productivity workshops in my book with this challenge for people to not use the phrase I don't have time and instead go level deeper. And what are you really trying to say when I have friends who are like, oh, you read so much, I'm trying to read more, but I don't have time. And I challenge them to say we all have the same amount of time, everyone is busy, people have full lives. So you can say things like reading is not a priority for me right now, or I am choosing to spend my time in different ways because really, time management is choice management. We all have a lot more things to do, things that people want us to do, things we want to do than time to do them in. And so it's about choosing the right things to do in the time that we have. And time is really the greatest common denominator. We all have the exact same amount of time. No matter how rich or poor or senior leader or just starting your career, no matter who you are, we all have the same exact amount of time. So it is about the choices we make in the time that we have. And that's why I think productivity is about doing more of what matters. If we think about the 80 20 rule, 20% of the things we do bring us 80% of our results, but we spend most of our time tackling the 80%, the disruptions, the distractions. And what would it be like if we could really identify and focus on the 20%?

Teri Schmidt 00:12:05 Yeah, and the leader can do so much in enabling that.

Tamara Myles 00:12:10 So much. Absolutely. And I mean, to go back to what you were saying, that you and your listeners really believe that the leaders have such a big impact in the employee experience, but specifically the experience of meeting at work, that is.

Teri Schmidt 00:12:29 And it's twofold in a way that the leader has to focus on making their own work meaningful as well as setting up the structures and building the relationships that help to make the work meaningful for others as well. So I'm excited to dig into this conversation. We're so aligned.

Teri Schmidt 00:12:48 But I'd love to hear what you.

Teri Schmidt 00:12:49 Say to maybe a leader who isn't convinced yet that he or she needs to focus on making work meaningful. Why is it important for a leader to be concerned about that?

That's a great question and there's so much I can talk about. We could finish the episode just talking about this. So I'm trying to choose the most pointed data that I would say. So I guess we can start very quickly looking at data from the great resignation, right? We saw this wave of people, unprecedented numbers leaving work. And when you look at why people were leaving, leaders started throwing in more pay, higher perks, and these were all great and important, but these are table stakes. The reason why people left was because they didn't feel like they belonged, and they didn't feel like their leader cared about them. And so if you're a leader who cares about retention, meaningful work is highly tied to retention. If you're a leader who cares about productivity, about engagement, about well being or fulfillment, I mean, these are all factors that come directly from the experience of meaningful work. And you could also argue that meaning is the new money. There's data that says that nine out of ten employees would switch jobs to take a more meaningful job, even if it paid less, and they would be willing to give up almost a quarter of their lifetime earnings for more meaningful work.

Teri Schmidt 00:14:32 That says a lot, doesn't it?

Tamara Myles 00:14:35 Say a lot? And then for leaders who are still not convinced, I would just ask them to reflect on a time that work felt meaningful for them. How did that feel like? Why was it special? What felt meaningful? And then reflect on the time that work just felt like drudgery and that you dreaded waking up on Mondays. And what's the difference in the experience? How did you show up? Were you more energized? And that's how your employees feel too, right?

Teri Schmidt 00:15:13 And I love that personalizing it and asking them to really think about the whole experience, like you said, how did you show up at work? How productive were you there? How effective were your results? But also, what did it do to your wellbeing, what did it do to your relationships outside of work on both sides when it was meaningful and when it wasn't?

Tamara Myles 00:15:35 Yeah, I mean, there's search on network effects, social contagion, right? It shows that when we are happier, our friends friends become happier. It's three degrees of separation. Our emotions are contagious. And so when we experience meaning at work, we're much more likely to experience higher sense of meaning in life. But also, we come home, we bring work home with us, and we're all working from home. But work affects our personal life, and it affects the way we show up for our families, our communities. I mean, I really, truly believe that work in our workplaces can be an engine for community well being. It can be a force for well being. And I think it is through the power of network effect.

Teri Schmidt 00:16:26 That's so interesting. And even if you had a leader who hopefully there aren't leaders like this out there, but even if you had a leader who wasn't concerned about that and wasn't concerned about the effect on those closest to him or her as well as the community. I think the research, like you mentioned, shows that it just helps your business to thrive as well when you can find that meaning, as well as help others to find that meaning.

