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Tom Rath on Making Work More Meaningful

By August 6, 2020 September 2nd, 2020 No Comments

Mark’s new book about the seven commitments of leadership has just come out. It is called “Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams,” and is available now from Amazon and from Commander Divine writes about many of the great leaders he met in SpecOps to give examples of the commitments that one has to make to the 7 key principles of  Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency and Alignment.

Tom Rath (@TomCRath) is a well-known author and researcher on how work can enhance health and well-being. His most recent book is Life’s Great Question: Discover How You Contribute To The World. Today he talks to Mark about how crafting your work to contribute to your community is especially important during these VUCA times.

Hear how:

  • Transforming your job to help and serve your community enhances your well-being.
  • You must focus on your strengths. Never worry about your weakness.
  • There are three things every team has to do: create, relate, and operate.
  • Diversity of talent brings diversity of thought, which will refine your organization.

Listen to this episode to get insights on how you can improve your work performance and make your job more meaningful.

As you all know, Mark is a big fan of Neurohacker overall. He uses their products and is also an investor in the company.  Their newest product is called Eternus. They spent years of research with some of the best scientists they have creating a formula to combat aging where it all begins; at the Cellular level. It’s a 38 ingredient formula containing the most researched and premium ingredients on earth for supporting cellular health, which is the key to combating the symptoms of aging.

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Dr. Parsley’s sleep remedy was designed to help Navy SEALs to overcome some of the sleep challenges that they have as hard-charging individuals. Doc Parsley believes that proper sleep and recovery is absolutely essential to maintain our ability to perform at a high level. His sleep “cocktail” includes a number of supplements to provide our bodies with chemicals naturally produced by the brain to encourage sleep. Commander Divine is a huge fan and encourages members his tribe to try it out for themselves. Enter “unbeatablemind” at the checkout on  to get 10% off.

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Hey folks. Welcome back to Mark Divine’s Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Super excited to talk to my guest Tom Rath, but before I introduce him further let me remind you my book “Staring Down the Wolf” – which came out march 2nd… literally the week before we went on lockdown.

It’s very, very relevant for dealing with what we’re doing dealing with these days, with this economic crisis and COVID-19. “Staring Down the Wolf” refers to staring down your fears, and the emotional shadow, and the biases and the conditioned, reactionary responses that we have as leaders that tend to make us the limiting factors in bringing out the best of our teams.

So, I share my own experiences, my glorious screw-ups, as well as some amazing exemplars from the Special Ops world like my former SEAL team three commanding officer admiral William McRaven, who went on to lead all spec ops. And tell some stories that have never been heard about him and his exemplary leadership.

Also, Admiral Olsen who was another former SOCOM commander and how he led with courage in Mogadishu, with three other… two SEALs and two Delta Force guys essentially. Went to fight off all the bad guys who had trapped the rangers alone. But that inspired the quick reaction force to action.

Some great stories, but also some really insightful lessons on how to really tap your full potential, and the full potential of your team.

And the team is the new leader these days. It’s through our teams that we’re going to unlock the vast potential of our organizations. And pivot to become more world-centric, and connected. And make sure that we don’t go back to the old normal, but we create a better new normal. For everybody.

Check it out. has some free video training, if you’re interested. And you can sign up to take an of the seven commitments that forge elite teams. So Hooyah. Thanks for that.

So, Tom I’m super excited to have Tom Rath. I’ve participated in his training with his book “Strength Finders 2.0.” He’s written a book called “strength-based leadership.” Both really outstanding contributions to leadership development and understanding your potential as a leader.

Strength Finders 2.0” has an amazing assessment, you know? I love how Tom set it up so you can just get the code and go take an assessment. And then use the book to help really understand your leadership quality.

So, it’s amazing work. He’s sold over 10 million books. He’s co-founded a publishing company. He was with the Gallup organization for 13 years.

And now he’s got a new book out, which I’m really excited to get into called “life’s great question: discover how you contribute to the world.”

And for Unbeatable Mind peeps – if you’re listening to this, you know that pursuing your purpose in alignment with your passion and principles is one of our core tenets for Unbeatable Mind. So, you can serve more powerfully from a position of self-mastery.

So, Tom, thanks so much for being here I really appreciate you taking the time today.

Tom: Thanks so much for having me. It’s an honor.

Mark: Yeah. So, you mentioned you’re in Virginia holed-up with your kids and your wife, I imagine. Family.

And is this new for you all? Where you’re all together so much? Are you on the road a lot these days? Or what’s your life like right now, pre-COVID.

