The Higher Calling of Managing People

As my students can attest, I have a tendency to get rather enthusiastic in the classroom. The reason for that is twofold: (1) I find the topics I teach rather interesting and important and (2) I think that if I expect anyone else to get excited about the material, then I have to demonstrate that excitement myself. 

And there’s one part of one class lecture in particular when I get especially fired up. 

It’s in my concluding comments regarding the topic of job satisfaction. In the lecture, I’ve already talked about what job satisfaction is—a pleasurable emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one’s job or job experiences—and three “buckets” of factors that influence it. These buckets, as I describe them, are (1) factors that make us each different from each other including personality, (2) factors about the job, the work, and the work environment; and (3) factors about the degree of fit between people and their jobs or between them and their work organizations. 

We also talk, of course, about why job satisfaction matters. It goes far beyond “a happy worker is a good worker”—which isn’t particularly true (some people are very happy precisely because they can get away with doing very little and still get paid). A more compelling reason is that job satisfaction is consistently related with people’s commitment, or attachment to their organizations. 

But the part of the class in which I start to thunder away with an extra dose of enthusiasm is when I discuss “job satisfaction and the big picture.” 

This is when I touch upon what I consider the higher calling of managing people. 

When we’re in a supervisory position over other people in an organization, that role comes with specific responsibilities to the organization. We’re expected to plan, organize, direct and control the output of those people and ensure that what they do aligns with organizational objectives. 

But we also, as supervisors of others, have a unique opportunity. We have the opportunity to control many factors about how people are appreciated and recognized. We sometimes have the opportunity to influence how the work is structured and assigned, and sometimes we’re able to influence the nature of the work itself and the environment in which it’s completed. 

Namely, if you manage people, you can have a tremendous influence upon the job satisfaction of the people who work for you. 

And that’s important not just because they might exert some more effort or be more committed to your organization. 

It’s important because job satisfaction contributes to two factors in people’s lives that are of the utmost importance. Our level of job satisfaction contributes to our:

As a manager of people, therefore, you have the opportunity to make people’s lives better. By being a high-quality supervisor, you could be helping people have lower blood pressure. You could be helping them be less stressed and, as a by-product, have better relationships with their spouses or children. 

That’s huge, folks. 

Steve Jobs is often quoted as saying that "We're here to put a dent in the universe." That sounds nice, but most of us aren’t in organizations or positions in which we have a good chance at really doing that. 

But we do have the chance to put a dent in the universes of the people who we work with and supervise. We have the chance to make their worlds better and literally improve the quality of their experience on this planet. We can do this every single day in the simple interactions we have with each other.

Therefore, the big point is that being a manager is a privilege and an amazing opportunity to influence peoples’ lives positively. 

And I think if all supervisors thought about this for a few seconds at the beginning of every day, we’d have a big influence on the world of work.

And collectively, that would indeed “put a dent in the universe.”

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About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. More at www.benbaran.com and www.agilityconsulting.com.