Tamara Myles 00:16:55 Yeah, absolutely. And for leaders who don't care, who might not think that it's important for community well being and they just really kind of want to go back to the bottom line in their own results. Sean Acre has this quote that I love that your brain at happy is 30% more productive than at negative or neutral. Right. And so when we experience work as meaningful, we are much more fulfilled in our career, we tend to be much more energized, engaged, we're happier at work, and we can be much more engaged and productive when we are happier and more fulfilled at work.

Teri Schmidt 00:17:40 Right? Right. Yeah. We've talked in the past episodes as well about Gallop's research on well being and career well being, the driver of the other four elements.

Tamara Myles 00:17:51 Absolutely.

Teri Schmidt 00:17:52 The audience is definitely familiar with that. So I'm convinced, although I was convinced when we started off. But hopefully those leaders out there who may feel this is a little woo woo or not related to the bottom line, are convinced that there is hard data out there that even if you're only concerned about the bottom line, focusing on creating meaningful work for your team members is a worthwhile investment of time.

Tamara Myles 00:18:20 Absolutely. And what I find with the leaders I train and talk to and speak to is not that they need to be convinced that meaningful work matters. Most of them know that it matters because they've had their own experiences. They just don't know how to make work meaningful. So when we were embarking on our research, one of the mentors that we spoke with is Tom Rath. He's the best selling author of Strength Finder 2.0 and Multiple Bestselling books. And he told us, he's like, yeah, leaders don't need to be convinced to make work meaningful. They don't need to be convinced that meaningful work matters. They all know this, they just don't know how. And so he was really excited that we were launching this study to find out specifically how. And so hopefully your listeners are of the same mindset that they know they are all in. They just need to know, like, how do I do this?

Teri Schmidt 00:19:23 Which is an excellent transition into the next question I was going to ask you because we do have a lot of new people, leaders, listening to this podcast that maybe it's their first time enroll. They are dealing with all the challenges of moving from an individual contributor to a leader and everything that comes with that and all the tasks, all the learning that is on their to do list. How do they get started with from the get go focusing on creating meaningful work?