Tom: Well you know, pre-COVID – when my kids have been this age – they’re nine and 11 right now – I’ve really dedicated a lot of time to trying to be around more, and travel less during these years while they still want to spend time with me. But I don’t think they ever anticipated having to spend this much time with me.

So, it’s still a whole new world. But as I mentioned right before we went on – it’s kind of been good to see how well the kids have been taking it and dealing with some of this. And hopefully can turn into something that’s a real good family bonding time, and growth experience sometime down the road. Even if it’s a little tight quarters right now.

Mark: Right, yeah. Kids are so resilient, aren’t they? And you know I feel mostly for the young… like, college graduates. Who just come out and all full of optimism, and were looking to get into the workforce. And wow, they’re gonna have… it’s gonna be interesting.

At the same time, one of the things I’ve been telling whoever will listen to me, is that this is an amazing opportunity to just reflect deeply about how to do things a little bit differently. How to pivot your company, how to pivot your life – how to really align with that purpose and to contribute more to the world.

Which is why your book is so timely too. Kind of like I was saying with my book “Staring Down the Wolf” your book sounds like it’s really, really timely. So, I’m excited to get into that.

But before we do can you give us a little bit about your upbringing and foundational experiences? And kind of what led you into becoming a researcher on leadership? And the things that you are passionate about?

Tom: Yeah, I appreciate you asking that. Just from kind of a personal background standpoint… I grew up in the Midwest. In Lincoln, Nebraska. And when I was 16 years old, I was having trouble – I kind of lived in a real normal childhood, middle-class family – and realized I was having trouble seeing out of one eye.

And eventually I went to an eye doctor that actually tells me that I had several large tumors on the back of that left eye. And I would lose sight in that eye pretty quickly. And he said that it likely indicated that I essentially have a really rare genetic disorder that kind of shuts off the body’s most powerful tumor-suppressing gene.

So, they thought that I might live to 35 or 40. And they said that I would have cancer in my kidneys, my pancreas, my brain and spine, adrenal glands – all these different areas.

Mark: Good lord.

Tom: I bring that up because that got me focused over the 25 or 30 years that have followed on two real specific things. One thing it got me focused on every morning digging into all the health and medical literature I could find on how to live a healthier longer life. And what I could do to help other people do the same.

And the second thing it got me focused on – probably at an unusually young age – was how do I make sure that I’m structuring my life and my efforts so that they’re making a contribution to other people and to society that’s larger than self. That essentially gets to live on no matter how long I have left.

And so that’s what’s focused a lot of my recent research in this most recent book is how do you help a lot of people to have that sense of urgency? So that they orient their daily efforts – I mean, even hour by hour – on focusing their energy on things that will continue to grow in their absence.

Mark: Well, this is fascinating. I briefly mentioned, but I’ll share it again for you, that one of our two dominant and complementary principles – or the hand and glove type principles – that I teach with Unbeatable Mind, which came out of my work with the SEALs, is mastery of self, but in service to others

Mark: And so first, we do everything we can to optimize our own performance. To learn to tap our inner potential. So, I teach all those tools – it’s a combination of eastern practices drawn from yoga and my martial arts tradition, with navy SEAL badassery with kind of western psychology.

But then it isn’t just so we can make more money, but it’s all about how we can serve more. And really bring our gifts to the world.

It sounds like you came to that same kind of proposition to the world – first understand your strengths, but then bring them to the world in service.

Tom: Yeah and that’s a part of the challenge I see out there. You’re talking about kids entering the workforce today and finishing college during a time like this. And I think there are a couple defaults that normally happen during typical economic times in that situation.

One of them is you just kind of quickly move to wherever the most financial and economic rewards are. Or you follow a path that someone you admired might have done or what your parents did and the like.

And the challenge there is the other path is “well, I’m just going to go do what I’m passionate about.” And I’m not sure either one of those work very well. Because the more I studied people who focused on their strengths and done that really well and people who say they’re pursuing their passion… you know, no matter how much talent you have in an area and how passionate you are about it, if it doesn’t serve a purpose for another person, I’m not sure it does that much good for the world.

So, I was really inspired by a couple of things – one was my favorite quote from Dr Martin Luther King of all time which was “life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing for others?’”

