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most widely-known aspect of his teach-

ings. In all situations, no matter how
desperate they may appear or actually

Prisoners of
be, we always have the ultimate freedom
to choose our attitude.
At Work: Choosing a positive atti-
tude during stressful times, such as
working with a difficult supervisor or
co-workers, dealing with a budget

our Thoughts
reduction or job lay-off, and meeting
rigorous quality standards not only
directly and positively influences our
performance but also our health and
well-being. Likewise, a negative attitude
may serve to accentuate our stress and,
in effect, result in a self-fulfilling
prophecy. To be sure, we can’t always
control what happens to us but, in any
particular moment, we do have a choice
Viktor Frankl’s Principles at Work to respond in a positive or negative way.
And, importantly, this is OUR choice.

Realize your will to meaning

It was in a meeting with Viktor Frankl at his home in The second principle pertains to our Will
Vienna, Austria, in August 1996 when I first proposed the to Meaning. In other words, we need to
commit authentically to meaningful val-
idea of writing a book that would apply his core principles ues and goals that only we can actualize
and approach explicitly to work and the workplace. and fulfill.
At Work: It is vitally important to
Dr. Frankl, the world-renowned psychiatrist, Nazi death find a connection between our work
camp survivor, and author of the classic best-seller, Man’s (and workplace) and our personal values
and goals. If, for instance, we find that
Search for Meaning, was more than encouraging when, in his interacting with others is an important
typically direct and passionate style, he grabbed my arm and personal value, then we must find a way
for our work and workplace to offer
said, “Alex, yours is the book that needs to be written!” meaningful human encounters.
Similarly, if we truly value our personal

When one considers the amount of time this connection, comprise something creativity, then we must find a way for

that people spend “at work” during their that is relevant to most people over the our work and workplace to offer oppor-

lifetime, it should be expected that the course of their lives. tunities for creative expression. We are

search for meaning at work is an impor- all unique individuals, so our values and

tant concern. However, when the ques- Core Principles goals will be unique. It is our responsi-
tion of personal meaning arises, work bility to clarify our values and goals and
Drawing upon Viktor Frankl’s System of find ways to actualize them in our work
and the workplace are viewed only
Logotherapy, as well as my experience and everyday lives.
superficially as legitimate sources of
working in mental health, business, and
meaning. For many people, it is as if
government, I have derived seven “Core
authentic meaning only happens outside
Principles” that can be used to open up Detect the meaning of life’s
of the work environment! moments
new opportunities for finding personal
It is time to bring meaning to work;
meaning at work and for living an The third principle pertains to the
that is, to do for the domain of work
authentic life. Let me briefly introduce Meaning of Life, which requires that we
what Dr. Frankl was able to do for psy-
these principles and demonstrate how see both the trees and the forest of our
chotherapy. Work, in this broadly-
they may be applied to work-related sit- work/lives. Importantly, only we can
defined context, applies to volunteers as
uations. answer for our own life by detecting the
well as to paid workers, to people work-
ing in all sectors and industries, to peo- meaning at any given moment and
Exercise the freedom to assuming responsibility for weaving our
ple who are self-employed, such as oper-
ating home-based businesses or serving
choose your attitude unique tapestry of existence.
as independent consultants, and to those This first principle pertains to our At Work: Ultimately, we alone are
who are in some kind of job/career Freedom of Will, a cornerstone of Dr. responsible for our personal job, career,
“transition.” Work and the workplace, in Frankl’s philosophy and perhaps the or work path and therefore for detecting

