Purpose. It means so much, it almost means nothing.
It seems we’re always looking for ways to qualify and quantify the value that something or someone adds to or takes away from a given situation.
It starts out easy enough: You show up to a meeting, say nothing, leave and wonder, “Why did I bother showing up?” Or your kid tells you he’s on Twitter and you ask, “Why would you spend time on that?”
But when it comes to “Purpose with a capital P,” things get a little more daunting. Can you articulate your life’s purpose? Some of us can and some of us cannot. Most of us don’t think about it very often.
But somewhere between the reason you’re invited to a meeting and the meaning of your life exists a level of consciousness that you can grab hold of and use to your advantage.
Through the process of uncovering and discovering, it is possible to get closer to the idea of purpose when it comes to your life and your leadership.
Uncovering What Means the Most
Whether we had a happy childhood or not, we learned values, priorities and ways of being in the world. Through my mom’s relentless nagging, I’ve not only become an ardent supporter of written thank-you notes, but incredibly conscious of expressing genuine gratitude. I also learned the art of avoiding conflict and smoothing over uncomfortable situations. This makes me a great facilitator and diplomat, but still a little stunted when it comes to delivering bad news.
Good, bad or indifferent, our actions and behaviors are driven by deep-seated core values and beliefs. Understanding and reconciling these drivers help link what we do with who we are. Here are four questions to help you uncover what means the most to you:
- What are you unwilling to compromise on?
- What do you stand for?
- How would those closest to you describe you?
- What are you most proud of?
When you uncover your answers to these questions, start noticing where your work aligns with your core values and where there is a disconnect. The cause of team dysfunction, botched projects and excessive burnout often can be linked to a severed connection between the work itself and the priorities driving it.
At a bigger-picture level, your team needs to understand how their efforts and goals integrate with the organization’s purpose. This approach can help keep individuals focused, motivated and operating within a unified set of guardrails.
Discovering Our Talents
As we age, our talents morph along with our abilities, interests and time. As a child, I was fascinated by magic tricks, so for a while, I amassed quite a collection of shiny objects, colored scarves and fuzzy balls. It turns out magic was merely the passing interest of an adolescent with relatively good hand-eye coordination.
Conversely, I recall a fondness for riding my bike all around the neighborhood; my adoration for that activity only has increased and my regular rides have become one of my favorite activities.
At work and at home we often are rewarded for our talents, either through formal recognition, positive feedback, requests for assistance or just good, old-fashioned enjoyment. Here are four questions that shine a light on your talents:
- What do people ask you to help with?
- What makes you feel great about yourself?
- What activities make you lose track of time?
- What are you good at?
It is important that we spend time nurturing our talents, both inside and outside of the office. Perhaps my love of bike riding is more of a hobby than a talent, but my extreme enjoyment of it means I must be pretty good at it, too. It puts me in a state of flow, which helps me be more innovative and productive in all aspects of my life.
Beyond your own talents, think about those of your team members. Start by making a list of those you lead, and identify one to three talents each of them has and assess whether you believe you truly are leveraging these strengths. More importantly, find out from each team member whether you appropriately are tapping into his or her talents, and make the appropriate course corrections.
Connecting with Purpose
Now that you’ve uncovered what means the most to you and discovered what you’re good at, how does this connect with purpose?
Linking your actions, your values and your talents with one another can have a profound impact. What you will notice is that unimportant tasks and activities decrease because you are spending more time on what matters. Your team will have a greater sense of your priorities because it is not just what you talk about, it is what you act in service of.
When you are engaged in activities for which you have high levels of enjoyment and competence, you will experience more energy, focus and success. The benefits will abound in both life and in leadership.
Purpose doesn’t have to be something you chase. Like most of life’s big questions, the answer often lies inside of us. Keeping purpose at the forefront of our thoughts and actions can help ensure we are living and working consciously.
About the author: Lisa Goren is a healthcare leadership speaker and consultant. She is passionate about helping healthcare leaders achieve excellence amidst industry transformation.