And the second kind of call to action was Ben Horowitz – the guy co-founded Andreessen-Horowitz, and he’s written a few books…

He’s a great guy. He gave a commencement talk at Columbia where he said “instead of following your passion, find your greatest contribution.” And I think if you start to look through that frame of how you can be of more service through the teams that you’re a part of and the people you lead, as you talk about – I think it’s a better anchor for your talents and your strengths and your efforts over time.

Mark: I agree. And you’re not saying that you can’t have passion and bring your strengths into that contribution. In fact, you’re going to pack a lot more punch when you do. Right? It’s really important to find passion.

But what you’re saying is just because you’re passionate about extreme sports, doesn’t mean you should pursue a career climbing the tallest summits in the world, because that may not serve other people very well.

Tom: When you really get into what creates experiential well-being during the day for people, it’s when they find moments where they can see how they are of service to another person. So, if I’m a chef at a restaurant and I’m stuck in a crummy little room in the back of the place preparing food. And I don’t get to see anybody eating it – I like my job less, I make poor quality food, and I feel worse about my job.

If I can see the people I’m serving, and someone enjoying a meal I’ve created – I feel a lot better about my work, I make better food and it’s a more meaningful day.

And I think that applies across almost every profession I’ve studied. We have to find ways to not only do work that serves other people pretty directly, but then we need to find reminders of that to keep up our motivation to do more of it and be better at it on a regular basis.

Mark: Yeah, this is bringing up a really interesting conundrum that I’ve dealt with a lot with clients of mine. Where they’re like coming to our training and hoping to kind of deal with this midlife crisis of quote-unquote of “discontent.” Because they just don’t feel like they’re fulfilled.

But they’ve got a lot of success. And so, one approach is to kind of look at your totality of your being and what things that you know you’ve been drawn toward in life. And what your sense of your archetypal purpose is.

And then to align around that and to find a way by maybe launching a non-profit or launching a new business or finding some other way to do it.

And people get really inspired to do that, Tom, but then they look at their life and say “you know what? But I’ve invested 25 years in this other thing. And it’s not that I hate it, and I’m unwilling to leave it because it’s too risky for my family at this stage.”

And so, I said “that’s fine. Then in that situation we have to find a way for you to be more purposeful with what you’re doing every day already.” Is that your sense too?

You’re not saying someone needs to launch into a new job or career and risk everything, but just find a new way to think about what you’re doing and really understand how it is contributing. You said remember that every day – have a mantra or have a ritual around remembering that – so you’re really passionate about it.

Tom: And I love the way you talk about that and I’m glad you pointed that out. That it’s about finding the purpose in what you do in many cases.

One of my really good friends who passed away a few years ago was one of the world’s leading researchers on the topic of hope. And when I asked him about what really makes great careers, he said most of the time the best careers are made not found.

And boy did that hit me and I realized that there’s a whole body of work out there from some really good academics at the university of Michigan and Yale on the science of job crafting. And how do you take the job that you have today and make it into one that you can love.

And I think in most cases on average people are too quick to say “oh, I just need to leap to a whole ‘nother company. I need to leave to a whole ‘nother profession.”

When you really owe it to yourself to try and take the job you have and make it into one that can be a lot more meaningful and enjoyable. And of more service to other people before you take that next step, I think.

Mark: Yeah

Career Goal


Mark: I agree in most cases. For me, my first experience of this was in my early to mid-20s – my first job after college was with a big accounting firm – Coopers and Lybrand – it’s now PricewaterhouseCoopers – and during the four years I was there, I was also studying martial arts. And many listeners have heard me tell this story, but it’s probably new to you.

And I was under the watchful eye of a grandmaster who was also a Zen master. And so, I really took to the Zen training. Something about it just really, really appealed to me.

And so, I became a lifelong practitioner starting at 21. And through that process I experienced certain things that helped me appreciate that being a CPA and the path I was on – which was to ultimately become a partner at one of those big firms – and/or head back to the family business. Which had been in the family for over 100 years.

But I saw – through my meditation practice – that that was not what I was built for. That wasn’t my calling or what the Buddhists would call my dharma, or my purpose. And so, in that regard, had I stayed maybe I could have tweaked it a little bit so that I could have found some purpose in how I was contributing. And been okay or somewhat content.

But boy, I would have missed the main thing in my life. Which was to go be a SEAL leader, and to create the companies that I’ve created – which is to teach the things that I’ve learned.

So, I guess that leads to a question is “yes, but.” Do you think there is also an underlying archetypal energy or wave or reason that individuals are on this planet? That they’re meant to serve? And if they’re not serving in alignment or contributing alignment to that they’ll never be happy?

