Finding Your Significant Purpose

Maybe it’s happened to you: You have a vision of what you want to accomplish. You begin to tackle the job. Suddenly, hours have flown by and you’re astonished by what you’ve achieved.

When work is connected to what we deeply desire, we can tap into energy and creativity we don’t even know we have. But to reach that seemingly effortless productivity, it’s not enough to simply have a vision of what we want to accomplish; our work also must have a purpose that is significant to us.

Jesse Stoner and I have written extensively on the creation of an effective vision, which is comprised of three elements: a significant purpose, a picture of the future, and clear values. Today I’m going to focus on that first element, a significant purpose.

Zeroing In on Your Significant Purpose

An organization can begin to find its significant purpose by answering the question, “What business are we in?” If your first thought was, “We’re in business to make money,” you’re missing the point. As author and speaker Simon Sinek says, “Profit isn’t a purpose.”

A significant purpose is bigger than what your company does. Rather than simply explaining what you do or what products you provide, your significant purpose must answer this question:

“Why?”

Your significant purpose must clarify—from your customer’s point of view—what business you’re really in.

For example, a mattress company with a significant purpose doesn’t simply sell mattresses and make profits; it’s in the business of providing people with a good night’s rest. An insurance company with a significant purpose doesn’t simply sell policies; it’s in the business of giving customers peace of mind.

A couple of real-world examples include Tesla, whose significant purpose isn’t simply to sell cars; it’s “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Technology Education and Design—otherwise known as TED of TED Talks fame—has a simple yet powerful significant purpose: “Spread Ideas.”

The CEO of outdoor apparel company Patagonia, Rose Marcario, beautifully articulates the concept of a significant purpose. “If you want to retain great people and have a great company, then you have to inspire the people to a greater, bigger purpose than themselves, and for us it’s saving the planet,” she says.

Patagonia’s significant purpose—saving the planet—seems to be working well. Since Marcario took the helm, the company has quadrupled its revenue and profit while setting the standard for sustainable clothing production. The company’s significant purpose overrides the traditional economic model of growth at any cost; Patagonia encourages customers to get their gear repaired rather than buy new things. The company’s purpose also guides decision making: Last year, Patagonia announced it would donate $10 million from the recent tax cuts to grassroots environmental organizations.

A Significant Purpose Must Inspire

The fact that Patagonia is succeeding financially points to a key element of a successful significant purpose: it must inspire people’s excitement and commitment. The key word here is “inspire.” If people are not fired up by your significant purpose, the words you use to describe it—no matter how lofty—won’t matter.

Too many companies make the mistake of having a purpose that merely describes their products and services or promotes a meaningless assortment of cringe-worthy platitudes. If people can’t make a heartfelt connection to the meaning behind the words, your significant purpose will be worthless. But if you work together to find an inspiring purpose, those words will fuel everything your company does.

Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance in developing a significant purpose. Back in 2004, our company helped Petco Park—the newly-built home of the San Diego Padres—to find their “why.” Rather than merely providing customer service to baseball fans, passionate employees rallied around their new significant purpose: “to create Major League memories.”

Did it make a difference? It sure did. People connected to the vision and found all kinds of creative ways to wow their customers. That summer Petco Park got 7,500 unsolicited notes and letters from fans telling stories about how they’d been blown away by the service they’d received.

Now, I call that a grand slam.

New Year, New Goals: Don’t Go It Alone!

The New Year is fast approaching and here it comes again: New Year’s resolution time. Have you ever made New Year’s resolutions you didn’t keep? My experience is that all of us have had good intentions we didn’t follow through on over the years. We usually start out enthusiastic about the change but after a while our enthusiasm falls by the wayside. Why is that?

My friend Art Turock taught me that the problem stems from confusion between interest and commitment. For example, when interested walkers and joggers wake up and find it raining outside, they lie back down and think to themselves, “I’ll exercise tomorrow.” However, when committed exercisers wake up and find it’s raining, they get out of bed and think to themselves, “I’ll exercise inside today!” In other words:

They keep their commitment to their commitment.

So, let’s get real. What have you been wanting to do for a long time but just haven’t been able to get done? Maybe it has to do with your health and fitness. Or maybe it’s learning a new language, or getting organized, or cleaning out your garage. Whatever it is, that’s great. You’ve got your commitment. Now, how are you going to keep your commitment to your commitment?

