What is Your Most Important Work at Work?

Awe is a feeling of surprise, wonder, admiration, respect, amazement, reverence, or veneration.

Over the course of two days, I taught positive leadership to five different groups of professionals.  In each case I put my whole soul into the process and felt that the people were also fully engaged. They were soaking in new concepts and conceptualizing new possibilities.  During breaks many of them approached me and shared deeply held stories.  As I walked away from the last session, I felt a sense of awe.  These words entered my mind, “This work is important, because every time I do it people get better and so do I.”

I then went to a meeting with people from the Center for Positive Organizations.   As the meeting started one person was bubbling with enthusiasm.  Her name is Betsy, and she is an administrator who recently started designing courses for undergraduates.  She puts her whole soul into the process and the people respond accordingly.

Betsy told us of having just finished an intense course in which students were given real life experiences in positive organizations.  She began to tell stories of what the students did and how they evaluated the course.  She gave examples of important life changes.  Then she told of the most extreme life change in which an isolated and lonely young woman fully reinvented herself.  Betsy indicated that if in her life she had done no more than design the class that generated the life change in that isolated young woman, her life would have been worth living.

While the words were extreme, Betsy said them with perfect authenticity.  She was speaking of her work with a sense of awe.

At work it is possible to transcend ego, to focus our talents and energy on the pursuit of the common good, this is called prosocial motivation.  This often involves the development and transformation of others.  When we see others shift from surviving to thriving, we rejoice in the realization of their potential.

Moving a relationship, team, or organization to thriving is the essence of leadership.  Managers are inundated with demands to which they must respond.  In responding, they are ego driven, and the focus is on narrow task completion.  They believe accomplishing the task is their most important work.  As they succeed in task completion, they gather increasing external rewards.  Then they reach decreasing marginal utility.  A paradox emerges.   Over time their satisfaction begins to decline.  They slip into the dynamics of psychological slow death.    The dynamics of slow death move us towards crisis.  In crisis old beliefs begin to be questioned.

Managers can become leaders as they learn to transcend ego.  They act with a logic driven by an enlightened imagination.  All tasks are approached with focus on the collective good and recognition of the need for collective engagement.  Required task completion becomes a means for creating a culture of generative cohesion.  With this perspective comes the realization that people are not objects.  When the new perspective is applied and it succeeds, the actor experiences awe.

Despite what the ego tells us, we are all designed to become prosocial leaders.  When we help others to leave their personal darkness and reinvent themselves, the experience makes us more aware of a reality most people know to be impossible.   Embedded in each of us is the ability to transform the human condition, to help individuals and groups, and to move from surviving to thriving.  When we actualize this potential and witness the growth of others, we have a sense of awe, we feel that our life is worth living, and we hunger to become more capable.  We tend to say, “This work is important, and every time I do it, people get better and so do I.”



  • What is your most important work at work?
  • What ego-driven beliefs hinder you and others from having Betsy’s experience?
  • For you what might be the first step in changing what is most important at work?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



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