Episode 11: Clear Purpose

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In this series, we're focusing on nourishing a culture of leadership by applying timeless principles of life to the art of leadership. In this episode, we're exploring Clear Purpose. Clear purpose is not a destination; rather it is a sense of who you are. Clear purpose is your reason for being.

Leadership Development Focus: Clear Purpose

As so often with our leadership development, it is important to develop the skill and concepts regarding our own life first as a means of understanding how to do the same for an organization. Working skillfully with clear purpose for oneself and for any organization you are part of will give you the understanding that they are parallel with each other, and yet not identical.

What is Clear Purpose?

Clear purpose is not a destination; rather it is a sense of who you are. Clear purpose is your reason for being.

For the Individual

As you consider your purpose, recognize that it is not usually some grand statement such as describes the work of people you might admire such as Oprah or Mother Theresa. That is what we mean when we say that clear purpose is not a destination. Rather, you are likely to find that a statement of purpose is very simple. It is more about who you are rather than what you hope to achieve.

Everyone has a purpose but most people are not consciously aware of what their purpose is. To develop awareness of your purpose takes some work and dedication to get it straight for yourself. You might not get a sense that it is ‘right’ on your first attempt at figuring it out or even on many subsequent attempts.  The more you work at your sense of your purpose, the clearer you get. Don’t worry if along the way of discovery, you feel confused. Keep working at it. You will know you have clear purpose for yourself if there is no confusion or doubt about what you say to yourself about your purpose. For example, your sense of your purpose could be ‘to be joy-filled’.  As you work with this statement over time, you may find that you get another variation of this, something deeper that feels even truer for you.  It is, however, a great starting point.

The words you give to your purpose usually change and evolve over time. The felt sense of your purpose remains fairly constant.

Once you have clarity about your purpose, even if it is starting point clarity that feels right to you, it is possible to figure out your values, desired outcomes, and processes. They all tie back to your sense of your purpose. In figuring them out, you answer the question ‘in order to live my purpose, what values will I operate from?’ You may say ‘I must be honest with myself,' ‘I must be politically correct,’ ‘I must be politically incorrect.’ The actual statements of value that you choose for yourself need to be the right ones for you to be able to live your purpose. Likewise, as you are figuring out your desired outcomes and the right processes for yourself to accomplish these outcomes, you will be exploring these and developing clarity in relation to living your purpose.

During your life, there are differences in what is active for you regarding values, desired outcomes, and processes. It is helpful to always be able to feel that whatever is active for you is aligned with your purpose. For example, what is active for you as a parent of young children is different from what is active for you when those children are in their thirties. It is important, as you grow and mature and life progresses, to have times of checking in with yourself to make sure you remain in alignment with your purpose as you place different focus on values, desired outcomes and processes.

From your clarity of your purpose, values, desired outcomes, and processes, you then have alignment of heart, mind, and spirit to move yourself forward.

For the Organization

Now put your organization in the picture. Again, clear purpose is not a destination. It is a sense of the reason that the organization exists. When the purpose is clear, there is no confusion or doubt in the minds of the people about why the organization exists.

Leadership has responsibility for ensuring that the purpose of the organization is clear. This may even be one of the key responsibilities of leadership. For example, when new employees are hired or new Board members are put in place, they cannot offer the best of themselves to meet the needs of their job, their position, and their responsibilities if they don’t clearly understand the purpose of the organization. They need to be able to tie their duties back to the purpose in order for those duties to be meaningful. It helps people understand better why something that is even a small task may not be insignificant as it relates to accomplishing the purpose.

As organizational consultants, one of the first things we do when working in an organization of any size is to make sure that everyone has a clear understanding of the purpose of the organization. We often find that the clarity is not present and has been compromised over time by ‘what gets funded’, ‘what new business has come in,’ or a tangent created by Board and/or leadership that has not aligned their leadership actions with the purpose of the organization. It is also interesting that many problems can get resolved when people come together with a clear understanding of the purpose.

People in organizations don’t tend to jump into this discovery by themselves and this is one of the best uses of external consultant help. We lead people into the process. Once the awareness of people is raised regarding purpose and needing to operate in alignment with purpose, we find that they quickly find solutions to a lot of what has been hampering their performance. We also help the leaders to improve how they are working with the purpose of their organization as part of their primary responsibility to accomplish peak performance.

