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How Awe-Inspiring Management Improves Business

According to research published in the October 2012 issue of Psychological Science, people who experience awe:

  1. feel they have more time,
  2. are more likely to help others in need,
  3. volunteer their time and donate money to charity, and
  4. are more likely to choose positive experiences over material rewards.

These findings have big implications for managers and their organizations.

What is Awe?

According to the Oxford American Dictionary, awe (n.) refers to “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” Think of standing before the Great Pyramids of Giza. Viewing Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower. Gazing upon the vastness of the ocean. Listening to Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9.

According to a team of researchers from Stanford University and the University of Minnesota, awe involves two components. The first component is “perceptual vastness, which is the sense that one has encountered something immense in size, number, scope, complexity, ability, or social bearing.**

The second element of awe is that it causes people to change their usual frame of reference. For example, the experience of natural wonders (e.g., thunder storms, the Grand Canyon, etc.) or personal transitions (e.g., marriage, childbirth, etc.) transform how we see the world and our place in it. We alter our world view as a result of awe-inspired moments.

Inspiring management

6 Payoffs of Awe-Inspiring Management

The findings from this study have important implications for business.

Creating opportunities for employees to experience a sense of reverence and wonder at work can help your team’s performance by:

  1. Giving employees the perceptual gift of more time to do the work that matters most;
  2. Increasing engagement, particularly if you can tie awe-inspiring moments to the contributions that your employees make to customers’ lives;
  3. Reducing impatience and all of the negative consequences that can result from impatience (e.g., conflict, poor customer service, resentment, etc.)
  4. Boosting volunteerism and charitable giving among employees to support social responsibility initiatives at your organization;
  5. Increase helping behaviors among employees as a result of having an expanded perception of time;
  6. Increase employees’ well-being and overall life satisfaction. These outcomes have been proven to reduce sickness absenteeism, and health care costs.

So How Do I Inspire Awe at Work?

The methods that the researchers from Stanford University and the University of Minnesota used to inspire awe were cheap, easy, and produced measurable effects. They included:

  • writing about an event that felt vast and overwhelming and that altered they way participants understood the world;
  • watching an awe-inspiring commercial that depicted modern cities, nature, whales, waterfalls, and astronauts in space;
  • reading a story about ascending to the top of the Eiffel Tower and overlooking the Paris landscape.

Does this mean that the best way to inspire awe at work is to play YouTube videos of whales mating or to subject your employees to a slide show of your last vacation in Paris? Probably not.

Here are some cheap, easy, and practical awe-inspiring management alternatives:

Tell stories that matter

Interview three clients or customers about their experience with your business. Ask them what they appreciated about their experience and what difference it made to them? Share the responses face-to-face with those who made the experience possible. Or, better yet, bring the customers in to tell their own story.

Bring the outdoors indoors

Include natural elements in the design of your office space: fish tanks, natural light, lush plants, and/or natural materials are all good options.

Shake up meetings

Find an inspirational way to start a meeting. A powerful image, video, or reading that opens spaces and creates a sense of wonder or reverence.

Share a moment

Just have a conversation about experiencing awe with someone on your team. As a manager if you model the behavior, your employees will be more likely to reciprocate. It’s proven that recalling an awe-inspiring moment leads increased levels of awe.

Get out of the office

Have a meeting off-site if possible. If that’s not possible, then have a walk and talk meeting outdoors. Insights and awe don’t typically happen in a cubicle or conference room.

Increases in employees’ perception of time, more volunteering, charitable giving, and employee well-being are good for business. Period. You don’t have to take your team to the top of the Eiffel Tower or feel the spray of the ocean on your face to experience awe, you just need to flex your creativity muscle a bit and be willing to stretch your comfort zone.

When was the last time that you experienced awe at work? How did it impact you?

** Rudd, M., Vohs, K.D., Aaker, J. (2012). Awe expands people’s perception of time, alters decision making, and enhances well-being. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1130-1136.

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Images:  ”Awe Inspiring Grand Canyon /

Chris Groscurth, Ph.D. is a consultant, coach, and writer. He works with leaders and executives to build healthy teams, increase employee engagement, and align organizational culture with business strategy. Currently, Dr. Groscurth is Lead Consultant for Engagement at Trinity Health, a 65,000 employee Catholic health care system. Chris blogs at Positive Work and Tweets @CRGroscurth

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  • Denise Speer

    Excellent article–thank you so much for sharing! I have passed it along to my Leadership and Management Teams.

  • Elish Bul

    Thank you for that excellent refreshing take on Management – At last something that calls for more mindfulness and a humane approach to creating a better quality and more sustainably productive workplace.

  • Thanks Denise and Elish. I LOVE finding hard science in support of forms of being and connecting that truly do make a difference and humanize work! I appreciate you sharing too Denise!


  • susanpayton

    As you can see in my story, it absolutely works, and has been part of my strategy from early on.

  • Jason King

    As a new Marketing Consultant myself this article couldn’t be more perfectly timed. Time to network 🙂

  • Congrats on the link!

  • Thanks for including my article Sian 🙂 great selection of links as always 🙂

  • Big thanks for mentioning my roundup of news.

  • You’re welcome Cendrine – great post

  • No problem Amanda – always looking for good articles

  • Thanks Jean

  • Sian: Will you do a special Easter round-up?

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