Job satisfaction is rooted in the environment that the leader establishes. The leader can be the CEO, an executive, the manager, or a team leader--and this doesn't apply to only your money-earning job. Volunteer roles and nonprofit workspaces are just as sensitive to the workspace environment.
A good leader isn’t concerned with title and importance, rather is focused on making a workplace environment in which the employees and volunteers feel safe and feel they belong. It’s a Circle of Safety in which we grow, learn, and become real assets to our teams. We feel secure in this circle and protected by our leader. We learn to trust and cooperate and to speak up without fear of repercussions. The building of trust within the group is essential. We learn to trust the leader because they are consistent, tell the truth, do not have their own secret agenda, and is always there to support and counsel us. In turn, we learn to trust each other and work together as a team. We emulate the qualities of the leader. However, if a member of the group, leader or peer, is caught in a lie or is exposed for self-centered actions, the trust begins to die on the vine.
Survival is not just an intellectual matter. There is a direct and involuntary physiological release of these chemicals brought on by internal as well as external stimulants. A leader with integrity and a focus on the experience of those they lead will facilitate the release of helpful chemicals:
- Endorphins. Endorphins mask physical pain and are the “high” we feel after exercise.
- Dopamine. Dopamine causes the feeling of satisfaction we get with accomplishment.
- Serotonin. Our bodies release serotonin when we receive recognition creating feelings of pride and success.
- Oxytocin. Oxytocin leads to the best feeling of all: the feeling of human connection. Oxytocin creates intense feelings of safety and comfort.
Leaders actually create safety and comfort in our workspaces through generosity and integrity. When a leader sacrifices for others, everyone—including the leader, the receiver, and the witnesses—receives a boost in oxytocin. The more oxytocin we have in our bodies, the more generous we want to be. The more generous we are, the more oxytocin we release, and the safer and more comfortable we feel. Oxytocin even increases our ability to solve problems.
When things get hard, our body also responds by releasing a stress chemical: cortisol. Cortisol is the fight or flight chemical in our body and serves to viscerally alert us to signs of danger. When we work or volunteer in a stressful environment, we end up with high levels of cortisol. When we have high levels of cortisol, we become too busy protecting ourselves to help others feel safe and secure. Worse, our bodies will continuously release cortisol even after the stress has abated, creating a long recovery and healing period for a team suffering from a lack of trust.
Leaders can make the choice to start the cycle of healing by example and putting others’ needs before their own. Selfless leaders with integrity are paramount to job satisfaction and feelings of workspace security. Leaders who focus on their own personal safety and security (or personal gain alone) will be the downfall of a team, because the trust that is essential for success evaporates in the face of selfishness. Leadership is not a rank or position. It is a decision. It is a choice. As leaders, all we need to do is look to the people around us and decide to place their well-being over our own. Let them go ahead of us at the potluck of life and, as a leader, decide to eat last to make sure everyone else has what they need before serving ourselves.