How To Lead a Team That Loves What They Do With Doug Zeh

  • Work is an integral part of our overall health, happiness and satisfaction — but many of us believe that work is just about showing up and collecting a paycheck. On the other hand, purpose-driven professionals in fields like medicine and teaching suffer from high rates of burnout.

  • Doug Zeh, a former therapist and Chief People Officer turned wellness consultant, believes that everyone can and should find love in what they do. He follows an approach developed by former Gallup researcher Marcus Buckingham, outlined in his book “Love and Work.” 

  • On an episode of the Virtual Vibe podcast, Doug shared how leaders can cultivate engagement and productivity by helping employees discover what they love (and loathe) and aligning these discoveries with their roles. 

Have you ever been told that “if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life?” 

Doug Zeh thinks there’s a better approach to finding fulfillment in your work. A therapist turned Chief People Officer turned wellness consultant, Doug advocates for learning what you love and translating that into a growth track within your organization. 

“It’s not about finding a job you love,” he explains. “It’s finding the love in the work that you’re doing.” 

This approach was developed by Marcus Buckingham, a former researcher at Gallup who also co-developed the StrengthsFinder assessment with Don Clifton. In his book “Love and Work,” Marcus explains why love is the most effective tool for leaders to create an engaged and resilient workforce. 

On an episode of the Virtual Vibe podcast, I talked to Doug about what we can learn from Marcus’s book and how to create an environment where your employees love what they do. 

Why Can’t We Find Love in Our Work? 

Most of us aren’t raised to believe that we should love what we do. Instead, Doug explains, people usually grow up thinking that “you go to work, you get paid, you hope you make it to 65, you retire and then you get to enjoy your life.” 

Even finding a job that gives you purpose isn’t a guarantee against burnout. Marcus points out that doctors, nurses, and teachers have the highest rates of burnout. “The ‘why’ is not enough to overcome how they’re spending their time every day,” Doug says. 

The roots of dissatisfaction in the workplace extend all the way back to the Industrial Revolution, when employers wanted teams who looked and worked the same, rather than individuals with unique strengths. 

In today’s world of knowledge work, Doug says, the best managers recognize that there are many different ways to be successful.
By reframing ingrained beliefs about the role of work, leaders can help their employees learn to love what they do — and benefit their organizations in the process. 

The Role of Love in Business Success

Helping people feel connected with their work isn’t just about making the team feel better. Doug has found that this process tends to resolve issues related to engagement and productivity. 

“If you’re a person who says, ‘There’s nothing I look forward to on Monday morning,’ then I can pretty much assume you’re burned out and not being as productive as you can,” he explains. By helping people hone in on what they truly enjoy doing, managers can maximize their employees’ contribution to the organization. 

How To Find Your ‘Red Threads’

In his book, Marcus uses a concept called “red threads” to help people identify what they love and connect it to their day-to-day work.

 “We have these things that we’re able to connect with that are already woven through our lives,” Doug says. He encourages leaders to help their teams identify these red threads, which can then “take on a more substantial component of daily work.” 

Doug’s approach to finding your red threads starts with dividing a piece of paper into two columns:
loves and loathes. For the next week, write down the things you love doing — things you’re naturally drawn to, things you get done easily and things that make time go by quickly — and the things you dislike. 

“The key to this is in the details,” he cautions. “People tend to be too high-level when they’re looking at this stuff, and they miss the nuance that helps them understand how the work they’re doing has many different component parts.”

By writing down the details of what you’re doing, you can identify, for example, that you love using data to paint a picture, but you don’t love putting together financial analyses. That, in turn, can help you seek out opportunities to play to your strengths and steer away from your weaknesses and dislikes. 

Balance Love and Work With the 80/20 Rule

Doug is quick to point out that the goal isn’t to spend
all of your time doing what you love. “You don’t need an entire red quilt,” he jokes. 

Marcus suggests aiming to spend 20% of the day playing to your strengths, based on research that indicates that meeting this baseline produces greater engagement, resilience, satisfaction and fulfillment. 

Best of all,
Doug assures leaders that they can embark on this process without triggering a massive organizational shift. “The vast majority of people want to stay in what they were doing, just in a more nuanced way,” he says. 

How To (Virtually) Lead a Team That Loves What They Do

Ready to help your team discover what they love and align their jobs with their red threads? Doug has some simple tips for leaders to create a work culture driven by love, engagement and fulfillment in any environment — virtual, in-person or hybrid. 

1. Hire for values

When bringing on new talent, prioritize hiring people who share your company’s core values. Skills may be relatively less critical, especially since an employee’s responsibilities can shift during their tenure at a company. 

You should still hire for skills, of course, but Doug believes that focusing on values is even more important. “Values, to me, are the baseline,” he says. “Even if you change roles, those values carry with you.” 

2. Engage with your team

Leaders need to engage with their teams at multiple levels to create a shared focus on finding and pulling red threads. Doug recommends starting with a teamwide conversation. Ask questions like, “What are the things that fill you up?” and “What are you volunteering for?” 

Starting with a group conversation drives engagement and connection at the team level.
“When people engage in conversation at this level,” Doug says, “natural bonds start to form in different ways.” 

He notes that in a virtual environment, it’s important to establish shared norms around how people show up to meetings. For example, decide whether team members should have cameras on or off in meetings (or if they can choose) — then stick with that decision. 

3. Dig deep with your direct reports

You can (and should) carry on the conversation privately with your direct reports as well. Doug strongly recommends that leaders check in one-on-one with their direct reports every week. 

That may be a face-to-face meeting — Doug suggests connecting in person or via videoconference at least twice a month — or through chat or email. 

In this one-on-one meeting, focus on four questions: 

  • What were the activities you loved last week? 

  • What were the activities you loathed last week? 

  • What are your priorities for this week? 

  • What do you need from me to accomplish your best? 

Using this information, you can begin to make changes within the team to help your employees get closer to that 20% threshold. 

4. Find your champions

Doug notes that this process can generate some resistance: “It’s a matter of peeling away some of those belief systems that we’ve developed throughout our lives.” Asking people to take a whole new perspective on work can be challenging. 

He recommends selecting champions — people who have really engaged with the practice of identifying strengths — and helping them act as ambassadors for the concept. Arm them with data that shows the benefits of finding what you love so they can get the rest of the team and company on board. 

“Our greatest way to communicate and influence people… is through data and information,” he says. Win over middle and late adopters by proving to them that this new mindset improves productivity and satisfaction. 

5. Measure your progress

Marcus offers a structured approach to collecting data that you can use to win over your team and measure the effectiveness of the program. 

In his book
Nine Lies About Work, he introduces “the best of me and the best of we,” an eight-question survey to gauge individual and team satisfaction. Doug uses these questions in a pulse survey that typically reveals that as they discover their red threads, people become more engaged and connected and feel more seen in the organization. 

“I believe that our world is in desperate need of a way for people to relate to and engage in their work,” Doug says. By adopting Marcus’s approach to finding love in what we do, we can create workplaces in which people truly thrive.

This article is based on an episode of the Virtual Vibe podcast by Bright Breaks, the platform that boosts workplace wellness seven minutes at a time. Want more insights on HR strategies for a happy, healthy and connected workforce in a work-from-home world? Subscribe to the Virtual Vibe podcast, and tune in wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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