The Good Life: More Ways Your Work Adds Value

A former coaching client and I reconnected on a catch-up call. It was great to hear how well his career and his life had progressed.

During the call, he mentioned that his good friend, Marc Schulz, Ph.D., was the co-author (with Robert Waldinger, MD) of a new book, The Good Life and How to Live It. It describes the most recent findings of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, work that has been going on for eighty-four years.

I ordered the book immediately. The authors present their findings in an incredibly readable way. They also share results from several other longitudinal studies that are consistent with the Harvard results. These are truly powerful findings, as well as replicable – the gold standard of science.

The bottom line: “Positive relationships are essential to human well-being.” (p. 29). I will leave it to you to review the book in order to see all the evidence that shows this to be true. My goal is to take you in two related directions.

First, as I have said in some previous posts, it is important for you to know just how valuable your work is to people. If you are helping leaders learn to lead, then you are helping them build their relationship skills. A robust finding in the leadership literature is that a leader’s ability to influence followers is directly proportional to the quality of the relationship the leader and followers have.

The implication from The Good Life is that every time you help your coaching clients improve their relationship skills, you are helping them live the good life. In the moment, they may be focused on the next promotion or the next huge raise, but it is the skill in building relationships that will be the most valuable to them in the long run. Your coaching not only helps them be more effective, and maybe get that promotion, it also improves the quality (and length) of their lives.

But wait! There’s more! As you help your clients improve their relationships, you are not just helping your clients live the good life. The people they lead are impacted by having a better relationship with their leaders. That contributes to their good life. The pebble you throw into the pond has many ripples. And not just at work! For example, because my clients take what they learn home with them to their families, I have long enjoyed great popularity with the spouses of my clients, most of whom I never meet.

Second, you may want to review my posts on the nature of organizations (Factory-Think and Can Organizations Have EQ?). They make the point that organizations, while created by humans, are not human. They have their own nature, one that focuses on the welfare of the organization more than it does on the welfare of its individual members. To illustrate, take the issue of child sexual abuse by clergy. Too often, churches have covered up such abuse, pretending to the world that it wasn’t there. Rather than addressing the issue, they have simply moved the offenders to other churches, where they almost certainly continued to abuse children. In other words, the leaders saw to the welfare of the organization (“We can’t let this get out; it will hurt the church!) rather than to the welfare of its most vulnerable members.

Now consider this quote from p. 30 of The Good Life: “. . . The good life may be a central concern for most people, but it is not the central concern of most modern societies. Life today is a haze of competing social, political, and cultural priorities, some of which have very little to do with improving people’s lives.”

I’m reminded of bees in a hive. It is the hive that matters, not the individual worker bees. I suspect that even the Queen Bee isn’t all that important, except for her reproductive value to the hive itself. It’s not that all the other bees think that she is just swell and want to spend time with her.

When an organization devotes itself only to the welfare of the organization, rather than also to the welfare of their individual members, people sometimes get sacrificed.

That said, there are some organizations in which people feel truly valued, where they can thrive. The organization for which they work thrives as well, even more so than organizations focused only on their own well-being.

How does this come to be? It happens when the organization’s leaders, the people you may coach, have learned to be human enough themselves to transcend the general nature of organizations. Such leaders have learned leadership skills that see to the welfare of the organization and to the welfare of the people who work for the organization. When you help leaders learn the EQ skill of Interpersonal Relationships, and other EQ skills, you are providing double value. You are helping everyone in the organization move toward The Good Life, as well as helping the organization succeed, that is, be a thriving and good home (hive?) for its workers.

Such results don’t happen by magic. They happen only when leaders understand the nature and impact of organizational forces, and seek to overcome the dysfunctional elements of those forces. Left to their own devices, organizations will shape leaders to the organization’s purposes only.

The work that you do helping your clients build human relationships has the potential to be truly transformational, not just for your clients, not even just for their organizations, but, from the ripple effects, for the whole human race, lifting it to its next, hopefully better, level of maturation.

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