The Question Matters


Fighting Pragmatism with Meaning

Posted in Generation Y,Leadership,Next Generation Leaders by treyfinley1008 on September 2, 2010
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Dan Pink, in his recent book Drive, names three elements which must be present in the 21st Century workplace in order for employees to be motivated:  Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.  I’ve discussed his work previously on my blog.

The hunger for meaning in the workplace is, in my opinion, a symptom of a larger trend in Western culture: an over-emphasis on pragmatism has yielded a starvation for meaning.  One could suggest that the Boomers spotted this starvation in their youth, Generation X resented it when they experienced it, and now Millennials are facing ever increasing levels of this dearth of meaning.  Western culture is displaying a fascination, an obsession with pragmatism. Consider the pragmatic nature of the world into which Millennials are entering:

  • As they enter the workforce, they are experiencing an economic downturn of generational proportions (it’s been four generations since a recession of this size) that leads to very pragmatic decisions about who will have work and who won’t.
  • Their education has emphasized standardized testing in primary and secondary schools, measuring pragmatic skills over creativity, problem solving, and learning for its own sake.

(You can probably name other examples. Thought of one? Email it to me at trey@thequestionmatters.com.  I’d like to know what you think).

Pragmatism sounds like a disease, doesn’t it?  It makes me want to ask, “Is there a cure for that?”  For Millennials, MEANING inoculates them from the relentless pragmatism of what must be.  Instead, meaning searches for what could be and what should be, with a hope that these are what will be. You could say that Millennials are intensely pragmatic about their search for meaning in what they do.  If I want to lead Gen Y, pragmatism is required, just not pragmatism about things they believe meaningless.

Coaching for meaning can be a bit tricky.  After all, who gets to decide what is meaningful?  And what happens when what is meaningful to me isn’t meaningful to someone else?  How can both perspectives be honored?  Below are some coaching suggestions for bringing a Millennial’s pragmatic search for meaning to bring transformation to whatever context they find themselves.  Warning: they will fail from time to time with these important decisions.  But then that’s the point, isn’t it?

Co-Create Opportunities to Do What Matters

Consider the following questions to help a Millennial friend or colleague decide if what they’re doing now connects to what’s most important to them:

  • If someone asked you to say what you believe in most, what would you tell them?
  • If you could spend a year not working living that belief, doing something constructive for society, what would you do?
  • What first steps can we take together to get you headed in that direction?

In the Workplace, Replace Meaningless Tasks with Vital Decisions

The tyranny of the urgent is something no one escapes.  Nevertheless, if you want to lose a Millennial, clog their schedule with tasks seemingly unconnected to the bigger picture.  Coach yourself with these questions:

  • Which tasks am I assigning my younger employee simply because I disdain that task?  How well have I explained how that task serves a larger purpose?
  • On which decisions have I invited my younger employee’s input?  How many of their ideas did I actually incorporate?
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4 Responses to 'Fighting Pragmatism with Meaning'

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  1. […] many ways related to my post about the pragmatic nature of the world into which Millennials are entering, Dr. Litton made the following observation of the Millennials […]

  2. Deana said,

    GREAT post!


    • Thanks, Deana! How is your coaching business these days? Email me and let me know.


  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Randy Vaughn, Trey Finley. Trey Finley said: Want to lead the next generation? Get pragmatic about meaning, value, and what's possible. http://wp.me/pDwG0-e7 […]


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