17 I www.SeniorExec.ca I issue 3, 2004

the meaning of each situation or experi- a distance also opens up new opportuni- By applying these seven principles of
ence along the way. Exploring the ties for personal learning and develop- Frankl’s Logotherapy to work and the
deeper meaning behind losing a job or ment. workplace, I have found that the “search
moving from one kind of work to for meaning” can be used to advance
another offers the potential for us not Shift your focus of attention transformational management and ele-
only to learn from each experience but vate the human spirit in the workplace.
also to grow in ways that make work The sixth principle relates to Frankl’s Moreover, these meaning-focused prin-
overall more fulfilling and life more notion of Dereflection, that is, the ability ciples can be used to address a wide
meaning-full. By staying attuned to such to shift our focus of attention from the range of existential, work-related issues,
potentialities, we may also be able to problem situation to something else, to such as job loss, underemployment, fear
visualize our job/work “path” more something positive, in order to build our in the workplace, stress, interpersonal
clearly over time. coping mechanisms for dealing with conflict, and career transition.
stress and change. Viktor Frankl’s legacy was one of
Don’t work against yourself At Work: What can we do when we hope and possibility. He saw the human
are burdened by a difficult situation at condition at its worst, and human beings
The fourth principle pertains to Frankl’s work? By shifting our focus of attention behaving in ways intolerable to the
concept and technique of Paradoxical to a more positive situation or experi- imagination. He also saw human beings
Intention. Simply put, it asks that we ence, or even to the positive attributes of rising to the heights of compassion and
avoid becoming so obsessed with or fix- the situation at hand, our coping skills caring in ways that can only be
ated on an intent or outcome that we and capacity to resolve the situation described as miraculous acts of
actually work against the desired result. actually increase. Focusing on a com- unselfishness and transcendence. There
At Work: Supervisors who are plex problem situation directly often is something in us that can rise above
accused of “micro-management,” more immobilizes our ability to act and con- and beyond everything we think possi-
often than not, have good intentions strains our view of how best to deal with ble. Our instinct for meaning, in our
even though their behavior frequently or resolve the situation. In the case of work and in our everyday lives, is ours
results in the opposite effect desired. downsizing an organization, for exam- right now, at this very moment. As long
Paradoxically, by focusing so intensely ple, both labor and management would as we do not allow ourselves to become

on monitoring and controlling the benefit from focusing on the opportuni- prisoners of our thoughts.

actions of others, there is increasing risk ties, rather than only the “problems”,

that worker performance will be that confront them. Alex Pattakos, Ph.D., is the founder

adversely effected. The same thing often of the Center for Personal Meaning,

happens with workers who become fix- Extend beyond yourself based in Santa Fe, New Mexico USA
ated on receiving some kind of recogni- (www.prisonersofourthoughts.com)
tion, such as a raise or promotion. The The seventh principle pertains to the and a principal of The Innovation
more they obsess and strive for their concept of Self-Transcendence. Simply Group (www.seedsofinnovation.com).
objective, the less likely they are able to put, self-transcendence allows us to He has served as an adjunct professor
achieve it. manifest the human spirit at work by at the University of Toronto and is a
relating and being directed to something past president of Renaissance Business
more than ourself. Associates, a nonprofit, international
Look at yourself from association of people committed to
At Work: Ideally, there is more to
a distance integrity in business and elevating the
our work than simply a paycheck. To
The fifth principle pertains to Frankl’s make work meaningful, most of us want human spirit in the workplace. This
concept of Self-Detachment. Dr. Frankl, to make a difference in some way. In article is based on his new book,
many cases, the larger purpose of the Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor
in this regard, underscored that only
work that we do is clear. In others, it Frankl’s Principles at Work (Berrett-
human beings possess the capacity to
Koehler Publishers, 2004). Dr. Pattakos
look at themselves out of some perspec- requires that we look at our jobs or work
can be reached by phone at
tive or distance. This capability, it should in a larger context in order to see that it
505-820-0254; or by e-mail at
be noted, includes the uniquely human brings value beyond our personal needs alex@prisonersofourthoughts.com.
trait known as our “sense of humor.” or desires. We need to ask ourselves,
At Work: Even when we closely “how is my work contributing to our Pattakos, A. 2004. Prisoners of Our
identify ourselves with our jobs, it is customers, others within our organiza- Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles
important to remember that we are not tion, and society in general?” The more at Work. San Francisco, California:
our jobs, nor are our jobs really us. that we can see our work from such a Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Being able to laugh at ourselves, even at “self-transcendent” perspective, the more
work, is an effective way to “free” our- likely we will detect its ultimate mean-
selves from our jobs, gain perspective, ing in our lives. All work contains the
and see more clearly the real situation seeds of self-transcendence. In the final
that is confronting us. Maintaining a analysis, it is up to the people doing the
sense of humor, even during hard times, work to determine if such a quality
helps to unfreeze us for action. Viewing exists for them.
ourselvesæand our circumstancesæfrom

issue 3, 2004 I senior executive magazine I 18