Tom: Yeah, I think you’re right in that hunch. In that the thing that most people on average are missing is enough doses of exposure to various career and professional opportunities.

So, it’s kind of like if you could take new graduates, or ideally kids at the very front end of college – back end of high school – and expose them in a rapid way to ten career experiences…

Mark: What a cool… what a great business idea that is actually…

Tom: Yeah. And then kind of help them to go a bit deeper. So, if you really love taking care of people and their physical health – are you more into nursing? Is it more being a physician? Is it more administrative? What might it be?

And I think we’ve got to do a better job of that, because right now people just kind of fall into defaults. And it often takes a very major crisis, or it takes a really good piece of advice from a mentor or someone you look up to. Or it takes a friend or spouse or partner kind of challenging you and seeing something.

But there aren’t really very deliberate ways that we go about that right now. And it’s why when you talk about leaders, as much as I’ve studied strengths over the years, people always come up and say “oh what’s the best strength to have?”

You know, the more I’ve looked at this – my clear answer is the single most valuable strength is helping another person to spot kind of a hidden talent in them that they hadn’t noticed. Nobody’s doing that right now and if you can do that for somebody else it might just change the trajectory of their life and their career.

Mark: Right. What a gift. Yeah, I’d like to share one more thing about that experience of that I had in my 20s, because as you’re talking about this, I recall very vividly that I too scanned the horizon.

Because when I was sitting on the meditation bench, it’s not like suddenly a big neon sign in my head flash “navy SEALs.” I just got this sense of I was meant to be a warrior or do riskier, more adventurous things… lead in a more visceral way than let’s say being in a white-collar setting.

And so, I did. And I was avid practitioner of visualization. And I used visualization to get deeper into my meditation, and I learned that from my swim coach in college. So, again, a couple really foundational practices that are really important for leaders today. I was practicing in my late teens and early 20s.

And so, I deliberately set upon this approach I called “putting on the uniform.” And so, in my mind’s eye when I was visualizing after my meditation sessions, I would visualize myself as an ER doctor… and I would get into that and feel what that was like. And spend a couple days with that. And get a sense for what that was like.

And then I would visualize myself as a fighter pilot. And get a sense of what that was like. And then I visualized myself on an oil rig as a wildcatter. And I visualized myself just kind of screwing off and taking a world tour for a few years.

And I visualized myself as a special operator. And a couple others. And the one that felt the best to me is the one that I ended up going after. And that was the special operator.

And it was shortly after that that I learned about the SEALs. I didn’t even know about the SEALs at the time. Isn’t that fascinating?

So instead of actually going out and doing all those things, we have this unbelievable capacity to live in different worlds in our minds. But we got to train our mind to think that way.

Tom: Wow. I love that. I mean, if there was a way to help train people to think like that and take themselves through the visualization of some of those environments and experiences. And what it feels like. And your senses and everything else, I think that’s what so many people are in need of. Because they don’t even stretch their own minds to go there and imagine. And play it two steps forward, let alone 10 or 20.

Mark: Right. Yeah, another good business idea in this new world that we’re heading into.

Tell us about “Strength Finders.” You know, how did that come about? Like there’s an enormous amount of research in that. How did you kind of come up with that. And what was that like? That process of discovering those strengths? And what was do you think the biggest contribution that that book has made to leadership?

Tom: Yeah, I appreciate your asking. The research on strengths finder actually started… my late grandfather – Don Clifton – who’s the one who started working on strengths – really created the whole thing. And he basically spent 30 years of his life as a clinical psychologist and entrepreneur building job interviews for truck drivers, and school teachers, and nurses, and sales people.

And when I started working with him about 1998 – the internet was just kind of thriving and coming about. And the question we asked was “can we take all these interviews for 900 disparate positions, and put them into one centralized web-based index to kind of give people a more person-to-person comparison and ranking of their own talents?”

And so, we started with hundreds of different kinds of themes of talent and the like… and tested it with thousands of people and kept narrowing down. And at the time we were just trying to help people make predictions about where they would experience success, to be honest, early on.

But what we underestimated was it essentially created a common language, so that if I say to you “I have competition.” And you say to me “I have empathy, and I have this achievement theme.” We can get to know each other a lot faster. And it takes away some of those kind of barriers where everyone describes themselves in such generic ways in resumes and when you’re introducing yourself, and the like.

So, I think it started to give language to team conversations. It started to give language to leadership conversations and entire organizations began to adopt it as a way to help new people get to know their new team and other people in the organization.

