Igniting Contributive Desire

I found a card in the mail. It included a letter of gratitude from a young woman, a senior who is about to graduate. In the note, she told me that I was the person who “most shaped” her college career. Since I had hardly interacted with her, I was sure this was an exaggeration.

The rest of the letter, however, contained specifics about two teaching episodes, one of five minutes and later, a half-day voluntary workshop. She documented how these two experiences led her to pursue clarity of purpose and how the clarification brought confidence that she could successfully contribute in the world.

This positive story was unsettling. How could four hours and five minutes be more valuable than four years of classes? What is it that accounts for the impact? What do the answers tell me about how to make a greater contribution?

As I pondered these questions, I began to focus on the last. I realized that, because of her expression of gratitude, I was feeling an increased desire to contribute. I wrote down the words “contributive desire.” I looked this phrase up on the internet. I could not find anything.

It occurred to me that one purpose of leadership is to ignite “contributive desire” in other people. This thought opens a new way for me to think about positive leadership and perhaps a new way to teach and write about positive leadership.

By writing a letter of genuine gratitude, this young woman was leading me, creating a desire to contribute more. She was also elevating my mind, causing me to think about new strategies. I am grateful for her leadership. I am grateful for increased contributive desire.


  • What is contributive desire?
  • How much contributive desire exists in our unit?
  • How do we ignite contributive desire?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



One thought on “Igniting Contributive Desire

  1. Great post. I believe that everyone wants to contribute, but in the workplace we often create environments (of busyness, pressure, crisis, meetings, overwork, overwhelm, etc.) where they cannot contribute their best. Asking how we can ignite contributive desire is a great question because I believe it will lead to asking how we can shift culture to enable it.


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