How the clear purpose is communicated is also paramount. It is one responsibility of leadership to have clarified the purpose and another to communicate it well. Assuming that the sentence of clear purpose is in place, how is it active in the organization? Is it apparent when people are hired as part of their initial orientation? Is the organization’s purpose woven into the initial training in such a way that the person can align their job and its sub-tasks to doing their part to fulfill the purpose of the organization? Is the question ‘how are we aligning with our purpose?’ a regular part of conversations and especially with choice and decision-making conversations?

How is clear purpose communicated in your organization?  How can it be better communicated?

Developing Leadership Skillfulness in Working with Clear Purpose

Step One:  Discerning Individual Sense of Purpose

The first step must be a focus on you. Participate in a discernment exercise, possibly with a coach, to get clarity on your purpose. Pay attention to your feelings. Pay attention to what is happening in the feeling center area by your navel. If you discover you are uneasy or get a sense of unpleasantness, then you don’t yet have your purpose. If you feel excitement and a sense that what you have discerned feels pleasant to you, you get to the point of ‘yes, this is it’ excitement and know you are identifying your purpose. Your mind may play tricks with you during your discernment process, so trust your feelings. If it is a pleasant feeling, it is a green light to go forward with this concept. If it is an unpleasant feeling, it is a red light.

Get help from a coach with this step if you feel you need it. Getting clarity on your purpose is fundamental to how you sort out all of the other parts of your life.

Step Two: Discerning Individual Values, Desired Outcomes, and Processes

Continue on in your personal discernment process to identify your values, desired outcomes, and your processes for engaging in life. Verify for yourself that they are in alignment with your purpose. If they are not, then either you don’t yet have clarity of your purpose, or your engagement with life is not in alignment with your purpose.  Decide what you need to do to get into alignment.

Step Three: Practice

Practice staying in alignment with your purpose. What do you need to do to stay in alignment with your purpose? To notice when you are out of alignment? (hint: add this to your personal leadership development plan).

Step Four: Discerning Organizational Purpose

Now you are ready personally to assist your organization to discern its sense of purpose.  Visualize this purpose as an anchoring energy for the values, vision, strategic plan, processes, and behaviors. Every organization initially had an organizing purpose. Somebody or several people initially had an idea and then a company, a project, or other entity formed around that purpose.  Define this sense of purpose on your own, with your leadership team, or with the support of a consultant.

Step Five: Sustainability

Develop and journal your leadership plan to sustain organization-wide alignment with purpose.  You probably have lots of ideas. What would you do to accomplish this?  What would you do to measure this? Journaling helps you to focus those ideas into a plan. Journaling helps you capture your brilliant ideas, your best thoughts so that you don’t lose them. Once you meet with others to discuss the plan, you might not be able to remember all of those ideas that came to you in your personal reflection time.

Strengthening Your Leadership Skillfulness in Working with Clear Purpose

Working with clear purpose personally and organization-wide requires regular attention. It cannot be a task somehow ‘done once’ and with a checkmark of completion. Build space and time into your life and into the life of your organization to get a sense of whether you are fulfilling the purpose. This regular time might be at an annual retreat. Whatever is out of alignment with the purpose needs to be brought to awareness, acknowledged as out of alignment, and decisions made about what to do. Are you facing something that needs to be eliminated or simply adjusted? Has something gotten in the way of you or others being able to fulfill the purpose? As you routinely explore these topics, you will find your individual and collective efforts becoming more aligned, more efficient, and more productive.

If it feels right, add your intentions for becoming skillful in working with clear purpose into your personal leadership development plan.

About the Developing Leadership Series

We work the Genuine Contact way, nourishing a culture of leadership, applying timeless principles of life to the art of leadership. In this learning series, Birgitt Williams and Rachel Bolton are sharing our own wisdom and insights about the art of leadership. We'll be inviting you to consider your own experiences in life and business so far, and how you want to further your leadership development with this theme.

In this series, our intention is to offer you unique opportunities to continually develop your leadership. By developing your leadership you expand your potential. Your life changes and you gain greater insights and capacity for leading your life. Your leadership of your team, organization, congregation, and even your family brings about possibility thinking, transcending ordinary thinking and ordinary results.

In each episode, we will be exploring one key principle. You will hear our own experiences and understanding of each of these timeless principles.  We'll suggest simple activities you can do to develop your own leadership by working with these principles too. Subscribe to receive future episodes by email.

Rachel Bolton
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We specialize in developing leaders, teams, and organizations for the new leadership paradigm of "leading so people will lead". In this series, our Dalar team of Birgitt Williams and Rachel Bolton are sharing our own wisdom and insights about the art of leadership.
Rachel Bolton
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