We are just coming to the end of a global social experiment in working from home. For some, like me, it was nothing new. I’ve worked from a home office for decades. For others, it was liberation. For many, if the surveys are any guide, it was something they hope never to return to. They need people. They need live connections. They are better when they are together in person with others.
Our society will be digesting these trends and objections for years. For now, I want to emphasize one element of working from home that was a success and that I want you to make part of your leadership life.
The data is largely anecdotal as yet, but for most people who worked from home during the pandemic, there was one part that was superior to their office experience: the inspiration and motivational boost that came from their surroundings.
In our offices these days, minimalism, glass, and sleek, clean décors rule. There are few photos on the walls, few inspirational posters. Some firms even ban personal photos at your desks or workspaces, so that photo of the grandchild or the ski trip that might inspire heightened vigor is missing.
When people began working from home in large numbers, many of them found the situation changed. They may have been fighting distraction and disruption, but their workspace inspired them. There was the painting that reminded them of their faith. There was the photo of grandpa, whom they wanted to emulate. The little figurine they bought on that trip to Brazil infused them with excitement about more trips to come. Even the pen or the leather folio they used were gifts from those they hoped to please and perhaps to serve with what they earn.
It all lifted them. It all inspired. It all reminded them of the higher purposes of their work. In other words, it made them better. Why? Because we become what we behold. We can be made better by what we keep before our eyes.
I’ve made a study of the desks of the great. They understood this principle of becoming what we behold. They kept photos or images of those they admired nearby. Pens and pipes and figurines and busts were all positioned to remind and awaken. They all made their space personal and elevating. It was all about the soul.
I do the same. On my desk is a brass letter opener my grandmother gave me, a half dozen leather notebooks that were gifts from beloved friends, busts of Lincoln, Washington and Homer, and books that changed my life. Of course, we don’t know what Homer looked like, but to have a bearded, wise face staring at me at eye level while I work reminds me of the ancients and stirs me. I work under a large painting of Churchill, a depiction of heroism from days gone by. You get the point. I am visual. History stirs me. I keep it close. I am better for it.
Now, one of the keys for your leadership is that you know how to inspire yourself. This is more than just reminding yourself of that bonus you might get at year’s end or of the promotion that might come in time. It is about the higher meaning of what you do. It is about your inner life connected to your outer work. It is about what draws you out and stokes the inner fires.
You should be aware of that which awakens the dormant within you. You should know what objects, images, stories, and people impart something noble to you. Keep these close. Keep their symbols near. Master the art of being inspired merely by sitting down in a workspace you’ve made inspirational. This is one of the great arts of leadership.