Vanessa Fudge, Founder, Leading Well
“Purpose in an enterprise is like sunlight for the human body. We are solar powered beings and without this our energy wanes; we can be sustained for only so long.”
Harnessing the Power of Purpose and Meaning
Purpose and meaning operate in organisations as not only a source of energy and immune strength but also an alignment factor that if properly harnessed can move mountains. We know from the archetypal story of King Arthur and the Knights of the round table just how much energy and commitment a sense of purpose can provide to go well beyond what is humanly realistic.
Individually we understand how a sense of purpose can carry us, lending its inspiration and giving to a welcome sense of flow in even mundane tasks. When this is lacking it’s easy to experience inertia and a weighed down sensation that is a sign that only part of you is here, engaged at work and not the whole.
Over a decade ago when running a coaching skills course, I remember explaining how purpose works when a male academic said to me, “I don’t want to know about purpose”.
I was quite surprised, yet he was adamant. Later in the day when someone asked him what goes on for him when he is happy at work he said, “I switch the lights on inside people by helping them to learn”. I commented, “that may just be your purpose”. To my shock he stood up, paused for a split second and then bolted straight out of the room. Fifteen minutes later he returned to be with us again. When I asked what made him run he said, “that is my purpose. It was so clear and that felt a rush of energy. I just had to run.” He was drenched in sweat from the energetic release. I am not sure who learnt more from this explosion of purpose that day, him or me.
Purpose is often confused with mission, which is what we are here to do.
Purpose is our very reason for existence (mission is also confused with vision but that is a story for another time).
One mistake leadership coaches and consultants often make is to forge purpose at a team level without first presencing the overarching organisational purpose first. This can inadvertently cement silos as teams evangelically pursue meaning in isolation from each other. Engagement scores may go up through such an exercise yet ultimately the whole organisation suffers from a loss of connection that in time results in lo and behold a loss of engagement and productivity, giving us a short-term false gain for a long-term loss.
What matters is that purpose unites and galvanises the whole human system, leaving no role or function behind. When purpose calls there needs to be a big YES from all dimensions, where each contributor can sense their power to fulfil on this sense of tangible potential.
Reflect on the purpose in your company. Is it accessible to all or does it call more strongly to the few? Are leaders regularly weaving it into their conversations? Simon Sinek was instrumental years ago in highlighting the power of WHY as a powerful commercial asset in the corporate narrative. In times of unplanned change it can be easy to lose sight as we get caught in what needs to be done and how to make things happen. This can fixate us on looking ahead and looking down in a robotic task focus. Purpose reminds us to look up and take inspiration for not just the mountain to be scaled but the vista we long to imbibe.