It was fun to watch and in the first years of that don and I kind of watched it roll out and said “you think maybe 5 000 or 10 000 people could benefit from this?”

And then before he passed away, we got to a hundred thousand, I think to a million and now it’s over 20 million people have used that since roughly 1998. It’s been neat to see. I think it’s all about the conversations it creates, it’s not about a test that anoints you with your top five even though it kind of does that…

Mark: Right, there’s no rank structure.

Tom: Right. And there’s no good or bad strengths. No rank structure. It’s kind of a positive language to have a conversation with another person about how you can experience the most growth and have the most influence for a team. And I’ve worked with teams using strengths. You need to help people pretty quickly to point their strengths – which is point a to point b. Which is what the world needs.

I feel like we just honestly haven’t done enough work on the demand side of the equation. Our strengths are the supply side. We need to start looking at the demand side of what does the team around us need? What does the community around us need? And eventually what does the bigger world need?

Mark: Yeah, I agree and they’re going to be a different set of strengths post COVID, and to build the new economy. And also, to bring people together to work more cross-culturally and more in a sense of like “we’re all in this together.”

As opposed to like Americans and the Chinese are going to go head-to-head. Or the Russians and the Americans. You know what? We’re all humans. Let’s figure out how to work together, you know?

And that’s a new strength that comes more from a spiritual insight almost, right?

Tom: I think you’re right. And I believe we’ll start to see that where I think there’s just an inherent connectedness to everything that we’ve been doing for one another. And experiencing. Hopefully we’ll create some good and some cohesion there.

Mark: Yeah, yeah. I hope so as well.

What I loved about Strength Finders is it kind of flipped conventional wisdom on its head. Before reading that, I had always kind of had the paradigm that you identify your weaknesses and then you shore them up, right? And you leverage your strengths, but you really spend a lot of time working on your weaknesses.

And you pretty much flip that, and you said “listen, identify your strengths and really, really go to town delivering those strengths. And don’t worry about weaknesses, because everyone’s got them.”

And if you have a critical flaw you probably say, of course, deal with that… but you don’t spend a lot of time.

You know, like in the SEALs we were like “oh dude, you gotta really, really overcome your weaknesses, or else you don’t even make it on the team.”

Tom: Mm-hmm. Yeah, and that’s… a part of the challenge is when you look at success especially in a professional context – people who if I were to… it’s kind of a time distribution issue if I think about it more clinically. If I were to spend all of my time trying to be a little bit good at everything, it virtually eliminates my chances of being great at anything in life.

And so, you kind of double down and triple down in areas where you’ve experienced rapid success and rapid growth, you can have those kind of exponential shots where you do something better than a thousand other people. Whatever it might be.

So, part of it’s thinking about kind of time allocation. You’re right, it is important to shore up your weaknesses. Especially if there are big glaring blind spots, but when you look at the way kids are raised today… you know, even after I’ve written all these books and taken strengths finder 20 times and everything… my kids come home with a report card and it’s still so hard not to focus all my attention on the one low grade, right?

Mark: (laughing) right.

Tom: That’s the conventional wisdom, that’s the default. But if you really challenge yourself, if I challenge myself as a parent to say “where does my daughter have the most potential for success and growth and enjoyment 10, 20 years down the road?” It’s in the areas where she’s getting an a right now not in the areas which is getting a c.

So, I think if we kind of turn that upside down and say let’s spend 75% of our time building on areas where we have a lot of potential. 25% of our time maybe remediating areas where we have to backfill.

It’s a little bit better than doing that the other way around where it’s 90% of the time on gaps and 10% of the time on where you’ve succeeded.

Mark: I love that and it’s so relevant both for developing our children, our kids – as well as our other leaders and organizations. I think about you know my son, I have a 21-year-old and you know for many years… and he’s adopted, so we adopted him at birth – born in Hawaii, an incredible kid – but he really is like an aloha spirit kid.

And for years I tried to turn him into a little navy SEAL protégé. You know, I had him in swim lessons and I did karate with him. All the way up until we’re going to go for a brown belt test. And then at that point in time he had to clash with another human being of his age in order to pass the test, right? You couldn’t like just do the kata and just do the punching and kicking… he had to go actually fight someone in kumite.

And I couldn’t get him out of the car. (laughing) he said “dad, I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

Tom: (laughing) that’s great.

Mark: (laughing) shows a sense of humor. I’m like “okay, I get it. Uncle. I’ll stop trying to make you in my image and just let you be who you are.” And really focus on his strengths.

