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How business leaders can create a fantastic work environment: “Purpose is an emotion, and it’s not something you find, it’s something you create,” with Dr. Benjamin Ritter

We need to stop promoting self-help advice without context and that is misleading. For example the words “find your purpose” have infected the minds of our society and workforce and could potentially be causing the majority of the unhappiness we see today. Purpose is an emotion, and it’s not something you find, it’s something you […]

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We need to stop promoting self-help advice without context and that is misleading. For example the words “find your purpose” have infected the minds of our society and workforce and could potentially be causing the majority of the unhappiness we see today. Purpose is an emotion, and it’s not something you find, it’s something you create. But now we have employees that are seeking their purpose, for it to be given from an employer, and when it’s not they become disengaged and ultimately leave.


Dr. Benjamin Ritter is a Chicago based social entrepreneur, coach, consultant, mentor, teacher, speaker, and passionate about the fields of personal and professional internal leadership development. He spends his work days coaching and guiding intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs, and senior leaders toward greater meaning at work and in life. His graduate educational pursuits earned him an EdD in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University, an MBA in Entrepreneurial Management and an MPH in Health Policy Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Throughout his career he has constantly sought new experiences to learn more about the world, and himself, working in the areas of hospitality, the entertainment industry, public health, education, childcare, healthcare, and personal and professional development which have all added to his perspectives and abilities as the coach and consultant he is today.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

During my employment as a healthcare professional I felt that my work had meaning. I also had the opportunity to lead initiatives targeted at increasing employee and patient job satisfaction, experience leadership training programs, and truly enjoyed my experiences in that field. At the same time I was coaching professionally in a different space, mainly focused on personal development but didn’t feel I found the nice that resonated the most within myself.

Then, I was promoted into an executive level position at the healthcare organization I was working for. Which was great for my career but once the dust settled I didn’t feel that my work had meaning. I wondered how this could have happened after feeling so differently in my last role. Reviewing my experiences and with my background in coaching I realized there was an opportunity within and outside organizations to help develop the internal leader within all of us, which then would also help lead others around us, ultimately improving how fulfilled individuals can feel at work and in life. I went back to get my doctorate in organizational leadership and during that process started building Live for Yourself (LFY) Consulting.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

There are a lot of interesting stories since the clients I work with all lead such different yet similar lives in terms of what they deal with. But one common thread that still intrigues me is the lack of empowerment and flexibility some employees feel about their work and organization. There was one client whom wanted to immediately quit her job due to the resentment she felt toward her employer, and start her own consulting practice. Through coaching we were able to reframe her attitude toward work and her co-workers, creating a more positive work environment for her organization, and herself. We were also able to alter her work load to become more meaningful and have already put together next steps in terms of transferring some of her work into more contract based. It’s also important to note, that she also transitioned to a remote position. All because she had powerful and candid conversations with her leadership and herself.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

It really excites me to talk about the new type of leadership that is needed in the workplace because we now have a new type of leader as well as a new type of employee. I have been really happy that organizations have been interested in this topic and surprised by the openness to start discussions with their employees on where they find meaning, and at the same time empower them to craft more meaningful work.

Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Gonna be blunt, if you’re unhappy it’s your fault. An employee needs to first take accountability for their own unhappiness. These are emotions and ultimately you need to lead yourself first.

Now, realistically a manager isn’t responsible for motivating an employee but they are responsible for creating an environment that COULD motivate an employee. This takes time, training, and energy outside of time cards, scheduling, and disciplinary actions. We need to train employees and leaders on these areas if we expect our workforce to be happy.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

All together an unhappy workforce will increase all negative work outcomes. This includes productivity, turnover, days off from work, and engagement, which directly affect profitability.

In terms of employee health and wellbeing, unhappiness can cultivate resentment, frustration, and stress. Those feelings infect the culture of an organization and soon your entire workforce will be mentally and physically drained. Similar to how one drop of oil can pollute a million drops of water.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

1) Create a culture of radical candor: How can you use honesty along with respect to build trust throughout your organization? Trust is the foundation of creating a positive work environment and you can only do that through openness, respect, and honesty.

2) Show up and care: Do you walk around in the morning and say hi and smile to your employees? Do you remember personal details of your employees? We need to treat employees as humans, because they are, and are not a means to an end, but a relationship we should value.

3) Provide recognition and celebrate success: Recognition helps your employees feel valued and safe, which will lead to a more positive and loyal work environment. Celebrating even minor success will also keep your employees feeling as they are valued and making a difference. Even if something is routine, if it gets done, that is a cause to celebrate.

4) Coach instead of consult or manage: Your job as a leader is to help others create meaning for themselves, and ultimately lead themselves as well. Empower your employees through questions instead of answers and they will feel more valued, challenged, and respected.

5) Remind yourself and your employees of meaning: It can be too easy to forget the why behind the work that you do, but the “why” is what motivates. Find ways to discover what your employees feel is meaningful and then remind them of that on a weekly basis.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

We need to stop promoting self-help advice without context and that is misleading. For example the words “find your purpose” have infected the minds of our society and workforce and could potentially be causing the majority of the unhappiness we see today. Purpose is an emotion, and it’s not something you find, it’s something you create. But now we have employees that are seeking their purpose, for it to be given from an employer, and when it’s not they become disengaged and ultimately leave.

We need to ensure that the advice we believe is true and helpful instead of cookie cutter and feel good.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

Personally I instruct leaders to manage through a combination of expectations, mutual respect, coaching, and personalization. Overall there doesn’t need to feel like there’s a hierarchy but there are rules and guidelines that everyone agrees to in order to work together, which also means that there isn’t any sort of dictatorship and more so a team mentality to hit goals that were mutually agreed upon.

Coaching and personalization are so important and occur together. As you coach an employee to solve their own concerns, and lead themselves, they also start to personalize their work toward what means the most to them. These employees then become more engaged and find more meaning from their work.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The manager I had when I realized the gap in leadership and talent management helped me get to where I am today. I am grateful for those experiences. The time when I took a longer lunch to go to the gym, had no meetings or work to do, and was questioned for being 15 mins late from lunch. The time when I was told I wasn’t like an old co-worker who was more enthusiastic. The negativity, lack of guidance, and traditional mindset and authoritarian leadership mentality pushed me to create a positive social impact in the workplace.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I coach and guide others to first lead themselves so that they can lead others. Training leaders has a waterfall affect throughout an organization, not just on other employees, but also on financial outcomes.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Not only can water float a boat, but it can sink it also.” This quote reminds me that you can either cause destruction or support, and that it all depends on how you want to utilize your skills. Do you want to help others drown or float? No matter how I feel at any given moment, I always want to help others float.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire people to live more for themselves. To realize that life doesn’t have to be impacted by the judgment of others, a lack of confidence, or fears. Life is meant to be lived in a way that is true to each individual. What do you value? How can you live your life in alignment with yourself? How can you realize that success is progress, and that failure is progress, and thus the journey of life itself is progress. Be accountable for yourself. No one else will be, and live for yourself.

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