Tamara Myles 00:19:57 What a great place to be in it's starting as a new people leader. So congratulations. And with great power comes great responsibility, right? What an honor to be leading people in a gift, I think. And for those new people, leaders who really want to lead with meaning and put meaning front and center, I would say you can focus on what we call the three CS of Meaningful work. So through our research, we identified 26 specific leadership practices that fall under six main domains. And that's what our academic paper will be all about. And it's really exciting. So Wes and I really wanted to take all this data and all these practices and create a framework that would be actionable and easy for leaders to remember. So we came up with the three C's framework. And so the three CS of meaningful work are contribution. And that's the one that most people think of when they think of meaningful work, right? They think meaningful work. So meaningful Work and purpose are terms that are used interchangeably, but they mean different things. Purpose is a part of Meaningful Work, but it's not the whole story. So contribution is the part that includes purpose. Basically, it's answering the question, how does what I do matters? Right? And so things leaders can do to increase the sense of contribution is tell stories. Storytelling is a really powerful tool. So leaders can be story collectors and storytellers of people's impact. And it can be external impact can be, how does your role affect our consumer, the people that are buying our product or that are using our services? But it could also be internal contribution, peer gratitude, appreciation, saying thank you, saying how what they did this week helped you, as their leader, do other things. And so really, highlighting the stories of contribution and impact is a great way to increase the meaning through contribution. The second C is Community. We really, as humans, have this very strong need to belong. And so community is all about building belonging. And there's many ways to do that. One is to foster amity at work, so create places for people to connect. Amity is a different word for friendship. We created the three A's of belonging, and so amity worked very well, but creating opportunities for people to connect on a personal level. Some stories from our research include things like volunteering together or trivia. People did like a lot of trivia over zoom, so it can be simple and low cost activities like that, but it can also be through shared interests and shared values. You can build belonging through and that's the other A. The pathway is alignment. So alignment belonging to a community of shared values creates instant trust, creates instant belonging. Right? And so amity is one A, alignment is the other way, and the other one is authenticity. And that one is really about creating psychological safety so people can show up fully and engage authentically where their ideas can be heard, and that really, really increases inclusion, right. Because a lot of leaders are rightfully focused on dei initiatives, right? And diversity is great. So having a more diverse pool of people is great, but without the psychological safety for them to express who they are, express their ideas and opinions, it's not enough. The way to build belonging is to be inclusive, right? Is to include people to ask for their ideas, ask for their feedback, ask who disagrees? What am I missing? What are my blind spots? One practice that the CEO of Paycheck uses is no one speaks twice until everyone speaks once. So in his meetings, he has this practice, and that's such a beautiful way, simple, to create inclusion, right? So that's the community building buckets really front and center with creative belonging and strengthening relationships and the social connections at work. And then the third C is challenge. And that's kind of where we started when I was talking about the kind of leader I am. And Challenge is really about giving people opportunities for growth and development, but beyond that is about uncovering potential in people that they may not even see themselves yet. I did a facilitator training a couple of years ago, and there were 15 of us in the group, and the lead trainer asked us to take a few minutes and reflect on someone who's a mentor, who meant a lot to you and why. And so we all reflected, and then the 15 of us shared our stories. And what really stood out to me is how many of us mentioned a leader who gave us a really challenging assignment that we were kind of secretly freaking out about, like, total imposter syndrome, like, oh, my gosh, I don't think I can do this. Why did they pick me? But then they believe in you so much and give you the right support that you want to prove them right. You want to rise to the challenge, and you got it done. In those moments, like, really stuck with us, I mean, we were remembering stories from decades ago that really changed the way we see ourselves, the way we see our abilities. And so Challenge is about that, about uncovering people's potential, about treating every employee as a high potential. Individual organizations have these practices of having their high potential pools of employees, and it's usually, like, five to 10% of employees. That means that 90% to 95% of people are in this zone of wasted potential that were not working hard to uncover yeah. Who they could become. Yeah. And and I think and that's my personal favorite. Sea yeah.

Teri Schmidt 00:26:44 Yeah. That's an excellent point that I honestly hadn't thought of to this point. Taking 5% to 10% of your employee base and saying, these are the high potentials. Well, what about everybody else?

Tamara Myles 00:26:58 Exactly. And the research on burnout shows that the single biggest cause of burnout is not just because we're working too hard or too long. It's because we're working too hard or too long without feeling our own personal growth and development. And so it's sad. It is. And I think that for new leaders out there to be looking for people's strengths, one way to uncover this potential is to give people some kind of strengths assessment and play to their strengths, give them opportunities to use their strengths at work. Research shows that when we have the opportunity to use our strengths at work, we're 18 times more likely to be flourishing than we don't. Right. But also having development conversations that are not performance review conversations separate from that and leading with curiosity and asking questions and trying to find those right assignments that people can develop their skills and grow and contribute to the organization so.

Teri Schmidt 00:28:08 Much that we could unpack there and dig into and talk for much longer than we have time to talk today. So we have the three C's. We have the contribution, community and Challenge. Just a couple of points, as you were talking, that came to mind with regards to contribution. I know you and I went back and forth a little bit talking about the generational differences in terms of what does it mean for someone who is maybe in the baby boomer generation as compared to someone who is in Gen Z in terms of them feeling like they made a contribution. I think the article that you shared with me talks about I believe it was the baby boomer generation was all about goal achievement. And so contribution, yes. You want to help them understand how their specific work contributes to the work of the organization, but also get more granular about this goal, contributes to the accomplishment of this objective which relates to the accomplishment of this organizational objective as opposed to another generation where it may be about what contribution am I making to the work of the organization, but more importantly, is the organization making to the greater community?