So, that’s kind of a fun lesson for all parents.

Tom: It’s a great leadership lesson too, though, when you talk about that. I mean, in terms of… you think about it, if a leader is trying to cast everyone in his or her shadow, so they act the same way, they do some of the same things…

That’s the most poisonous thing I’ve seen in executive teams, frankly.

Mark: Yeah and that’s a that’s a strong bias, right? That’s like confirmation bias played out as a leader, where all you see are the skills or the strengths that you have. And if other people aren’t exemplifying them then they’re not, you know, a leader.

What types… let me ask this kind of leads to a really good question, because a lot of my work is around teams. And obviously you’re shifting from strength of the leader to contribution.

And we do nothing really important alone, right? So, we need a team, we need teams who are teams of teams like my friend general Stanley McChrystal talks about. What are some of the important strengths or contributions that you need to really round out a whole team?

Tom: Yeah, you know, I’ve spent quite a bit of time throughout my career looking at what you need around a team from a talent standpoint. And also, more recently, what you need around as a team from a contribution standpoint.

So, I went back a year or two ago and looked at all of the different job descriptions the US department of bureau labor statistics puts together. And tried to narrow down to what are the things people actually do that they get paid for and that are valued in our society. And that’s why I boiled down to these 12 central contributions that are part of the profile and inventory that go with the “life’s great question” book.

But within that there are essentially three things that every team has to do. A team has to create something after a product a service something you do for the world.

A team has to have good relationships with one another and kind of energize each other keep things going. Keep the wheels on the bus.

And the team needs to operate and execute and get things done. So, I tried to help break it down in about as simple as form as I could with that create and relate and operate. And when you think about those three things, what I would recommend is when you get a team of people together they sit around and say “based on who I am, what I do well, and how I want to contribute to this team, here’s how I can help to fill in those three major areas.” And then the 12 more detailed areas.

Because right now… and I do this myself, where if I get a team of people together like we were just talking about, I’ll probably pull people together who are kind of like creative vision thoughts like me. And thinking in abstract ways.

And then six months later we’ll realize we never really got anything done, put anything together, and we didn’t have very good relationships with one another along the way. Off doing our own things.

But my solution to that is that if we just sit around from the outset as a team and say “here’s what’s expected of us. Here’s what we’re trying to do. And here’s how each one of us wants to contribute in a unique way.” Instead of overlapping and kind of doing the same thing as you go downstream. That yields a really productive conversation, and usually keeps people running on parallel tracks, instead of tracks that are running over one another.

And I found it’s kind of powerful when someone on a team says, “yeah, it’s my responsibility to make sure we keep communicating. And make sure we keep building stronger relationships. And one person knows their task with that.

That really helps leadership teams in particular to grow, because right now unfortunately most leadership teams are still filled with men who are not as good at that on average.

Mark: Yeah, I agree. Fascinating. Boy, we do need more women in middle management and leadership roles, because they do obviously really think differently. I mean, we need to really balance or rebalance our boardrooms and our executives.

Tom: I’ve seen that with strengths too. The diversity of talent it adds when you add diversity of race and gender and age is remarkable. So, you almost need to do it for the diversity of thought as much as you need to do it for all the right social reasons.

Mark: Of course. Yeah, I agree

Making the Job You Want


This is reminding me a little bit of a project we undertook a year ago at our company – and we’re not a huge company you know we’ve got like 12 full-time employees and so it’s easier for us to do this – but I think I heard this from my friend Verne Harnish who runs Scaling Up and he wrote “The Rockefeller Habits.” I don’t know if you were met Verne. Really neat guy.

But he said that if someone’s not doing… if 65% of an individual’s work, like their actual work that they do isn’t aligned with what they’re really good at and love to do, then they will fail. And so, I looked at that I was like “Holy Cow. What am I doing?” And I realized that like 65% of what I was doing was actually business leadership stuff. And I don’t love it.

But I do love to create content. I do love to write and be the thought leader. So, I immediately took that to myself and I shifted so that at least 65 – it’s actually more like 85 now – percent of what I do is in alignment with what my strengths are and what I love to do.

And then we did that for every employee. We looked at all the work that we did across all the functions and who was doing it and made sure that they were aligned 65% or more with what they love to do. It’s not perfect, or it’s not easy to do this in some cases – especially with a small company, where there’s so much overlap, or you wear many hats.

But it’s really powerful. I also think it’s in alignment with what you’re talking about. With “Strength Finders.”

