A workplace can be an environment of high productivity and professional fulfillment for many people. While this is not often found, it is quite possible to build and sustain such a place.
One of the reasons it has become hard for professionals to be happy in their jobs is that most teams are now performing knowledge work, and measuring productivity can be challenging.
It is easier to be a manager than to be a leader. However, supervising a group of people performing repetitive tasks can have difficulties. Machines can break, people can get sick, the raw material can be damaged or decayed. Nevertheless, everyone involved understands the job and what has to be done to complete the job. In most cases, the people involved in task work have performed the same function for years and have no difficulty continuing it until retirement.
It is pretty different when professionals are constantly tackling new projects, experimenting with new methods, materials, or building new devices. The outcome is unknown. Yes, some people may have a good idea of what is to be delivered, but it is rarely exactly what has been expected or what every team member has in mind.
Knowledge work requires leaders, not managers. Leaders know how to communicate and organize work and constantly validate what has been understood, and apply corrective actions when needed.
However, a good leader's most vital skill is to ensure a stable working environment for their team to operate. It may seem paradoxical to expect a creative and dynamic workplace to be stable. Most people associate creativity and innovation with a chaotic environment. While this may be portrayed in movies and sci-fi series, it is seldom where breakthroughs happen. The scientific work is quite structured, surrounded by methods and controls. The process of trial and error is documented and analyzed so that it won't be repeated.
When leading a high-performing team, one needs to understand this requirement and ensure each person knows what is required and has the necessary conditions to execute it.
The challenge starts when the team becomes known as a unit capable of delivering. Then, demands increase, and with that, the working conditions deteriorate, jeopardizing the team's ability to fulfill their existing commitments. It is hard for leaders of such units to hold on to new demands, and the tendency is to attempt to satisfy everyone, which is a huge mistake.
Delivering what has been committed is far more important than taking on new jobs, and that needs to be clear to these new clients. Having the ability to communicate and negotiate is rare and undervalued at a corporate level. It is a myopic view of upper managers that, at some point in their careers, stopped being leaders and became managers of output once again.
At some point in your career, you will have the opportunity to become a leader, and many will take it. The ones that embrace the spirit and the role will eventually rise in their organizations. However, soon enough, they will have to face a hard decision. To continue climbing the corporate ladder, they will have to be less involved with their teams and more involved with the institution's demands. In other words, they will have to become managers and turn their focus to output once again. The ones that fail to make this transition are pushed out. Many will start their businesses, and others will stagnate.
communicate . team work . negociate . commitment . knoledge .