Your First Responsibility in Any Job

Many smart creatives have lofty ambitions — a desire to create something meaningful, make a difference, improve the world. But it’s easy to get caught up in these aspirations and overlook your most important responsibility.

Each of us has the capacity to directly impact (and improve) a handful of people’s lives on a daily basis through our work. This is our obligation to each other — no matter how high our position or perceived impact.

When you come into work each morning, your first job should be to improve the quality of life for your immediate team. It doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer, analyst, designer, manager, or intern. Everything starts with the people around you. Take your ego out of it. Only then will you be able you branch out and improve, as a group and individuals.

Building the morale of your team is what precedes creating anything of lasting value. If you don’t get it right at this immediate level, it’s impossible to sustain at higher levels of performance with multiple moving pieces. 

This can be better understood as a five-tier model, similar to a rather famous hierarchy of needs.

Levels:

  1. Improve the lives of those on your immediate team
  2. Elevate the quality of individual and group contributions
  3. Establish and grow the culture
  4. Advance the overall mission and purpose
  5. Contribute something meaningful to the world and improve people’s lives

The people around you come first. Before the customer. Before the experience. Before the achievements.

Improving the lives of those around you doesn’t mean making things easier, and it doesn’t mean people pleasing. What it does mean is engaging, challenging, collaborating, and empathizing. And it all must be authentic —everyone’s different, it takes time to build trust and develop your own cadence and rapport. 

Environments where people care and know how to push each other, produce better outcomes. This is where the seeds of cultured are sown.

While it’s an individual attitude at its core, you can also structure teams in a way that facilitate this type of growth and interaction. Small empowered teams — what we refer to as journey teams — encourage people to check their egos and focus on coming together. It’s the same mentality in startups — lean, resourceful teams who care about each other, their values, and their mission.

Those who are only in it for themselves will struggle to survive in this type of an environment. 

There’s less room to hide behind personal brand — or whatever garbage they disguise it as. While this might work in a more rigid, corporate hierarchy, true motivations become glaringly obvious on self-sufficient teams. Pretending to care about the people around you because you’re supposed to, is not the same as actually being invested. You can’t fake that. At least not for long without breeding resentment and disengagement.

Authenticity, purpose, and challenge are each important if you want to keep smart creatives engaged and contributing their best work. This is one of the most significant obstacles that companies face in today’s business world. That’s why so many people are on the two-year plan, bouncing from one opportunity to the next. It’s difficult to sustain a high level of engagement for years on end.

The best way to combat this is by building a community of people who not only challenge, but care deeply about each other. It’s a true competitive advantage that’s not easily replicated. It’s hard work, that’s why it’s so rare. But few things have a more powerful, direct contribution to your overall wellbeing than this type of work environment. 

If you want to make a difference, start by making a difference in the people’s lives immediately surrounding you, then build from there. This remains true regardless of what aspirations you hold.

Show compassion and interest towards the people you work with. Discover meaning in your work, together. Enjoy your time together, struggle together, and strive to improve each other’s lives.

If you want to achieve what you’ve set out to, you’re going to need people who care about and challenge each other. That’s what it takes to bring an idea to life and contribute something meaningful to the world. When you make this your first responsibility, everyone will come out better for it.