Father’s Day makes me think of the gifts my father has left me, and of what I, in turn, am leaving to my son and stepsons. Part of that is my time with them – so much more is all I do in my life and what I will leave behind.
Too often you get caught up in the busyness of life, constantly trying to juggle more than you can handle, running from one deadline to another. In that maelstrom, it’s easy to lose track of why you do all you do and the deeper patterns. At best, life becomes stressful exhaustion. At worst, days pass by as “meh”.
Perhaps that’s the gift of days like this. They can give you a moment to breathe, to look at the big picture and think about what is the legacy you want to leave behind? How is it you want to be remembered? What would allow you to look back on your life and see more days of “YEAH!” and fewer days of “meh”?
If you can make the time to really think about that, how would it change what you do? How would it impact the importance of all those deadlines? What else might be possible?
It’s not just about spending more quality time with family and friends. It’s about why you’re here. What’s the legacy you want to leave behind, and what can you do today, tomorrow, this week to start? What can you drop to make time? What do you need to start doing? What other choices are possible?
Purpose is the raison d’etre for you as an individual, or for your organization. It’s your true north.
It needs to be stated in simple, plain English in a way that people can connect to and be excited about. And there are 3 letters that can elevate them to even greater power.
Let’s start with organizational shared purpose – the same principle applies to personal and shared purpose. In yesterday’s post, I quoted this HBR article that said that corporate shared purpose exists “to inspire your staff to do good work for you, find a way to express the organization’s impact on the lives of customers, clients, students, patients — whomever you’re trying to serve. Make them feel it.”
So what are some actual examples?
Here is ING‘s purpose: “Empowering people to stay a step ahead in life and in business”
And Southwest Airline‘s: “To connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”
And Kellogg’s: “Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive”
The only modifications I’d make to these is to start the Southwest purpose with a gerund (ending in ‘ing’) rather than ‘to do something’. That is, to say ‘connecting People to…’, not ‘to connect People to’.
Well, our brains work in pictures, not words. For example, if I asked you how many windows are in your home, how would you get your answer? You’d visualize it and walk through your home.
Well, if you say ‘to connect’, your brain makes a still picture to represent the words. If you say ‘connecting’, you create a movie in your mind’s eye, and a movie is far more compelling than a simple picture.
Similarly, when I work with my clients on connecting with their inner core purpose on a personal level, I it usually comes down to a couple of words, and I challenge my clients to transform the first word into a gerund. Thus, instead of saying that their purpose is ‘to help others’ or ‘to make connections’ or ‘to heal conflict’, I challenge them to play with ‘helping others’, ‘making connections’ or ‘healing conflict’.
In over a quarter of a century of doing this work, every single person has found the gerund version much more compelling. And at its heart, it’s not the words that are important – it’s the connection to the inner feeling of purpose. The words are simply the label – or the key to unlock all of that.
Whether you’re talking about your business or your personal life, there’s one common ingredient to success most people miss. Everyone focuses on what they do – not on the why.
How many organizations have mission statements that are perfectly suited to put an insomniac to sleep? “We strive to be a world class provider of (insert business here) pursuing excellence and always putting our people and customers first” Yawn.
How many of you focus on goals or your next career move and have to work like crazy to motivate yourself and drive yourself to get everything done to accomplish that, burning out any passion or joy along the journey?
Both of those approaches, whether corporate or personal, are focused on what you do, not why. What you do has no passion, no drive, no motivation in and of itself. That’s why you have to motivate yourself or your team or your organization.
So how do you do anything differently? Well here’s a revolutionary thought. What if you started with your motivation, your raison d’etre, and then drawing your goals from there so your motivation, and the drive of your team in an organization are implicitly built in to whatever situation arises?
It sounds pretty radical, but if you look at the organizations that are most successful, they are the ones that focus on their purpose first, not on what they do. Same with people. The ones who consistently live fuller and more meaningful lives are those who live on-purpose.
Purpose is not just about you, whether you’re talking about yourself or your organization – it’s about how you make a difference in the world. That’s something that can set you on fire for your personal purpose. It’s also something that can set everyone in your organization alight when you’re talking about organizational purpose.
Purpose is not mission or vision. As detailed in this HBR article, purpose exists to inspire your staff to do good work for you, find a way to express the organization’s impact on the lives of customers, clients, students, patients — whomever you’re trying to serve. Make them feel it.
The evolution of mission into more purpose-ful organizations is illustrated in this article, showing how organizations transformed their business by focusing on helping first, and selling second. Mission statements are usually very insular, looking inward, and have the motivational power of going for a root canal. Purpose statements are simple (in plain English, not vision-speak) and focus on why you do what you do.
In a similar way, personal purpose needs to be a simple statement that gets to the why of all of your life, not just your work.