“Helping others can actually create the sense of meaning we’re seeking. Rather than ruminating on what makes our life worthwhile as we work toward burnout, we can find the answer outside ourselves, in human connection.” Elizabeth Hopper, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Berkeley

How do we live a virtuous life of meaning and purpose? This is a deep question. It is one philosophers, religious leaders and other thoughtful people have struggled to answer since… well, since ever. It is a question (I’ll speak for myself) we should probably struggle with more often.

One of the big promises of Approachable Leadership is that approachability doesn’t just improve your leadership. It improves connections in all areas of your life. Now you can add to that list that helping others provides a sense of meaning and purpose to your life.

Professor Hopper’s research suggests there are two types of well-being: “hedonic well-being (a sense of happiness) and eudaimonic well-being (a sense of meaning and purpose).” Hedonic well-being is short-lived and fleeting. What can you do to achieve the second kind of well-being?

One study looked at those differences and found that while “having strong social connections was important for both happiness and meaningfulness… helping others in need and identifying oneself as a ‘giver’ in relationships were related to meaning alone.”

According to a different study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, this is because “when we choose to engage in prosocial actions, it helps to meet our basic psychological needs: for autonomy (feeling that we have freely chosen our actions), competence (feeling that we are good and capable), and relatedness (feeling close to others).”

Who wants to feel they are living a life of purpose and meaning? Everyone. Understanding this is especially important for us as leaders.

Think of your own life. Have you ever been down in the dumps? Maybe you were fighting with a family member or a friend. Maybe you felt overwhelmed, or spinning your wheels. Maybe you felt lost and unappreciated. How engaged were you with your work at that time? Were you excited to be there or were things barely getting done?

It happens to all of us. We’re human. As much as we try to keep everything in its own compartment it’s impossible. What happens in one area of life affects all the others.

This is why the job of a leader, whether you’re managing a warehouse, supervising nurses, or overseeing the engineering department, is about much more than just getting the work done. You need to be helping others and building connections. If you want your people to do their best work, you need to help them find their best self.

5 Tips for Helping Others Grow

Building these kinds of connections are natural byproducts of being an approachable leader. Here are 5 tips on helping others grow these kinds of relationships with those you lead (not to mention everyone else in your life):

  1. Remember availability, warmth and receptivity: These are the three cornerstone behaviors of creating a connection through approachable leadership. Does your physical space and appearance have “curb appeal”? Are you warm and understanding? Do you ask for feedback and act on suggestions?
  2. Ask better questions: One of the three questions of approachable leadership is: “Where are you going?” The assumption behind this question is people want to make progress, and it is based on exciting research around the progress principle. Learn more about this and other key questions of approachable leaders using our three questions tool.
  3. Volunteer: Look for ways to volunteer in your community. Contribute time to charities or causes that you believe in. Invest time helping others. For busy people (speaking for myself here, but you may relate) this can seem like a real distraction from what you’re “supposed’ to be doing. But when you take some time for others it feels great and builds connections.
  4. Mentor: Is there someone in your company or network you can mentor? You will probably find that you benefit at least as much (if not more) than your mentee. This can be a professional relationship, but some of the most rewarding mentee relationships I’ve had are with students. It’s kind of like what I imagine being a grandparent is like: you get to share most of the highlight experiences of teaching, but then get to send them back to their regular teachers.
  5. Open your approachability window: The only way to build connections is to be vulnerable with others. Share stories from your past that expose your faults and flaws. Invite others to share with you. Ask for feedback, even if it is sometimes uncomfortable.

Believe in others. Expect them to be great and understand they want to feel like you want to feel: part of something meaningful and important. Let the space you share with them be that kind of place. If you do, you will find not only are you improving their life, but you are improving your life as well.

Being a leader is a gift and a great responsibility. Use it to develop and grow you and all those you touch.

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