I chose this topic after reading Chris’s blog back in January about her love/hate relationship with the word “Purpose.” Her definition of purpose and why she loves it really made me stop and think, “What is my purpose?” Right then and there, I decided that one of my personal growth goals for 2021 would be to reflect on my personal purpose. Of course, I’ve learned it’s not necessarily an easy process, but it’s an important one that gives me energy and motivation. I’m getting closer to defining it every day.
While many people see the word “Purpose” and blow it off as fluff, it’s actually an important basis for living a healthy, meaningful life. And when it comes to leadership, purpose is ” key to navigating the complex, volatile, ambiguous world we face today, where strategy is ever changing and few decisions are obviously right or wrong.” According to a 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review, less than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of personal purpose, and even fewer can hone it into a clear statement.
Many people will spout their organization’s purpose, but that is not their personal purpose and should not be used as such. As HBR states, “at its core, your leadership purpose springs from your identity, the essence of who you are.” It is a statement that encompasses your core values and your personal why, and helps to define your leadership style.
“Your Life Story is Your Leadership Story”
I recently listened to an episode of Brené Brown’s podcast Dare to Lead in which she interviewed Doug Conant about Finding & Telling Your Leadership Story. In the episode, Doug describes a time in his life when he was let go from his job. That same day, he was connected with an outplacement counselor named Neil MacKenna. Neil tasked Doug with handwriting his life story.
This practice of reflecting on and writing the story of his life helped him to figure out who he really was. Rather than allowing himself to be a follower, coasting through life trying to fit in, he realized that he needed to own his story and to lead his life with conviction. In his book, he says “Your life story is your leadership story.” He explains that every leader he has ever talked to has had an experience that has led them to where they are today.
This discussion really spoke to me, as I have spent much of this year reflecting on my life. I’m realizing that my personal and professional experiences have shaped who I am and are guiding me toward my purpose. Full disclosure: I’ve not yet completed the exercise of writing my personal purpose statement, but as I said before, it is a process that doesn’t happen overnight.
Defining Your Purpose
So what’s the first step to defining your purpose? Reflecting on your life story, of course! This practice will help you to identify common threads and themes throughout your life. It’ll help you to see what energizes you, and to identify your strengths, values, and passions. Doug Conant recommends writing your life story, though there are many ways to work through this process. Harvard Business Review recommends the following prompts for reflection:
- What did you especially love to do when you were a child before society told you what you should or shouldn’t like to do? Think back on a particular moment and how it made you feel.
- Reflect on two of the most challenging moments in your life and how those moments have shaped who you are.
- What do you enjoy doing in your life now that inspires and motivates you?
That first prompt reminds me of my mom. She always believed that paying attention to what her children loved playing with as kids gave insight into what they’d become (or would want to become) as adults. For some of my brothers, it was obvious, but she had a difficult time pinning down what I would be. My favorite thing to do as a child was to listen to the radio and play with my Barbie and Disney figurines. I’d position the figurines in a well-curated semi-circle. With each song that came on the radio, I’d choose which figurine(s) would perform for the rest of them.
My mom didn’t understand what I was doing until I explained it to her many years later while working for a music venue. There, I was often tasked with producing live performances and hiring musicians. (See a theme there?) In a way, I still do this sort of exercise at Red Thread. As an account manager, I build projects and decide which tasks are best suited for which of my teammates. Anyway, this is a good example of the kind of reflection that will help you to define your purpose (and is noted for my personal reflection).
When you’ve completed this contemplation work, try writing a declarative statement of purpose. Use your own words that reflect your character and call you to action. Share your statement with friends, colleagues, or mentors you trust to see if they agree and see it in you.
Writing A Leadership Statement
Once you’ve defined your purpose, you can take it a step further to define your leadership style. Indeed.com defines a leadership statement as “a vision statement that helps you define your role, beliefs, values, purpose and how you lead others.” Indeed’s tips for creating a leadership statement are:
- Evaluate your values. Create a short list of your core values in order of importance.
- Outline concrete objectives. Set goals that align with your values. Identifying actions and behaviors necessary for achieving those goals will help you to visualize your leadership statement in practice.
- Determine how your goals will impact employees. Keep in mind that a leader’s actions and goals will directly impact those they’re leading. Consider wisely.
- Keep it concise. Be as succinct as possible. Keep it to 2-3 sentences so that your ideas are communicated clearly but also short enough to memorize.
- Choose energizing and engaging words. Your leadership statement should energize you, so make sure to use language that is clear as well as inspiring.
Implementing Your Purpose
Simply writing your purpose and leadership statements isn’t the end. Make a plan of action, using your purpose and leadership statement work to set goals and benchmarks. Take into account your personal and professional life. Your action plan should begin with big-picture, long-term goals. Then break them down into smaller shorter-term goals to help you get there. Basically, you’re choosing your path to achieve your goals based on your personal values and passions in order to live and lead wholeheartedly and authentically.
Ignite Passion With Action
You’ve done the work and now you’re ready to ignite your passion with action. Red Thread Brands is here to help you achieve your goals!