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Profound Leadership Thoughts – The meaning of “Meaning”

October 3, 2012 Dean van Leeuwen Leadership, Thought-provoking ideas 2 Comments

This blog was first published on our sister company’s blog and written by TomorrowToday International Partner Keith Coats. The thoughts are very powerful please enjoy reading them and take time to think and reflect on the meaning they have for you.

Meaning: Your Responsibility!


During a recent conversation with my colleague, Dean, a conversation had whilst driving through the beautiful Ascot in England, a thought was expressed to which Dean responded, “Keith, you really need to blog that thought”.

This then is the blog that captures that thought.

It is a simple thought but one that I believe is fundamental to finding meaning in life, or at least in our avocation – that which we do. It is something that we all need to engage with, regardless of our role and responsibility in the organisation or business in which we serve.

Dan Pink in his book Drive, explores the science of human motivation. He makes a compelling case for the need to employ intrinsic motivators for the definitive tasks of the 21 Century rather than the more usual extrinsic motivators, which he describes as ‘carrots and sticks’. Intrinsic motivators he articulates as, autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Pink describes ‘purpose’ as the understanding that we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves; another way of perhaps understanding purpose would be to describe it as ‘meaning’. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor wrote his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaningin which he argues the fundamental need is for people to have a sense of meaning in their life. Frankl’s book is a ‘must read’ – at least it is on my list of books that every leader should read.

So then, what was this ‘must blog’ idea on meaning?

It is that meaning is not to be found in what we do, but is rather, something we bring to that which we do.

If meaning is to be found in what we do then for the majority of jobs and occupations would seemingly be ‘without meaning’? For those involved in saving the world,  saving the rhino, feeding the orphans or restoring sight, it is not difficult to find meaning in what they do. But what then for those who pack boxes, clean-up, sort, file and do any number of tasks that might seem ‘meaningless’ when viewed in isolation?

Meaning is brought to work not found in work. Meaning is your responsibility. It is something that comes from within. It is a little like happiness in the sense that when we understand this, the agenda changes. Of course meaning can be found in work but then what if we no longer get to continue with that work? No, meaning is our responsibility and understanding it as such changes everything.

Of course this thought implies a journey, an inner journey, one that if you are willing to make, will yield rich dividends.  It is a journey that has to be explored personally and although there can and should be help along the way, it is always an intensely personal journey.

So let me not clutter this thought with more words. Meaning is something we bring to that which we do.

That’s the thought. It is a thought that begs a question: So what meaning do you bring to work? Careful how you answer that!

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. thabo says:

    Why do I hate this post so. Yes meaning arises from our interpretation of what we do. Meaning is not a responsibility, it is an outcome of our sensemaking. It can be absent, negative, positive but it is ever present. Purpose Is a larger idea, which is more a narration of self.

  2. [...] Profound Leadership Thoughts – The meaning of “Meaning” Written by: Keith Coats [...]

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Primary Blog contributors

The main contributors to this blog are:

Dr Graeme Codrington, co-founder of TomorrowToday, author, speaker and expert on the changing world of work
Dean van Leeuwen, co-founder and CEO of TomorrowToday UK & Europe, speaker, consultant and Chief Intellectual Adventurer
Keith Coats, co-founder of TomorrowToday South Africa, leadership development guru, speaker and author
Professor Nick Barker, director of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program at the East-West Center in Hawaii, leadership development expert
Markus Kramer, marketing director for Aston Martin and brand building expert
Keith Holdt, Visionary Enabler of business growth and change, currently works for LDC as an investment executive.
Dil Sidhu, Chief External Officer, Manchester Business School; Executive education specialist.
Dawna MacLean, expert on fostering meaningful change and creating authentic experiences through transparent and trusted partnerships.

Click here for a full list of contributors

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