Meaning and Energy

In all types of organizations, too many filled with people exhausted, cynical, and burned-out, I have witnessed the incredible levels of energy and passion that can be evoked when leaders or colleagues take the time to recall people to the meaning of their work. It only takes a simple but powerful question: “What called you here? What were you dreaming you might accomplish when you first came to work here?” This question always elicits a deep response because so few of us work for trivial purposes. Most people come to their organizations with a desire to do something meaningful, to contribute and serve. Everybody needs, as philosopher and management scholar Charles Handy says, “an inner belief that you are in some sense meant to be here, that you can leave the world a little different in a small way” (in Hesselbein and Cohen 1999, 130). If we are asked to recall that inner belief, and if we hear our colleagues speak about their own yearnings to make a small difference, we feel new energy for the work and for each other. The call of meaning is unlike any other, and we would do well to spend more time together listening for the deep wells of purpose that nourish all of us.

– Margaret Wheatley

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