If I were to search the world’s vast collection of leadership content, I’m not sure I could find a more fitting summary of what it means to lead where you are. If you’ve never read this speech in its entirety, I encourage you to do so here. While it was delivered some 51 years ago, I think you will find some of the points are still very relevant, particularly in light of current events.
It is massively liberating and empowering to recognize the opportunity that each of us has to influence for good the “small portion of events” that intersect with our daily lives. No matter our circumstances or how limited our circle of influence, we can make a difference. We can change the world by how we show up here and now, with these people, in this situation.
In a work context, this might read, “Few of us will have the opportunity to be the CEO but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events in our workplace and in the total of all these acts we will create a positive impact on our organization and the world.”
Also known as the “ripple effect” this notion holds enormous potential and responsibility.
Consider that your interaction with other human beings at work today may influence how they, in turn, interact with their family, and the family carries this energy into the community and the community into the world. If this is true, then we are all accountable for the ripples we create, especially those of us gifted with positions of power and authority.
You are impacting the world, the question is how.
If we embrace this reality, it changes everything.
Removes our excuses.
Exposes our selifishness
Silences our cynicism.
Opens new doors.
Offers new meaning.
Informs our actions.
Clarifies our values.
We’re talking about a deeper level of motivation. It’s the only thing that gets me out of bed some mornings. I always have the opportunity to make the world a better place whether or not my circumstances cooperate with things like finishing a project, making more money or getting a promotion.
“There is so much we can do to render service, to make a difference in the world – no matter how large or small our circle of influence.” – Stephen Covey
In a recent HBR article titled, “Happiness Traps” or “Why Your Job isn’t Making You Happier”, Annie McKee uses the term “virtuous microculture”. It’s a wonderful article all-around but this term really stuck with me because it describes the potential that every person has to use the influence we’ve been discussing to this point.
There are a lot of difficult places to work. Command and control bureaucracies, toxic cultures, frustrating work demands and difficult customers can push us towards negativity and hopelessness. We end up just trying to survive. With little control over or in the organization, what can you do to make things better?
You can create a virtuous microculture. If that sounds too corporate-speaky, think of it as “our small group of people who are going to find ways to make work better, more encouraging and uplifting, despite all the stuff going on around us”. Let’s create a cone of happiness in the midst of all the craziness.
Here’s the point…
If you aren’t going to leave or can’t leave, you can try to be a force for good and maybe you can inspire others to do the same. Maybe you really shouldn’t leave. Maybe, you are there for a reason.
Start today. Step into the gap. Surprise someone with an unexpected act of kindness and vulnerability. Create a culture within the culture. A small community that breaks the pattern and strives for something better. Shine a light in the darkness.
Leverage the positive energy.
And make some waves.
Maybe you think you can’t find meaning in your work.
Find meaning by making work better.
In your small corner of the world.