Tamara Myles 00:29:31 Right? Absolutely. Yes. And that's where the individual differences come in. And you used one of my favorite words, which is like getting granular. Right. So we said that meaningful work is a highly individual experience. There's obviously themes. But you're right. What's meaningful for a Gin zer is not necessarily the same thing that's meaningful for a baby boomer, but below the waterline of the iceberg, it is about contribution because whether you're a baby boomer or a Ginzier, you want to know how what you do matters. And so contribution is answering that question how is it that what I'm doing here every day matters? And it could be, how does it matter to my own personal growth, to my own development, to my own goal achievement? How does it matter to the organization's bottom line, to the organization's goals and impacts? How does it matter to the community, to my peers? Right. So there's many ways of answering that question, but it really is about how is it that what I do here matters?

Teri Schmidt 00:30:34 It all boils down to that. And I think the fun of being a leader is figuring out with each of your team members what matters most to them and what is going to feel like a contribution to them. What do I want to highlight when we're having these conversations about work that's assigned?

Tamara Myles 00:30:52 Exactly. And one really interesting data about the generational divide is that every generation, when asked by researchers, every generation highly values meaningful work. Right. So they personally value meaningful work but they think that the other generations are only in it for the money. It's really interesting that the research shows that not only does every generation value meaningful work, but they define it very similarly. Right. What we find is that making work meaningful is really a strategy that can bridge the generational divide. Right. Because we do hear from a lot of the leaders we work with like, oh my goodness, I feel like I'm speaking a different language. I don't understand the new generation. And that's been true, I think, for forever. But the good news is that meaningful work is a basic human need and motivation. Right. And so it can help leaders bridge the generational divide.

Teri Schmidt 00:32:10 That's another added benefit. Definitely. And then with regards to community, loved your forays. And we actually just had an episode where we were talking about emotional intelligence and in particularly how it's used by those who have been historically marginalized and how that can some of those skills can be used almost in a way that negatively impacts their well being. So I love the idea of tying in meaningful work with the community and creating that psychological safety which is another upcoming episode that we have. So love that that aligns. And then with regards to the challenge, my background way back is in education and I just keep hearing the zone of proximal development. So that sweet spot where it's just challenging enough to motivate you but your leader is also providing what we would call the scaffolding to support you in that.

Tamara Myles 00:33:14 Absolutely. So you must be very familiar then if you have a background in education with the research on the Pygmalion effect. So it's how teachers I think the research started it was mostly done with students in academic but also elementary school settings. And now there's Pygmalion effect research done with leaders and organizations. But basically in the 1960s, Bob Rosenthal, a researcher, stuck into his lab in the middle of the night and labeled half of his rats smart and the other half dumb.

Teri Schmidt 00:33:53 Right.

Tamara Myles 00:33:53 So he just did that and there was no rhyme or reason. It was totally random, but he just wanted to see what happens. And they were all the exact same rats, but he just labeled smart numb. And then the next day when his assistants came in, he said, okay, these are our smart rats and these. Are our dumb rats, and we're going to put them through some puzzles and see who does better. And the results weren't even close. Heart rats performed so much better than the dumb rats, and he couldn't even publish his study because nobody would believe him. What he ended up concluding is that the small behaviors of the researchers towards the smart rats and the expectations that they had actually changed the way that the rats performed, which is amazing. It's amazing, the power of a leader, isn't it? And so then they did that study with students. They would start the school year, and they would tell a teacher, like, these kids have very high IQ, and it was randomly selected. They all had, like, average IQs. By the end of the school year, they would measure again with tests, and those kids growth was statistically significant, much higher than the other kids. Right. And so it's this power of high expectations that we can apply to leading. So when leaders have these high expectations of you, they're acting in ways that kind of prove those high expectations that make those expectations come true. And so that's why, by only focusing on 5% of high performing individuals, we are wasting so much opportunity.

Teri Schmidt 00:35:44 Yeah, agreed. And that brought a couple of things to mind. You talked about how helpful it is for leaders to give some sort of strengths assessment, whether that be Clifton Strength or Via or Pat Lindsayi's working genius. How helpful that can be, I think because it can erase those smart and dumb labels that may have been assigned to the person based on just what culture says is a good worker or is a good team member. Because you can identify that everyone does have certain strengths. And when you lean into those, even for yourself, when you lean into those and focus on feeding those, that's when your work becomes meaningful. That's when you have the energy. That's when you can excel in the way that you were designed to excel.

