Leadership Wisdom From Dad: Why Do You Work?

Leanne Buehler, Ph.D., Principal Science and Innovation AdvisorEmployee EngagementLeave a Comment

My dad has always been my business hero. He started his career when he was 15 years old working as a crewperson for McDonald’s Corporation. Over the next 30 years, he climbed the ladder to Vice President of Restaurant Systems Development and retired at the age of 45. I have always admired his adaptability, quickness to see the root cause of problems, his down-to-earth practicality, and his willingness to learn from anyone who crossed his path. Given the Father’s Day holiday before us, I’ve been reflecting on the many lessons I have learned from my dad and how they relate to leadership and employee engagement.

My dad has always been generous in sharing his wisdom and is known in my family for his many sayings that include everything from, “It is what it is,” (a simple way of saying, focus on what you can control), “0 is greater than -3,” (sometimes nothing is better than a negative result), and to “marry rich,” (to which my rebuttal was always – “I’ll make my own money!”).

One of the things my dad has helped me with the most when it comes to my career is to be clear about why I work. On countless occasions, whether I was addressing a work conflict or in a transition period, my dad has reminded me, “You have to know why you work,” otherwise, how do you know if your job is what you want it to be?

My dad worked for three reasons: 1) To enjoy what he was doing; 2) To make enough money to have a comfortable life; 3) To have freedom over his time. He knew that there would be times when one of these elements would be out of balance, but over time he needed all three to be in place to feel satisfied and engaged. And if they weren’t, perhaps it was time to look for another job/role.

As my career has progressed and I have been faced with choices that impact not just me, but my husband and kids, I have come to appreciate the wisdom of my father’s advice. While we all have different reasons why we work, having those reasons clearly defined can be an incredibly powerful framework, especially when tough situations are before you.

As a leader, talking to your employees about why they work can be an incredibly enlightening conversation. Through such conversations you can learn:

-What your employee values and what is motivating to him/her
-How he/she likes to be recognized and rewarded
-When your employee might feel out of balance and how to get him/her back on track

We continue to hear about how meaning and purpose is so important for driving employee engagement, especially for the millennial generation. Talking to employees about what makes work meaningful to them (i.e., “why they work”) is a great way to connect the purpose of the organization to what is meaningful to the individual. My suspicion is that many entry-level employees may not yet have a clear idea of why they work; but being the leader to ask that question and help coach your employee to find the answer that is right for them is an amazing development opportunity and an investment in that individual that is sure to be valued and appreciated.

In honor of Father’s Day, I thank my dad for the life time of lessons he has taught me. Now I just have to figure out how to retire by age 45!

Why do you work?