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The Dignity of Work: Recognizing and Harnessing its Power at Any Level


I recently listened to an interview with Howard Schultz, former CEO and Chairman of Starbucks, in which he discussed a formative childhood experience that shaped the leader into which he evolved.


Raised by working class parents in Brooklyn, at the age of seven, Howard watched his father get injured on the job. Rather than taking care of him, the company fired him due to his inability to perform his duties.


That experience inspired Schultz, years later, to place a premium on the dignity of work. Dignity is all about a person’s sense of feeling worthy of value and respect. And given the altitude at which Schultz sat, he was able to infuse this value into the many benefits offered to all Starbucks employees.


The interview really stayed with me through the 2019 holidays. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of dignity; how simple it is to unlock, and yet how absent it feels in so many of our daily interactions.


One needn’t be a CEO with the power to infuse dignity into a global benefits program. One only needs to interact with others to be in a position to put dignity at the forefront.

The simplest of strategies we can all (myself included!) be mindful of putting into practice? A few ideas from me…


1. Make sure someone’s OK. We all have our ups and downs. During a down – whether big or small – it’s so darn nice to feel a little bit cared for. By checking in on someone, you’re not taking the responsibility for “solving” their problem – you’re just acknowledging that they might need a friendly ear, and maybe a bit of support.


Whether it’s taking someone for a coffee to take their mind of something painful for a moment or offering to take a piece of work off their plate so they can get home a few minutes earlier – there are so many simple ways in which we can show a bit of humanity. Showing care is a powerful way to show dignity.


2. Seek someone’s advice. By seeking someone’s input and opinion, we signal that their ideas are valued. Which is incredibly dignifying. Don’t be disingenuous in posing a problem already solved. But look inward and think – where could another opinion really add value? What challenge are you working through, and where could a set of fresh eyes bring a valued perspective you might otherwise have overlooked?


3. Ask someone what they’re proud of. When is the last time someone just invited you to highlight something wonderful you did? I know. Hard to remember. Truth is, we’re so hard on ourselves. It’s so much easier to remember – and wallow in – the bad stuff. Inviting someone to share – and relive a moment of glory is an incredible kindness. Nothing makes us feel more worthy of respect than being gently pushed to remember what we’re great at.


4. Toss someone a thank you. I’m sure you were raised well enough to express thanks when someone holds the door for you. I’m not judging your manners. My point here is to say thanks for something someone may not even realize they did for you. It may be a two-sentence email letting someone know their idea or encouragement changed your course. It may be a text thanking someone for listening. Or it may be a pat on the back on the way out of a meeting in which a colleague asked a thought-provoking question. Gratitude begets dignity. Every time.


I’ve got plenty more up my sleeve. But I hope the case is made. Nothing above is overly complicated or time-consuming. The input is simple. The impact priceless.

How will you commit to infusing more dignity into your

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