First, don’t go it alone. The heroic legend of the lone wolf who succeeds at lofty goals through willpower alone is strong with many people. This “John Wayne myth” isn’t dead—it’s just not effective.  I should know. For years I could not keep my commitment to good health and wellness. I needed help.

That help eventually came from Tim Kearin, the health and fitness coach who had been patient with me for many years. Each year Tim listened to me announce my New Year’s resolution to improve my health and fitness—and each year he watched me not keep my commitment. Year after year we went through the same routine: Tim would receive a call from me early in the year to begin a fitness program. I would get underway with enthusiasm, but after a month or so I would gradually become too busy to keep my commitment to my commitment. The process would start again at the beginning of the following year.

The way I broke this ineffective cycle—and the way you can, too—was to follow the six principles outlined in Fit at Last, the book Tim and I wrote to document my fitness journey:

  1. Have Compelling Reasons and a Purpose
  2. Establish a Mutual Commitment to Success
  3. Apply SLII® (in other words, get the coaching and support that matches your development level)
  4. Develop Age-Appropriate Goals
  5. Set Up a Support System to Hold You Accountable
  6. Have Measurable Milestones to Stay Motivated

While these six principles were developed to accompany a fitness program, they can be adapted to any kind of goal accomplishment.  I’m happy to say that by applying these six principles, I’ve managed to maintain my health and fitness goals for the past five years.

You, too, can keep your commitment to your commitment. Just don’t be a lone wolf. Set yourself up to succeed by finding the coaching and support you need.

What’s Your Leadership Point of View?

Margie and I recently spent a wonderful weekend teaching our “Determining Your Leadership Point of View” class at the University of San Diego. It’s part of the Master of Science in Executive Leadership (MSEL) degree program offered by USD in partnership with our company.

I often start off training sessions with managers by asking: “How many of you consider yourself a leader?” Amazingly, only about 20 percent raise their hands. I think a lot of people believe that to be a leader you have to have a certain amount of power or an executive position—and for some reason they don’t think they have enough power or the right title yet. The second thing I say is: “Tell me about one or two people who have impacted your life the most.” Almost no one names a manager or supervisor; they all identify a parent, grandparent, their spouse or significant other, or a relative, coach, friend, or neighbor.

In life, everyone has the opportunity to lead. In fact, we all are leaders right now. Why do I say that? Because there are two different kinds of leadership roles: life (as a spouse, parent, or friend) and organizational (as a manager, supervisor, etc.). So everyone is a leader in some aspect of their life—even if they are a follower! In fact, my wife, Margie, wrote an article titled “In Praise of Followership” for the book Servant Leadership in Action. It’s all about how followers are also leaders.

Research proves that effective leaders exemplify and communicate to their followers a clear and consistent Leadership Point of View. The students in our MSEL class develop their own unique Leadership Point of View that they will be able to demonstrate to people who work with them. So often in organizations, people can’t figure out what’s important to their boss—what “makes them tick.” When direct reports are aware of their manager’s Leadership Point of View, that mystery is solved.

We tell our students that figuring out their unique Leadership Point of View is like writing a course on themselves. After they identify the people and events that have impacted their life the most, we ask them to think about what they learned from those people and experiences. How did those parts of their life influence their leadership style? What values did they instill? Then, based on those reflections, what do they expect of people who report to them now—and what can their people expect from them as a leader?

It is a fascinating process. As students unearth these thoughts and memories, they write their Leadership Point of View in a story format. Why? It’s a more authentic and personal way of communicating. Stories paint a picture that allows others to see the consistency between values, words, and actions. As students progress in their writing, they share their work in small groups of their classmates. At the end of the course, each student stands in front of the class and tells their leadership point of view story as if their fellow students were their team members at work. They get feedback from their classmates as well as from Margie and me.

What values have you developed through the important people and experiences in your life? Based on those reflections, what do you expect from your people and what can they expect from you as their boss? I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Leadership Point of View process in the comments below.

It May Be Time to Revisit Your Vision

Multiple priorities.

Duplication of efforts.

False starts.

Wasted energy.

