For the entirety of my professional career, I have been leading, facilitating and managing transformational, mission critical change in companies of all sizes – from companies as global and brand rich as Coca-Cola to start-ups like Blacc Spot Media.
I’ve worked with leaders that were inspired and inspiring and I’ve worked with some that were there nobly to provide for their families, but candidly just to collect a check. I’ve seen organizations thrive and I’ve seen some barely capable of completing transactions even after they have deployed multi-million dollar systems. I’ve been on teams that perform with symphonic-like inspiration, coordination and dynamics and I’ve been on teams charged with business critical projects and team members that wanted nothing to do with each other.
This range of experiences has taught me plenty, but I’ve always been fascinated by what made the difference in these scenarios. My observation is that it all comes down to purpose. People that have a sense of purpose in the work they perform, as it relates to them individually, plug in and bring everything they’ve got. They know their contribution to the purpose of their organization and teams. Ever since I’ve passionately pursued helping others connect with this sense of purpose and bring it to their work. I believe everyone has a unique connection of passions, gifts and motives, and when they are able to do what they love to do, are really good at and feel rewarded, their contribution is optimized.
Furthermore, when they are able to apply that optimal contribution to a mission they can commit to long term, they are able to lead a thriving, fulfilling and well-rewarded career and life and maximize their impact. I call, this uniquely constructed intersection of passions, gifts and motives laser focused on your purpose by design, someone’s ‘forte’. It is an individual’s reason for being. It may feel idealistic to declare such a lofty aspiration, but I truly believe that it is well worth the effort and energy for people to embrace the challenge of constructing a path that gets them there on their terms in line with their priorities and life choices. Buildings aren’t constructed without blueprints. Symphonies don’t perform with sheet music as masterpieces. People shouldn’t exist without knowing their forte and its vision and plan.
However, I believe that in our world, communities, in our businesses and on our teams, a substantial gap exists between where people are and where they are purposed to be. In many cases, professionals are in organizations they should be, but are having a miserable or even idle existence and unable to thrive purposefully due to poor team dynamics, low team morale and low-performing teams. I believe that we all have unique talents and passions, and the more we use them, the happier we are, the more rewards come our way, the more we experience success as we define it on our own terms and the more purposeful we become.
Growing towards purpose should not mean compromising those things that are important to you – like providing for your family or maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Once you have identified your personal ‘north star’, the path to get there should be carefully charted while pragmatically balancing priorities but also stretching through the discomfort of change for a great calling. I believe that many companies and leaders don’t acknowledge or inspire purpose in their teams. As a result, they are vulnerable to disengaged and out-of-purpose associates, low productivity and uninspired business outcomes and results. Purposeful companies have a strategic advantage in the marketplace and there’s significant empirical evidence emerging that agrees with me.
For many people, the gap between where they are currently and where they are purposed to be seems so wide that the prospect of closing it is a fearful proposition. For some of us, the conversation of purpose is intimidating. For some the subconscious fear is great enough they they’re cynically rolling their eyes as they read this. A recent article in the New Yorker points to research revealing that long-term health and happiness stem from living in a way that fulfills our sense of purpose.
There are also numerous benefits to your health. Doing what you love for a living is directly linkable to reduced stress and anxiety levels, better social connections and a more pleasant mood. It also keeps you mentally alert, warding off illnesses, like dementia, as the years go by. In fact, recent research suggests that not having a sense of purpose in life can prove just as damaging to your health as smoking or obesity.
Pursuing your purpose motivates you to do your best work, and as a result, you reap the benefits of the rewards that most motivate you – whether they are financial gain, security, altruism, intellectual challenge and so on. You’re more energized, better able to focus and therefore accomplish tasks more easily. This enables you to build confidence, take on leadership roles, and achieve even more. Not only that, but your bosses and colleagues enjoy being around someone who is enthusiastic and productive, so you have a positive impact on your entire team.
You can define your purpose in any way that is meaningful to you: working to solve a fundamental problem that troubles humanity, such as climate change, hunger or human trafficking; bringing your business instincts to growing companies, markets and economies, dedicating yourself to a socially or ecologically-conscious company; serving others as a doctor, therapist, teacher or parent; accomplishing a stretch goal such as writing a book, designing a building, being an all-star athlete or speaking at TED; or simply exercising your creative, entrepreneurial, interpersonal or financial talents on a daily basis. Your purpose is called ‘yours’ for a reason. You are the only authority on what it is and what it means to you.
Reggie Hammond is Managing Partner of Your Crescendo. Your Crescendo is a professional services firm focused on empowering purpose and impact for individuals, teams and organizations who dare to aspire for purposeful work beyond just being OK.