Tom: Yeah. I like the way you talk about that, where it’s kind of 65% – it’s not all the time. Because it’s there are going to be things that we all need to kind of fill into different gaps so we can achieve. That are important for the people that we serve and do it with quality and everything else.

But as long as people get to spend a good amount of time using their natural talents and seeing the influence it has on other people each day, that’s what’s most important…

And you know one of the things when I was taking some teams through this exercise of saying who’s going to do the creating and relating and operating. A lot of teams just don’t have expectations of who’s supposed to do what. And they don’t have that conversation early on.

So, if you have that conversation and you bring in people’s strengths and what they think they can do best – it usually results in people spending more time in the right areas. And much clearer expectations down the road.

Mark: Right. You know, if an individual listening to this is thinking “this sounds great, but my company’s not about to go through a big consulting project with Tom or his team right now. But I like what I’m hearing.” What would you tell them if he asked the question or she asked the question “Tom, how can I redesign my job – the job that I have, into the job that I want?

Tom: I think the good news is it starts one person at a time. And it really takes hold one team at a time. So, I’ve been studying this workaround contribution how each person can find where they optimally contribute. And the questions are all just kind of open source for people to use and study – we put together a profile on the website called where people will go through and they say “what are the roles you play in life?”

So, for me it’s being a dad, and a husband, a researcher, and a writer. And we ask people how they’d label their strengths, we ask people “what are the most influential life experiences you’ve been through?” So back to your idea about visualization – we ask people to describe why those experiences were so serious and shaped who they are and why they do what they do.

And then we take them through a series of 50 prioritization questions about how they want to contribute to that specific effort. And that specific job. And I hope that that gives people on an individual level and on a team level – it’s basically just like a baseball card for talking about who you are and why you do what you do in a far more human way.

Because right now when we bring someone new onto a team you might have a job description or a resume. And personally, I can’t imagine anything more sterile and less personal than the normal job description or resume. So, I’d like people to get started and talking more personally about why they do what they do quite a bit earlier on.

So, if you just do that, it’s a good starting point, I think.

Mark: Yeah, that makes sense. And then asking how I can find more meaning and contribute more in alignment with that – with that why.

Tom: You know, this is kind of simple too. The other little piece of advice I’d have. And I realized this as I worked on this book and this audio research – the more time you’re able to spend today, focusing on efforts that benefit another person. And the more you do that’s oriented outward instead of inward, it just makes your own day less stressful.

When you’re not inside your own head, you’re not navel gazing, you’re not worrying about yourself and you’re focusing on those external outcomes. So, I think you just look at your day today and say “how do I allocate an extra hour to something – whether it’s a writing project, whether it’s mentoring someone, whether it’s helping one of your kids to learn a new skill.”

And if you can not only do that, but then acknowledge that you did something meaningful that served another person, it really boosts the kind of quality and trajectory of those days.

Mark: Yeah, no doubt. I mean helping and serving others. It really does affect your sense of well-being.

And you make a statement that helping others can actually improve your health, as well. I mean, is there research on that?

Tom: There’s a lot of good research about doing kind and altruistic acts for other people is good for your immune system. It’s good for your physical health. And it’s really good for your mental health and your overall engagement and satisfaction with the career that you’re engaged in.

So, I mean there are kind of at two levels with a lot of people’s relationship with their work. Where once you get past the point where you’re not solely worried about having enough financial means and money to put food on the table, pay your bills and the like – the next step in your career when you’re through that kind of mitigation of stress – I think is being able to see that you’re doing something that matters for other people. Because that’s what opens up all of the other avenues.

Mark: Right. I love that. In my book “Staring Down the Wolf,” one of the seven commitments is growth. And I kind of make the claim that it’s time for us to look at our work environment as our primary growth vehicle. You know, growth of our character, growth of our consciousness, our awareness, our emotional strength… all these types of things. You know, really growing up.

And it sounds to me like you’re talking about the same thing. Because a good part of growth is pushing your boundaries for risking… and a lot of work has been done that or non-violent communications like Marshall Goldsmith – talks about using work as an opportunity to serve others and to contribute more.

And all this leads to growth, right? Which is really important. But so many people think of work as just a place to go to transact time for money. And that’s why so many people get stuck and feel lost, I think. And I think that model has got to go.

Tom: Yeah, we need a whole new relationship with our work. And sometimes it’s easy to blame organizations and society for that but I think too, what you just said – most of the time it needs to start with us if we want to see real meaningful change.

