I still remember a female traffic controller standing on a road under construction. She was definitely high-impact. Talk about an anonymous job! It’s been 15 years and I can still see her moving her arms around as if she was dancing, delivering her hand signals with genuine joy. She made me smile. I learned that day that any job can be made special to those who work with you and are dependent on you.

As it happens, author Patrick Lencioni takes on the subject of how to make a seemingly deadening job into a bright spot in the lives of employees. As with his other books, the title alone — The Three Signs of a Miserable Job — compels you to pick it up. Lencioni writes both fiction and nonfiction, and that explains why his books start out dramatizing the points he intends to make using a fable. But don’t be put off. He’s not long winded and he steers clear of business jargon.

Swimming in Misery

In The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, Lencioni writes of Brian Bailey, a successful executive newly and unexpectedly retired when the company he works for is sold. Brian has money but doesn’t have work. Full retirement in a vacation community makes him restless. Soon he’s part-owner and part-manager of a down-at-the-heels pizza restaurant where he proceeds to try out his management ideas on a lackluster staff stuck in nowhere jobs. And guess what? He turns the company around and then accepts a temporary assignment at a midsize operation where he once more sets out to combat the three major enemies of enthusiasm and fulfillment.

The first of these enemies is anonymity. “People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing,” Lencioni argues. To banish anonymity, managers — especially direct supervisors — need to take a personal interest in an employee’s goals, interests, and family. That may sound simple, but it takes some one-on-one time. “People want to be managed as people, not as mere workers,” Lencioni points out.

The second is irrelevance. If we can’t connect the work we do to the satisfaction of others, we won’t find a reason to continuously improve and we won’t find fulfillment in our work. Every person needs to know that his or her work matters and that their job has greater significance.

For frontline people, such as carpenters, the connection is obvious. But what about the behind-the-scenes staff? To establish relevance means answering two questions: Who am I helping in my job? and How am I helping them? In effect, others — including you the employer/manager — are the beneficiaries of the job someone is performing. Feedback from those who benefit, whether it’s the manager or other team members, is a big motivator.

Better and Better

The third enemy of enthusiasm is immeasurement (a word Lencioni coined).Each of us needs to be able to measure our progress in improving at our job and knowing when we’ve been successful. But what we read in just about every business book is that improvement for both individual and company is about metrics, metrics, and more metrics. Lencioni emphasizes that the individual, and his or her attitude, is the measure.

In Lencioni’s fable, Carl, who mans the pizza drive-by window, has two metrics to determine how well he’s doing his job: the number of smiles he receives (happy customers) and the number of orders delivered without missing items.

What could be more important for managers than helping people be enthused about their work and passing on that enthusiasm. Lencioni writes, “… the real shame is not that more people aren’t working in positions of service to others, but that so many managers haven’t yet realized that they already are.” I kept thinking about that traffic controller. Are you thinking of your people-management duties as a miserable job or as a ministry where you can perform exceptional service?

Mark Robert Halper Photography

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage, a national company that gives remodelers the tools to achieve consistent profitability and success through one-on-one consulting, the Roundtables peer program, and an online learning community, Advantage Associates. 301.490.5620; linda@remodelersadvantage.com; www.remodelersadvantage.com.