Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.  ―Kahlil Gibran

Happy Valentine’s Day!

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I offer one of my favorite passages from the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran’s book, The Prophet.  Even though these words were written nearly 100 years ago, the message is more vital than ever because a Gallup Survey in 2012 determined that 87% of workers in the world and 71% in the United States feel disengaged at work.1

Why is that?  According to Susan Sorenson, a writer and editor at Gallup, workers feel disengaged when they don’t feel a deep sense of connection to their work and to their organization. Feeling linked to those two things, Sorenson says, “…is what drives performance, inspires discretionary effort, and improves wellbeing. That’s what keeps people coming to work, makes them excited about what they do, and inspires them to push themselves and their companies forward.”2

No wonder organizations can be so dysfunctional.  It’s like throwing a party for 100 people, and 69 of your guests would rather be somewhere else!  These engagement statistics are so alarming because untold potential is being squandered that if harnessed, could literally change the world.  The good news is that as leaders, we have the power to change this condition.  We can work to model engagement with those we serve and strive to create workplaces where people can thrive.  But it takes effort, time and energy, and it has to begin with ourselves.

Think about it for a minute.  Recall your best experiences in work situations where you felt the happiest and most engaged?  Compare those to the ones that rank at the bottom of your list.  How much of your level of satisfaction, engagement and commitment had to do with how you were treated by your managers and leaders?  What about the way they made you feel that you were valued and your opinion mattered?  What was different in the level of time and interest they invested in your development, in helping you identify and leverage your talents and strengths?  Did they help you see your contributions as part of a larger, significant effort, rather than making you feel like you were a cog in a wheel?

The person who showed me that “work was love made visible” was my first corporate boss.  After spending several years working in not-for-profits, in my mid-twenties, I was lucky enough to be hired by Jessie Glass.  From the day I arrived there, Jessie “got” me.  She saw what I was capable of becoming, even when I couldn’t see it myself.  She had a knack for sizing people up quickly and then pointing them to opportunities where their strengths could be used and displayed.  Time after time she shined the spot light on her people, never taking credit for joint accomplishments.  And she did this with everyone in the office, from the receptionist on up.  She charted a course for me that accelerated my path to leadership. And the day I left her tutelage three years later to accept a job at her same level in a different part of the country, she said, “Always hire people who are smarter than you because they make you look good.

What enables people like Jessie to be such powerful models of how to create engagement?  First, her primary goal as a leader was growing her people.  She knew if she focused on that, the results would fall into place.  Yes, the numbers were important, but they weren’t the emphasis.  Her people were.  Second, Jessie loved her job because she loved her team.  She was passionate about her work and about her people.  Third, she helped us connect to our mission―to why what we were doing was so important.  Fourth, she allowed her team to make mistakes and learn from them, so we felt empowered to make decisions and take action.  She expected us to walk beyond our comfort zones as far as we could climb, but always interceded before one of us fell off the cliff.  And finally, we all knew Jessie would go to the mat for us anytime and anywhere, so we never wanted to disappoint her.  We became what she beheld.

So as you think about the work you do, and especially about your work as a leader, what are you most passionate about?  What enables you feel engaged and to express that engagement with others?   What one shift could you make that would allow you to be an exemplar of “work as love made visible” in your workplace?  What is one step that you could take today that would make a difference and raise your personal level of engagement as well as the engagement of those you lead?

1 Worldwide, 13% of Employees Are Engaged at Work: Low Workplace Engagement Offers Opportunities to Improve Business Outcomes, Gallup® World, October 13, 2013, by Steve Crabtree

2 Don’t Pamper Employees, Engage Them, Gallup® Business Journal, July 2, 2013, by Susan Sorenson