What’s the connection between our work and leading a good life?
Howard Gardner and I (we’ve known each other since our grad school days) had the chance to explore this question when we got together near Cambridge for a taped conversation (you can listen in on Good Work: Aligning Skills and Values, available from www.MoreThanSound.net). We explored the implications of Howard’s recent research, done with William Damon at Stanford and Mike Csikszentmihalyi, famous for his studies of “flow.” The team has been studying the ways in which people are able to combine excellence in their job with expressing their values – what they call “good work” (see their website, www.goodworkproject.org).
This concept has helped me think through the relationship between emotional/social intelligence and people’s values. As mounting research suggests, this aspect of intelligence can contribute greatly to making someone an outstanding performer at work – for leaders, social intelligence strengths are especially crucial to success. But that says nothing about the values a person brings to their job.
The research on good work makes clear that there are a sub-set of people (hopefully large), who combine excellence at work with positive values. When I asked Howard what he meant by “good” here, he said: “When we speak about ‘good’ work we speak about work that is excellent in quality, technically first rate; work that is engaging, personally meaningful, something that you really believe in and want to do; and work that is ethical, work that constantly thinks about its implications for others, for the broader community. We talk about it as being responsible or ethical. Think of them as an intertwined triple helix of three e’s: excellence, engagement, and ethics.”
A high level of emotional and social intelligence, it seems to me, would provide the excellence and engagement in this equation – and, hopefully, set the stage for the third ingredient in good work, ethics.