Instead of spending your days complaining, you might try changing your workplace from within, says leadership expert Simon Sinek.
Simon Sinek now spends his days helping people create inspiring workplaces, but he found this calling only after experiencing profound professional despair. “I hated waking up in the morning,” he recalls. “I was no fun anymore, and I became paranoid.” His lack of fulfillment was due to a misalignment between his purpose — what he calls his “why” — and his job. Despite being someone who believes that people should only do jobs they love, Sinek does not advocate simply leaving a so-so job.“The opportunity to quit is always there, but I don’t recommend doing it until you exhaust all the other avenues,” he says. In a Facebook Live conversation at TED’s NYC headquarters in September, he shared the steps he advises people to take before throwing in the towel.
1. If your boss or work environment are abusive, leave immediately.
2. If your boss or work environment aren’t abusive and you’ve been there for only a few months, hold off on giving notice.
“If I were to offer some advice to people, it’s that sometimes they make the decision to leave too quickly. They show up, start working and after four months, they’re like, ‘This is not for me.’ However, it takes around six months for anyone to settle into a job.”
3. If you’ve been there for more than six months, try to figure out what’s wrong. For starters, check your attitude.
“People can come in with the attitude that ‘Work is just for work, and I find fulfillment in other places.’ Which means they’re showing up half-hearted and not committed, they’re acting like this job is just a means to an end. And guess how they’re going to be treated? If you show up just to check in and check out, because you get your fulfillment somewhere else, then you’ll be labelled as such. No one’s going to be looking after you and watching out for your career.”
4. Consider the other possibilities.
“Uncover what it is exactly that’s not sticking. Is it your coworkers? Your boss? The job itself?”
5. If you have a difficult boss, try a little empathy.
“When a boss is particularly hard in a meeting, yelling at people or being short with them, you can walk into their office, close the door and say, ‘Hey, you were really short with us in the meeting. Are you OK?’ You don’t have to use those words, but you want to get across that you think they’re acting out of character and you want to check on them. Sometimes it gets them to open up. It might not happen immediately, and maybe they won’t open to you, but it can be an impetus for them to open up to someone.
6. Treat your boss like a person, not a problem.
“The other thing you can do is to inquire about your boss as a human being, saying something like, ‘Can we start this meeting by talking about what we did this weekend? We can learn a little bit about each other. Hey, [Boss’s name], what did you do this weekend?’ We can be so quick to criticize bad leaders, yet they’re human, too, and they want to feel heard and feel like they belong. We don’t know why they’re bad leaders — maybe they’re under stress or pressure, maybe they don’t realize that they’re bad, or maybe they’re just bastards. But we have to give them the benefit of the doubt first.”
7. If that doesn’t work, then be the leader you wish you had.
“We might be the most junior person in the organization, but we still work with people. We can occupy ourselves with helping them go home fulfilled, that they feel heard, that they feel someone has their back. If you commit yourself to being the leader you wish you had and see your friends and colleagues love their work, it actually affects leadership, believe it or not. We’ve seen it happen; it’s kind of amazing. You can build a little subculture. We worked with a large software company, and we helped just a small group in the company build a stronger culture. And they started getting phone calls from all across this company wanting to find out if there were any jobs available in this group. Everybody wants in! Commit yourself to being a leader you wish you had, and building that subculture.”
8. Know this process doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s going to take time, like any relationship. Some people might be suspicious at the start. I find being open about it allays some of the suspicions. You could say something like, ‘Hey, guys, I wish we had a stronger culture here’ or ‘We can complain about our culture until we’re blue in the face, so I’m going to try and contribute to building a culture for us so we come to work and feel fulfilled and hopefully we’ll have an impact on those around us.’”
9. If you’re still certain you want to quit, put your energy into growing — not griping.
“For my first job out of school, I had a terrible boss — just terrible! So I committed myself to learn how not to lead, and I actually got a lot out of it because I was like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do that one day.’ I also made incredibly good friends with the people with whom I worked, because misery loves company. We all took care of each other, and we learned teamwork from camaraderie. I was learning leadership at a very junior level. And when opportunities arose, I moved on. So there are ways to work at a job you don’t like without complaining every day. Try and seek the advantages and the lessons you can learn.”
10. Never settle for a job that’s just “good enough.”
“I think one of the biggest mistakes our counselors and parents is telling us, ‘Find a job.’ Nobody ever says, ‘Find a job you love.’ People are often told that they don’t need to find a job that’s fulfilling because they can find fulfillment elsewhere. But that’s like saying you don’t have to love the person you marry, because you can get that somewhere else. That’s not going to set you up for a great marriage; it’s the same thing with a job. You’re going to spend more time at work than being with your family or friends or doing anything else. So you should absolutely find a job you love.”