It’s about this time each year that I long for a button to press, that reads ‘RESET’. Often the need for leadership reflection occurs when we’ve been flying flat out, with our heads down for too long. Caught up in job detail and a feeling of ‘overwhelm,’ we tend to only stop and look up when we get too close to the cliff edge of burn out. I now recognise this need for a ‘reset’ moment when I start asking:
- Where does the fulfilment exist in what I’m doing?
- Am I still enjoying this? What’s the point?
- Why am I working so hard?
The word ‘purpose’ gets thrown around a lot. A bit like any superfood phenomenon, we know defining our purpose is supposed to be ‘good for us.‘ Yet I find – if it’s not ‘scepticism’ stalling business owners, it’s we’re unclear on ‘how’ to practically uncover and articulate it. Specifically, how we define it for ourselves, our businesses, and then connect it to what we’re doing each day (i.e., actually pursuing our purpose).
I believe unearthing and pursuing our purpose has prolific power in both our personal and professional lives. The Japanese call it their ‘Ikigai’ and see it as a reason for being, or a reason to wake up in the morning. Perhaps you’ve heard of Viktor Frankl and ‘logotherapy’ (his take on purpose).
I’m a practical thinker and high achieving business owner. The way I think of purpose, is this:
A key role of an effective business leader is to continually cultivate ‘motivation.’ You’re responsible for what I see as a strong catalyst of energy, that drives you (as a sole trader) and/or your team (if you’re an employer) to keep pushing for what you care about. And, working towards what you care about (like the soul to a song) supports high productivity and morale. While your core values align how you and your team make decisions and behave, your purpose defines the – why you do so.
We need our purpose to remind us of what we’re working hard for; the magic that makes our minds tick. In its absence, it’s too easy to fall into the burn out hole; consumed by not having an answer to the question – ‘what’s the point of all this hard work?’
I believe to pursue your business’ purpose each day, you need to be able to connect to it.
That’s why I recommend unearthing your own personal purpose as a professional, before articulating one for your business. And, the most practical path to unearthing your professional purpose, is to find a middle ground between these 3 questions:
- Where is my time best spent (based on my strengths)?
- What work do I enjoy and find fulfilling (think of tasks that make your time unnoticeably fly by; also known as being in a state of ‘flow’).
- What work makes me enough money?
Then look to define your business purpose, which can stem from:
- A belief in doing things differently, better or perhaps more ethically
- A passion behind what you do
- A legacy or impact you want to leave for others to follow; or to improve your industry and its reputation.
- A competence: a function that your advice and service provide
- A culture: a unique intent or style in which your run your business
- A cause: social good to which you aspire
Here are my guardrails for defining a purpose for your business:
- Avoid being too generic and soulless, such as: ‘Helping clients excel’ or ‘Ensure clients success.’ – Let’s be honest, these statements aren’t going to spring you out of bed in the morning.
- Try to define your purpose with as much detail and clarity as possible. Write a statement and continue to ask yourself – ‘why is that important’ – until you can’t go any deeper.
- Then think about how you can translate your purpose into action! – Whether that be influencing: the style you deliver your customer experience, your process in servicing a client, the products/services you offer or the culture of your workplace.
- It helps to envision the impact your purpose represents – To your client or customers livelihoods, your team, perhaps even your industry in its entirety. Your strategic decision making and actions—not your words—are what really matter.
The process of uncovering your purpose and then actively pursuing what it resembles—is one of the most important strategic steps you can undertake as the leader of your business.
This article was originally published in the Law Institute Journal, as a part of the Leaders in Practice program – a collaboration between SEIVA and the Law Institute of Victoria. Learn more about Leaders in Practice here.