Tamara Myles 00:36:42 Absolutely. And the other thing I think that it does is it creates a shared language for the team, for the organization. Right. If everybody has this shared language of strengths and can strength spot each other, it's an upward spiral of good, of performance, of feeling connected, feeling seen. Right. But of developing strengths. The research on strengths shows that it's better for us to further develop our signature strengths so to continue using and growing our current strengths than to try to develop a lower strength. I mean, both can be done before a shorter term boost of well being, of energy, of getting better at something of growth. It's better to focus on further developing our signature strategy.

Teri Schmidt 00:37:43 Definitely. And the other story that your comments brought to mind was just one of the most meaningful pieces of feedback that I've gotten is from someone I coached who said, you made me believe I was capable of more than I thought I was. And I think any leader wants to hear that. And if we can work on structuring work and really knowing our people and knowing their strengths so that we can help craft that meaningful work, or like an article you just shared on LinkedIn, help them reflect so that they can look back and see how their work was meaningful, you can have an immense impact.

Tamara Myles 00:38:27 What a beautiful feedback you received was great. That's amazing.

Teri Schmidt 00:38:33 Yeah, I treasure that. Definitely.

Tamara Myles 00:38:35 Yeah. And the power of reflection is really incredible for meaningful work because often we don't feel that something's meaningful in the moment. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we have this experience where we get an email expressing the impact that you had, and in that moment you're like, wow, that's so meaningful. But often meaning comes from struggle, right?

Teri Schmidt 00:39:01 True.

Tamara Myles 00:39:01 And so when we're struggling to complete this project, the high expectation project that was given to us in the moment, we're kind of figuring things out. We're learning and we don't feel it. But looking back and reflecting on it is when we truly feel how much we've grown or how amazing that was that everybody came together to help you or whatever it was that made it meaningful for you. This ties a little bit, I think, to the research on parenting and meaningfulness. When they ask parents, they did the research where parents carry around like a beeper, and then every now and then they get beeped and says, how happy are you right now? On a scale of like zero to ten or zero to five? I don't remember. And you know, what they found is that parents are a lot less happy than non parents. Right. In the moment to moment. Parenting is often hard. When you have little kids, you're not sleeping while you're dealing with tantrums and you have teenagers, you're worried about, I don't know, college or drugs or anything, it's often not pleasant in the moment, but later reflecting on it, or even like maybe just a little bit later that night when you're thinking about the day and reflect, it is so meaningful. Right? So parenting is a deeply meaningful experience, but not always happy compared to non parents is what the research finds. And I think that applies to meaningful work, because parenting gosh, what meaningful work? What impact are you having somebody whose life you're like raising a human being. Rightly. Meaningful, but not always pleasant. And I think meaningful work sometimes is like that too.

Teri Schmidt 00:40:53 Yeah. What a great point. Making your work meaningful is not about being happy all the time at work.

Tamara Myles 00:41:03 Absolutely.

Teri Schmidt 00:41:03 It is more about those three C's that you were talking about. So thanks for calling that out. That's I think probably a myth that is out there, that if your work is meaningful, you're going to have sMyles all day long.

Tamara Myles 00:41:17 No, and something else that I forgot to highlight earlier that I think is really important to note is that meaningful work really lies at the intersection of the three CS. Even if one of the CS is super high, but you're missing the other two, work is not going to feel meaningful. And one example is we have clients who are in the social impact nonprofit world and that deeply meaningful or like deeply impactful work, right? So you know the impact you're making on the day to day, you're often meeting with the people who you're impacting. But they were not high on the community bucket when we first started working with them, people were not feeling a sense of belonging, they were not feeling like their voice was heard, they were not feeling valued, like they were just another cog in the machine and easily replaceable. And we worked with them, with the leaders and with the whole team to increase the fee of the community bucket so that everybody could experience meaningful work. And so they were super high on contribution but very low on community, and work wasn't meaningful. And so it's really important for leaders to focus on all three.

