Love or ego?

Which one are you in it for?

The question applies both to professional and personal life, though I’m going to stick to professional life here.

We all know people in our workplaces who are motivated solely by their ego – these are the people that you don’t trust.  Maybe you realize why you don’t trust them, and maybe it’s a little nagging feeling that makes you act a little extra cautious around that person.

Then there’s the people that you instinctively trust.  The people you know are in it for love.  I think it’s important to say that these people exist across all sectors – public, private, and non-profit.

Sometimes we limit ourselves to thinking that everyone who is in the non-profit sector must be in it for love, and every one in the private and public sectors must be in it for their egos.

In my experience, this hasn’t been true.  There are people in all of these sectors who are in for love, and those who are in it for their egos.  I know people who are both rich in materials goods and love – whose mission is it to help seed fertile land for others – and I’ve known them in all of these sectors.  And I know people who are motivated primarily by their own self-interest, who forget their integrity when they think no one is looking, or when they have power.

I’ve really come to believe in the adage, ‘when someone shows you who they are, believe them’.

Power tells you a lot about how someone is motivated.  Does someone with power use it to build a bigger table, or build a higher fence?

Does this mean that people can’t change? I wholeheartedly believe that they can.  And I think that people achieve their best work, deepest impact and most meaning from their days when they are working for love – to build something greater than themselves.  As Dan Pink would say, when they are working for ‘autonomy, mastery and purpose’.

I also know that humans are social, and group behaviour is real. Workplace culture can promote all kinds of behaviour.  If you aren’t working consciously on culture, then you can’t quite be sure what types of behaviours it is promoting – this has become pretty obvious with recent cases like Uber, or United Airlines – both situations in which a shitty workplace culture finally came back to bite their bottom lines.

The best places to work know exactly what behaviours they want to incentivize, and why those behaviours help their bottom line – whether that bottom line is value to shareholders, public services, or community impact.

Apparently everyone at Amazon has a desk made from a cheap door with legs attached to it.  Why? Because they want to obsessively cut costs to deliver the most value to their clients. That’s clarity.

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