Because until we expect our work to be something that produces growth and adds to society and it’s more than just a paycheck, it’s a real purpose. I don’t think we’re going to get to that point where the typical social contract between a person and an organization is as good as it needs to be.

Mark: Mm-hmm. We’ve only got a few minutes left, because we’ll probably wrap this up. With your book “life’s great question,” what were some of the insights that you had when you wrote it that you’d like to share?

For me, I got to just share this, because when I write a book, I have this great intention for what I’m going to say. But then the book seems to write itself. And I actually learn a ton when I write a book. And I have these insights, and I’m like “oh, that’s really cool. Like that’s the main thing that just came out. And I didn’t see it when I first started the book.”

Did something like that happen with you at all with “life’s great question?” Did you have some insights that were important that came out as you wrote it?

Tom: You know, I think one of the insights that surprised me most… I got into it kind of looking at – I’ve done a quite a bit of research and other scientists I’ve worked with have as well, looking at how the typical relationship between a person and an organization is literally killing people. So, Jeff Pfeffer at Stanford wrote a book called “Dying for a Paycheck,” a year or two ago.

It’s kind of a dark title, I told him, but it’s actually a good summary of the typical relationship people have with their work. So, I got into this thinking we need a better understanding and relationship there. And trying to figure out how do we fix that.

And I thought maybe that would occur through organizations and to be honest I spent five, ten years kind of hitting my head into walls with organizational leaders saying “you need to care about your people’s well-being. And organizations need to focus on well-being as much as productivity and satisfaction.”

And at some point as I was working on this, it really hit me that it requires each of us taking ownership and saying “I need to find a job, or create my job I have today, into one where I can go home with just as much energy as when I showed up in the morning. And I can be a better parent, because I’m doing this job instead of working for someone else down the road. And I feel better, I have more financial security, I’m more involved in my community.” And we need to expect our lives to be better because of the work that we spend most of our waking time doing in a given day. And so that I’d say that was one that kind of jumped out at me.

Another one was just how much easier and more enjoyable my own life was as I really oriented the time during my day to focus my energy on the way it served other people. Because when you get out of your own head in that way, it just makes things move so smoothly.

And it takes away a lot of the fear. It takes away a lot of insecurities. And a lot of the things that we have allowed us to get stressed out about for many years.

Mark: Oh, I love that. Yeah, because it’s gonna reframe all the questions you ask yourself. If you’re saying “how can I contribute? And how can I serve and bring more energy to other people in my workforce or my team today?” Then you’re going to be asking different questions. You’re going to be saying “yes” to different things and “no” to different things. And completely reorganize the way you approach your day.

Tom: It’s interesting, I was on a zoom call as I was working on the book with a group of young leaders out in the valley. And one of the participants just he said “oh, I get it now.” He said “basically you’re saying that we need to move from ‘you are what you do’ to ‘you are how you help.’”

And boy, that person encapsulated everything I’d been working on in just kind of one tight, quick sentence on a zoom comment screen. But I think that does summarize if you orient your… if I go meet someone at a cocktail party now, I quit asking them “what do you do?” I say “well, tell me what your typical day looks like? What do you do for people?”

And when I ask that question it yields such richer and more meaningful responses.

Mark: That’s amazing. How do you help people? That’s a good question to ask. And you are who you help and how you help.

Beautiful. I love it.

So, the book “Life’s Great Question: Discover How You Contribute to the World.” It’s out in the marketplace right now, and people can find it. Do you have a website for the book, or where can people learn more about that and your work?

Tom: Yeah, the website where people can kind of build that profile, we talked about how they contribute and see their top three contributions is And they can also get more information about the book there.

Mark: Okay, awesome. And your personal website is

Anything else you got going on? Any new projects coming up or anything you’d like to share before we sign off?

Tom: Uh no, I think that has covered a lot of good ground. It’s been a lot of fun.

Mark: Yeah, it really has Tom. Thanks so much for your contributions – which have been just enormous, and I know you’ll continue your work. I really appreciate it.

I’ve certainly benefited… I know like you said millions people have. And thank you for your time today it’s been a great honor.

Tom: Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Mark: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate you, too.

All right folks. That’s Tom Rath and go check out his book “Life’s Great Question: Discover How You Contribute to the World.” Learn how to create, relay and operate or how you create relate and operate. And ask questions like “how do you help?” Instead of “what can the world do for me?”

And go to to join his research and to get more information. And stay safe, stay focused and stay unbeatable. And appreciate your support.


Divine out.

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