“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.” – Steve Jobs
“He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how’.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
In our team building workshops, whether we are focusing on leadership, motivation or on how to work better as team, conversations often touch upon “purpose”. Happily, much has been written about connecting to our values and purpose in life and in work. In his book, “The 8th Habit”, Stephen R. Covey wrote about the importance of “finding your voice” as a leader. This involves, among other things, developing their moral sense of a greater right and wrong into a drive toward meaning and contribution. Bill George, author of “True North” and “Authentic Leadership”, presents a strong case for developing leaders and companies that are purpose-driven rather than merely financially oriented. And Daniel Pink, in his book “Drive”, has identified “purpose” as one of the three most powerful motivators in today’s knowledge-based workforce. There is a lot to be said for clarifying one’s own purpose as a leader and in helping employees connect to the purpose of the organization. It is what engages us all in our work and gives our lives meaning beyond the paycheck.
Connecting with your own purpose: One of the rarest resources for most leaders is time to reflect. Yet that is exactly what leaders need if they are to be effective, authentic and purpose-driven. We are not talking just about reflecting on experiences and learning from them (although this is good too). We are suggesting a more pro-active approach that involves honestly and accurately assessing where (and who) you are currently, imagining your own (fulfilling) vision as a leader and making a plan to get there. We, at Summit, often refer to our deliberate success model to frame this process: create a vision of success, plan actions that will get you there and reflect on your progress periodically to make sure you are still on the right path.
Exercises for determining your vision and purpose: You may choose to structure your own reflective process to determine your purpose and leadership vision, or engage a coach to facilitate it. The important things are to begin it and to stick with it.
- Start by thinking about your true personal values. What beliefs are most important to you? Which guide your decisions and behaviours? List the five or ten that you feel most strongly about, are prepared to act upon and are prepared to defend.
- Who is a leader you admire greatly? This could be someone living or dead, someone, you’ve read about or someone you know personally. What do you admire about them? List the attributes.
- Create your vision of yourself as the leader you want to be. How will people see you, talk about you and experience your leadership?
- What is a purpose in life? What legacy would you like to leave for your family, for the society for your organization?
- What special qualities, skills and strengths do you currently bring to leadership?
- Which qualities and skills will you work to develop?
- How will you demonstrate your values through your leadership? How will you demonstrate and fulfil your purpose through your actions every day?
Helping employees connect to your organization’s purpose: The idea of helping employees connect to a “bigger” organizational purpose is difficult for some people to get their heads around. In our team building workshops, we often get push back on this. Yes, people can be cynical. And, yes, shareholder expectations of profit are one driving force in our daily work. But I think the greatest impediment to connecting employees to the organizational purpose is that we, as leaders, are sometimes not genuinely connected to it. You must start with yourself. You must see why your work matters every day, and become passionate about serving whoever it is you serve.
Exercises to connect your employees to the organizational purpose: Start with you. Who do you ultimately serve through your services and products? (Hint: not just the shareholders and board members.) How do you make their lives better? How does this affect society? What important role do you play? What would happen if you didn’t do this?
- Ask, “Why?” Help employees explore, on a regular basis, why their work is important. You can kick this off as a special facilitated meeting for the initial connection, but you need to do it often. Imagine the difference it would make to even the most mundane work if you could remain aware of a human being whose life was made better because of it. So, explore those same questions with your staff that you asked yourself in number 1, above.
- Bring in a “live” customer. You may be able to find someone whose life was dramatically improved by the work of your group. Close the gap between your team’s actions and the final benefit by making it face to face.
- Use testimonials. Do you have a testimonial from a client? Read it at a meeting where people can celebrate together and get fired up for the next day’s work.
- Post testimonials where they can be seen. Use a photo of the person’s face if you can. This is the ultimate inspirational poster.
Even the most stimulating and purpose-filled jobs can feel mundane at times. But, if we can stay connected to a greater purpose that resonates with our own values, we can keep ourselves inspired to do our very best.