The question we address in this book is how the places we work, in addition to being places where we accomplish the goals and purposes of the organization, can also be the places where we do our own work of becoming more and more of who we are meant to be as human beings. We address that question by explaining what we mean by transformative work, by highlighting examples of where it is occurring around the world, by making suggestions about how people can find transformative work in their own lives, and by offering ideas about how workplaces can benefit from equally valuing and focusing on the purposes of their work, the purposes of the people who work there, and the purposes of their communities and the larger society.
Our interest in this topic stems from David’s sabbatical leave from his position as a professor of management at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan. The sabbatical took us to thirteen countries on five continents, where we interviewed thirty-six managers and leaders, and visited some of those places and landmarks around the world that serve to inspire both reflection and positive action. David’s purpose in requesting a leave was “to search for a higher level, more conscious practice of management and leadership.” What we found was not only more conscious managers and leaders, but places and spaces where the people they touch are able to connect their inner lives of spirit with their outer lives of action in the world. The term we decided to use for these places and spaces is “the transformative workplace.”
Given that the great majority of people around the world spend most of their waking hours engaged in some sort of work, it was David’s premise that the places we work and the people who manage and lead us have a significant role to play in influencing a shift in how we address the challenges we face in these times. Surely, he thought, there must be leaders and managers around the world whose practices, if emulated, have the potential for transforming organizations, communities and societies. If he could find those leaders and managers and tell their stories, he might be able to inspire his students and others to shift the way they lead and manage in their own workplaces. He might be able to encourage his students and others to find their own work, rather than trying to find a job. He might be able to shine a light on spaces and places that offer a different model for getting work done in a way that honors both people and the planet. It was important to him that these stories be found around the world and across disciplines, such that people could both identify with them and resist the temptation to dismiss them as being possible only in some cultures and some sectors.
We were aware as we prepared for our search that it is somewhat rare to come upon people who say that they love their work, that they are led and inspired by caring and intelligent managers and leaders, and that they would willingly recruit others to work in the same place. In fact, more and more people are suffering at work, feeling more and more stressed and oppressed, finding less and less time to spend with their families and friends, and having practically no time at all to focus on their own happiness and well-being. Many seem to have lost sight of any desires or aspirations they have for their lives, while many are unable to find any work at all, satisfying or otherwise. It is also for them that we write this book.
We write this book, too, for other managers and leaders whose role it is to help make their organizations prosperous and successful. If the very definition of management and leadership is the ability to get work done through others, then who would not want employees who are continually learning, improving themselves, and increasing their capacity for being able to thrive in an ever more demanding and complex work environment? Who would not want to create a workplace where, as we discuss in this book, people can meet their basic needs, increase their competence, challenge their assumptions, attend to their well-being, connect their passion to their productivity, make and fulfill commitments, express their creativity, collaborate across difference, embrace great work, work peacefully with others, become happier and give back to others?
As David stated in the application for his sabbatical, we both believe that, as a human species, we are poised at the “edge of chaos” or a significant turning point, one that could constitute a breakdown of human and environmental systems, or break through to ways of living that value all living beings and the planet we call home. Further, as David has stated, what happens will largely be determined by the choices we make and the actions we take in the coming years. We happen to be among those who choose to believe that a breakthrough is possible, and that there are already significant strides being taken by many people all over the world that are evidence that a future that works for all is possible.
We will be using this blog to share some of the wisdom of those we interviewed in our travels through the occasional chapter synopses, wisdom and quotes from our interviewees, and inspiritational video clips that we just can't keep to ourselves. Along the way, we would love to hear your thoughts about this topic, stories you'd like to share, and ideas for how we can make what we're sharing here more widely available.