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Management Perspectives

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Management Perspectives

Be a purposeful leader

by Paul Hargreaves
Indian Management May 2021

Summary: As a company, you must be seen to be taking your responsibilities seriously and making a contribution towards relieving one or more of these worries. It may only be in a very small way that affects your local community, but you will be helping to make the world a better place.

I am sure many of us are familiar with Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, still one of the most viewed Ted Talks of all time. Sinek was primarily talking about the purpose of a company in that talk, the DNA behind what the company does or makes and what they are achieving in the world. Many companies now embrace purpose or their ‘why’ and have a clear expression of their purpose on their website and company literature; in fact, company purpose statements have almost become the norm. What I have discovered, though, is that there are far fewer individuals who are clear on their personal ‘why’ or their individual purpose in life. Some people bumble around, flitting from one job to another or one project to another without having a grander reason for what they do in life. Others have clear definition of their different roles but haven’t ever clearly defined their purpose. I was one of the bumblers: I had a vague notion of wanting to make the world better in some way, but hadn’t really distilled that down and articulated it properly.

What is remarkable is that every one of the nearly eight billion people on Earth is different. Not only do we all look different (remarkable in itself) but everyone has had individual experiences in life, meaning that what excites them, drives them and makes them sad will be different than for the next person. Let us think about that a little more deeply for a moment. You as an individual are different to the other people on Earth. Your experiences mean that you are unique and have different passions, skills and purpose to anyone else on earth. That may seem like a trite thing to say, but when you let the information sink in, it can be amazing to think that because of who you are, you too can achieve something unique, something no one else could do in quite the same way. This sounds slightly simplistic when written down, but when we realise the significance of our individuality in this respect, it can spur us on to discover our purpose, knowing that we are here to achieve something unique.

And the marvellous thing is that even the painful experiences that have moulded you as a person are part of the process that makes you unique. The trauma and sadness we may have experienced really can be turned to good; in fact, those who have experienced great difficulties often go on to achieve great things.

So, are you clear on your purpose? Do you know why you are here? If not, or even if you know part of the answer, then discovering your purpose, I believe, is important to having a fulfilled and happy life. There are various ways of helping us discover our purpose. One is the thought experiment of imagining yourself at the end of your life, maybe even your own funeral (which sounds a little morbid, I know, but bear with me), looking back on your life and what you have achieved, and imagining what you would like others to be saying about you. What do you want them to be saying about your life? Another method is to jump backwards into your childhood via a guided meditation. Remembering yourself at the age of six, and then 12, and then 18, and asking yourself what you were passionate about at those ages and what upset you. Sometimes the heart of who we are can be crowded out by ‘adult’ activities and we can end up going through the motions in life, forgetting to focus on what we dreamed about when we were younger. The third method is to ask your friends, but not your immediate family, what they think your purpose in life is.

Ask them what is different about you and where you make a difference. Often, they will give you a similar answer, which should help. Finally, ask yourself what you are good at and what you love: hopefully there is some crossover between the two. Often, our gifts and skills are an important part of our purpose.

I had a woolly sense of my purpose for much of my adulthood, and, as a result, my life has been a little like a sine curve, wandering above and below the line of my purpose. I once went on a ‘holy walk’ in India, during which a group of twelve men, half of whom were Indian and half non-Indian, walked along the banks of a river for eight days and slept on ashram (temple) floors at night. It was a truly remarkable experience that was modelled on a shortened version of the eight-week passage of a boy to a man in Hinduism, with each day taking the theme of one of those weeks. The first couple of days were about throwing off everything that holds us back; then there was a journeying phase in the middle; and we concluded with a couple of days on the theme of arriving, which, with the internal work that had previously happened, helped us gain clarity on our purpose. I was encouraged to write a purpose statement, which was honed over several days during after the walk. It may well evolve in the future, but here, it is as it currently stands:

I open the hearts of leaders to bring love and compassion into both the business and political arenas, which will help reverse injustice and create a fairer and more sustainable world. Through my business activities and by my speaking and writing I will provoke and inspire lasting change.

I have found it very helpful to check in on this statement every so often, to make sure that I am maintaining my purpose. More importantly, it helps me say no to people who ask me to do events or activities that are not aligned with my purpose. For much of my life as a leader, I have been a ‘doing’ leader, rushing around in a life full of frenetic yet unfocused activity. Being clearer on my purpose has helped me do less but be more effective in what I do. That is what Bob Goff, the American author and speaker, is talking about when he says, “Do what lasts; let the rest fall away.”

Passion and purpose are closely linked; hence, a strong sense of motivation comes with being purposeful. Those with clear purpose do everything consistent with that purpose. Setbacks are bound to come, but once we find our purpose, not only will resilience increase but we will become more careful and selective about our daily actions.

Are you clear on your purpose?

- Do you have a purpose statement? Could you make a start on one, today? If you do not know where to begin, reread the paragraph above—about the four ways of discovering your purpose—and make some notes.

- Whether you think you know your purpose in life or not, ask people what they think your purpose is. It will be interesting to hear their answers!

- Are you doing any core activities this week that are not aligned with your purpose? Think about what they may be and start saying, “no.” Here, I am talking about activities other than the mundane tasks like shopping and cleaning that we all have to do—although, it is possible to find purpose in those too!

Paul Hargreaves is a B-Corp Ambassador, speaker, and author, The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the New Era of Compassionate Leadership.

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