Teri Schmidt 00:42:37 What a great call out. I won't go into it now, but definitely have personal experience to the same effect when one was very high and the other two weren't there. And that led to me feeling unfulfilled. Yeah, that's a great point. Speaking about the social impact space kind of relates to the next question. I did see in a recent article that you did in Fast Company about how to make workplaces antitoxic, which I love that term, by the way, but you wrote that there is no institution with more power to change the world than our workplaces. And I believe that also. But I'd love to hear what you meant by that and give us a little bit more granularity around that.

Tamara Myles 00:43:22 Sure. So I deeply believe that and for a few different reasons. One is that we spend about a third of our lives at work. Right? And we talked about the network effects. We talked about how we bring what's happening at work home. We also bring what's happening at home to work. But shouldn't that third of our day, a third of our lives mean something? Shouldn't we be able to not just make money to live and be able to enjoy our lives, but also make friends, make progress, learn, grow, develop all those things? And so I believe that they're not mutually exclusive and that you can experience work as meaningful while also fulfilling obligations that you have. The other piece of why I believe that is that Edelman does like a trust barometer every year. And what they're finding is that work is the institution that people trust the most right now. They trust workplaces more than government or other institutions. It's not like we fully trust our leaders in workplaces. The numbers aren't stellar, but they're still higher than other institutions. And so there's power there. Like, if people are trusting our workplaces, they should kind of fulfill that social contract, too, and help become engines of well being. And then finally, I think one of the silver linings of COVID was this call for well being in our workplaces. Life became really integrated as we all joined each other's homes and saw what was happening. And that was kind of nice. We were able to connect more personally, but we lost our boundaries of work and life if we had them before. And of course, we lived through a pandemic and economic crisis and all kinds of things. And so our well being really suffered, burnout, increased, and for the first time ever, the vague murthy who's the US. Surgeon General, put out a report calling for workplaces to become engines of societal well being and change. And that's hugely significant, that there's this call and he put together a great framework, and in that framework, there's a big call for meaning and meaningful work. And so I do think that we are staring at this precipice of possibility, of change, of workplaces becoming all that they can become to help us flourish, to help humans become more fulfilled, become more engaged. So Marty Seligman, who is the founder of the field of positive psychology and who I love and admire, and as a mentor, he called for everyone in positive psychology. His big vision is to have 51% of the population in the world flourishing by 2051. And that's a big vision. We are not there yet, and we're not even really close to being there yet. But I believe that the way that we can get there is by making our workplaces engines of well being. I think if we can all feel fulfilled at work, we're going to bring that home and we're going to be fulfilled in life.

Teri Schmidt 00:47:13 Yeah, and the research shows that. And like we talked about earlier, the network effect, just imagine where it can go. That's why Stronger to Serve is so focused on creating just and compassionate workplaces through leadership, because we do spend so much time there, and there's so much focus in our world on what happens in our workplaces, and it drives so much. So if we can make those places where people are flourishing. I'm excited about the impact.

Tamara Myles 00:47:46 Yeah, me too.

Teri Schmidt 00:47:48 Well, I have so enjoyed this conversation. And like I said, I would love to dig in deeper to so many of the topics, but I want to be respectful of your time. So I'd love to just close with where people can learn more about you and your work. If they want to connect with you, where's the best place for them to go?

Tamara Myles 00:48:07 Thank you so much, Teri. This was a great conversation. It sounds like we are very aligned and that we are both doing everything we can to make Marty's vision a reality. The best place for people to connect with me is on LinkedIn. I am often there posting. That's where I share my latest articles and latest research and latest thinking to help leaders become the kind of leaders that lead with meaning. And so I would love to connect with your listeners there. So if anybody is on LinkedIn and wants to connect with me, I would love to.

Teri Schmidt 00:48:41 Great. Well, we'll make sure the direct link.

Teri Schmidt 00:48:44 To your LinkedIn gets included in the show notes so it's easy to find. And again, I just want to say thank you for your time today. Thank you for the work that you are doing. I'm excited to continue following it and continue interacting with you.

Tamara Myles 00:48:59 Thank you so much. Me too.

Teri Schmidt 00:49:05 What a great conversation. How will you work on creating the three C's for your team? Follow me on LinkedIn to share your next steps and to get ideas from others. And until next time, lead with this quote by Jim Collins in mind: "It is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work."


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