What’s the purpose of purpose?

By March 11, 2019 October 9th, 2019 Food for thought


One word creates much debate.  It is often targeted as being airy fairy, mumbo jumbo management speak, and is heaped with mixed meanings.

I believe the purpose of purpose, is to identify and then plug into whatever gives your life, and your work, meaning. When we are living in alignment with our purpose, our ‘why’, we are in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’ – that awesome state of free flowing energy, clarity of thought and get sh*t done productivity – and it feels bloody great.

And the cool thing? It’s all biology. It is steeped in neuroscience. Evidence based research says: find your purpose, and live it.

“What one can be, one must be” Maslow

To become all that you are capable of is a human need, as pyramid’ed by the masterful Maslow.  It’s recently become apparent that he tapped into the ancient wisdom of the Blackfoot people in Alberta, Canada who believe that purpose sits at the base of the tepee. To achieve fulfilment, to self-actualise, they believe that understanding one’s purpose is the foundation of all other existential needs like food and shelter. Maslow tipped this thinking on its head.

Whichever side of that debate you stand, Daniel Pink’s work on human motivation codifies the belief that it is a fundamental human need to realise your potential – to live a meaningful life that authentically expresses who you are in both the micro and the macro parts of our life.

 So how do we find our purpose? And why is it so important for leaders?

First up, we have to switch on massive amounts of self-awareness. We need to courageously ask what we’re here for.   We have to work from the inside-out.  When we know ourselves, we can get clarity on what spins our wheels, floats our boat, rocks our socks, lights us up.  And then, with intention (and some bravery) we can craft our daily work to align with what fuels us with energy and inspiration.  And that is what leadership is about – being inspired and energised, and in so being, inspiring and energising others in a direction of – well, cue other mumbo jumbo accused words: the mission, the vision.

As leaders it is our obligation and our privilege to be purposeful, and to create the space for others to ignite their purpose – to illuminate meaning in the day to day things they do. Moving from day-in day-out revolving, to day-in day-out remarkable. From ordinary to extraordinary.

As leaders, it’s powerful for us to know our purpose because we can choose to work in, or to create more of a space where we are aligned – it then fires our belly – it gives us a natural drive and energy, and therefore we feel most satisfied and happy, and achieve greater results for, and with our teams.

Professional purpose can be derived from focusing on what’s meaningful and purposeful about the role or the job, and then bringing that to life. Sure, some jobs more naturally lend themselves to senses of meaning, but many require at least some deliberate effort to invest them with the purpose we seek. You might be a crane ‘dogman’ or a critical cog in helping today’s learners start the day really well. Maybe you lead a team in a production line, a call centre, or you’re enabling communities through train transport development for easier commutes.

In our workshops we take time to explore purpose, and the power that can be unleashed when you’re aligned with what’s important to you.

Here are some questions to get you started – let’s think about these in your professional context:

  • When do you feel most alive? What are you doing? Who are you with?
  • What are you great at? What do you love doing? What does the world need? Where do these three parts integrate?
  • If you had all the time and money in the world, what contribution would you make?
  • What are three things you are most proud of in your working life? What will you be most proud of in the future?
  • If you were guaranteed to succeed, what would you choose to do?



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