 

Do any of these working conditions sound familiar? If so, it may be time to revisit your three-part vision:

  • What is your purpose?
  • What will the future look like if you are successful?
  • What values will guide you as you work toward your picture of the future?

I learned the importance of vision from my father when I was still an undergraduate at Cornell University. It was 1959, and Dad had decided to retire early from the Navy as a captain, even though he could have stayed on and been promoted to admiral.

I said, “Dad, why did you quit early?”

He answered, “Ken, I hate to say it, but I liked the wartime Navy better than the peacetime Navy. Not that I like to fight, but in wartime we knew what our purpose was and what we were trying to accomplish. The problem with the peacetime Navy is that nobody knows what we are supposed to be doing. As a result, too many leaders think their full-time job is making other people feel unimportant.”

Dad’s comments made me realize that leadership—whether you’re leading yourself or others—is about going somewhere. Without a vision, you lose direction. As the author and seminar leader Werner Erhard used to say, “You wind up driving your car down the highway of life with your hands on the rearview mirror instead of on the steering wheel, and you have a lot of accidents and a whole big explanation about how driving is very tough.”

My father eventually did become an admiral, because Congress passed a law that said if you got the Medal of Honor or the Silver Star during World War II, the government would “bump you up” one rank upon your retirement. Since Dad got two Silver Stars, he became a retired rear admiral.

Admiral or not, he taught me the importance of having a vision and keeping it up-to-date.

How about you? Are you focused on the rearview mirror—or the road ahead?

A Kick-Start for 2017

You’ve probably had your fill of articles and blogs about how New Year’s resolutions don’t work. So I want to give you a positive framework to begin the New Year.  Creating your personal vision for the future is a different way to look at setting and achieving goals.

A clear vision is made up of three elements—knowing who you are (your purpose), where you’re going (your picture of the future), and what will guide your journey (your values). For years I’ve worked with company leaders to create the vision for their corporations and with individual managers to create their leadership vision. It is equally beneficial for people to set their own personal vision about what they want to get out of life. Creating your personal vision will help you get back to the basics and focus on what’s important instead of merely what’s next.

Create your purpose statement

Start by creating your purpose statement. In a few words, this statement explains who you are, what you do, and why you do what you do.

  • To begin, list some positive personal characteristics that describe you. Use nouns such as patience, creativity, artistic ability, sales ability, charm, diplomacy, energy, problem-solving skills, enthusiasm, or something similar. I chose sense of humor, people skills, teaching skills, and role model.
  • Next, list ways you successfully interact with people. Use verbs such as teach, coach, write, encourage, manage, lead, love, help, etc. I used educate, help, inspire, and motivate.
  • Finally, describe your picture of the future, focusing on what you want to create for your life. Write a short description of your idea of the perfect world. To me, a perfect world is where everyone is aware of the presence of God in their lives and realizes they are here to serve, not to be served.
  • There! You’ve completed the most challenging part. Now combine your thoughts into a statement. Here’s mine:

“I am a loving teacher and a role model of simple truths who helps and motivates myself and others to be aware of the presence of God in our lives and realize we are here to serve, not to be served.”

List and define your values

It’s time to create your list of values. This list will guide you and help you understand how to reach your ideal future state. Examples of values include honesty, power, courage, wisdom, commitment, learning, fun, relationships, or spirituality. This could be a very long list, but you must narrow it down to the three or four values that are most important to you. Some people prefer to start with ten values, then narrow those down to the top six, then to the top three or four. My values are spiritual peace, integrity, love, and success.

Once you have arrived at your top three or four values, write a short definition for each one. Remember these are your guidelines for making decisions and determining whether you are living your vision. For example, I define love this way:

“I value love. I know I am living by this value anytime I feel loving toward myself or others, anytime I have compassion, anytime I feel love in my heart, anytime I feel the love of others, anytime my heart fills with love, and anytime I look for the love of others.”

One final suggestion: read your personal vision—your purpose statement and values—every single day. It is a simple way to re-commit and stay on track.

Give this exercise a try. You’ll see that a personal vision statement can hold far more value than a vague resolution that’s easily abandoned. As soon as you define exactly what you want out of life, you will be able to begin realizing your vision.

Happy New Year 2017!