“Love? In a corporate? What do you think this is – Valentine’s Day?”

In the THINKspiration lexicon, the word ‘love’ as it applies to work is less about cupid, and more about passion and motivation. It looks less like twee and more like energetic productivity. It’s an attempt to capture the excitement, the delight that becomes accessible when we adore what we do. Work can be about far more than simply ‘earning a living’; it can be a space of high motivation, of engagement, of knowing that our contribution counts.

Daniel Pink in his highly acclaimed book ‘Drive’, neatly packages the notion of intrinsic motivation (we all we need that, right?) into three components: purpose, autonomy and mastery. These three epitomize what is needed for work passion to flourish.

I am blessed to say that I love what I do. I get excited about discovering ideas and then using those learnings to help people excel in their relationships and work. I thrive when I can connect with people in a way that energises, equips and encourages them – sooner rather than later - to make strides in the areas that matter. This doesn’t mean that I am physically doing this every second of my workday – yet it’s definitely the ‘reason’, my ‘why’ for what I do. Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk – ‘Start with why’ – went viral in 2009. People all over the world were captivated by his insight that ‘people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ They don’t want to work with you because of what you do, but because of why you do it. This is the language of purpose. As Tracey Swanepoel writes in her book ‘The Leadership Riptide and How to Escape’: “Purpose starts with the problem we want to solve … the possibility we want to see realized, the dent we want to make in the universe.” What problems are you solving, directly or indirectly through the work you do? What is at stake if those problems aren’t resolved? What part of the work you do leaves you energized, and ready for more? What about your team or colleagues? How could you help them find their ‘why’? Some good reflection may be in order here!

The notion of autonomy is all about self-direction, and freedom, but with responsibility. Many organisations are finding that giving people space to achieve deliverables as, when, and how they choose (with accountability!) is a winning move. This feels scary and risky at first, but when done intentionally and with circumspection, it meets the expectation of young high-achievers (and some older ones too!) for flexibility, self-management, and even some experimentation in their work. For me, being given autonomy is like a psychological Vitamin B shot – it energises me to perform better and with greater commitment. I own what I do and can think more creatively and deeply about how best to get the job done well.

What about mastery? Someone who exhibits mastery in something shows superior knowledge or skill. They are technically proficient, and exceptionally capable – seen as an authority in that area. In his book ‘Outliers’, Malcolm Gladwell claims that 10 000 hours of deliberate practice are needed to become a world authority in any field. There is no doubt that ‘practice makes perfect’ but I think it is about more than perfectionism. There is a longing in all of us to transcend the status quo, to be brilliant at something that matters. We were made to excel, and we have an innate urge to push boundaries and make sacrifices to do just that, so that we can make a difference. Deep down, we all know that the blood, sweat and tears will be worth it. This has implications for us and for those we lead. It behoves us to ask ourselves certain questions, and to do this regularly… What am I doing to get better in the areas that matter? What do I need to neglect if I want to prioritise mastery in what is important to me? Whose help do I need to achieve that mastery? And, just as importantly: How can I encourage this kind of mastery in the lives of those around me?

The ‘love’ of the world of work is not the gooey kind of love, but the gutsy kind. The kind that is passionate, purposeful and productive. The kind that catalyses stellar achievement in others – and the kind that will settle for nothing less than changing the world we live in. Are you in?

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