We live in disruptive times. Deadly terrorist attacks. Extreme weather. Large scale migration. Cyber security. Economic inequality. Societal polarisation. Trump taking the oath. Brexit. European elections. Fake news…I could go on and on. So how should we stay sane in turbulent times? What path to follow? Who to believe?
I believe that the way to relate to the world today is through the lens of purpose. As Mark Zuckerberg’s wisely stated in his commencement address at Harvard University made on 25 May 2017, “In our generation, the struggle of whether we connect more, whether we achieve our biggest opportunities, comes down to this – your ability to build communities and create a world where every single person has a sense of purpose”.
The time for purpose to take centre stage is now. From a personal perspective, it will provide meaning and focus in our world when many of the stability zones around us are under threat. One leader I coach defines his purpose as “to be a creator of opportunity”. As a result, he sees every setback as a set up for greater opportunity which gives him the resilience to keep going in the face of daily adversity. A mother who describes her purpose as “to make big things happen”, draws upon it as a way to engage her children with navigating the challenges of growing up. A father I am close with who tragically lost his 12-year old son to a sudden and untimely death has survived by focusing on his purpose of “being love”.
Knowing your personal purpose gives you a clear compass for your work and life providing a lens for decision making. It is why you do what you do. It is at the heart of your motivation. It enables you to respond to challenges in creative and constructive ways. Purpose builds bridges. It helps you connect with others. It becomes a platform for communication and understanding.
From an organisational perspective, research shows that companies with a clear purpose develop premium brand positions, attract the best talent and keep them motivated and outperform the market. Take a look at the world’s most valuable brands according to a study by valuation and strategy consultancy Brand Finance published on 1 February 2017. Number 1 Google states its purpose as “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. With a monetary value of $109.5bn and over 3.5 billion searches per day it is safe to say that Google is fulfilling its purpose. Number 2 Apple has gone with a practical purpose, “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. With a monetary value of $107.1bn and a customer following second to none Apple lives its purpose. At number 3 Amazon’s success as the top Internet retailing company in the world is due at least in part to their unwavering commitment to their purpose and daily execution of it, “to be the earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” Amazon’s monetary value is $106.3bn.
From a team perspective, it provides a True North ensuring that a team is joined up and heading in the same direction. The highest performing team I was fortunate to coach was Heathrow’s Terminal Two Leadership Team. The team’s task was deliver the Queen’s Terminal, on time (4 June 2014) and on budget (£2.4bn). I had been coaching the team leader, Brian Woodhead for a couple of years. He was very clear about his purpose as a “maximiser”, and T2 gave him the opportunity to fulfil his purpose. For the first time in the history of the company the CEO assigned Brian a matrix team to ensure that he worked across the organisation to deliver. It consisted of about 13 leaders, some were Brian’s peers and he only had 2 direct reports. The first act of Brian was to bring the team together for a workshop to define the team purpose. There was scepticism in the room, however we worked together and crafted a purpose statement, “To inspire people to be the best they can be.” This was a purpose that unified everyone. It went beyond the act of opening the terminal which was a very tangible target to achieve. It became the guiding light for the team which kept shining as they went on an extraordinary journey together.
In summary, there are 10 reasons which create a compelling case for purpose:
1. Meaning. A purpose is the why of existence. It is why you do what you do. It is why an organisation operates. It is why a team works together.
2. Identity. A purpose helps you know who you really are. It takes you to the essence of yourself.
3. Authenticity. A purpose enables you to be yourself. If you don’t know your purpose you cannot be true to yourself because you don’t know who you are.
4. Connection. A purpose builds relationship. It becomes the glue binding people and communities together.
5. Attraction. A purpose acts like magnetic pull attracting those who resonate it to get joined up.
6. Engagement. A purpose creates belonging which is at the heart of belonging. No purpose, no engagement.
7. Creativity. A purpose ignites ideas. It is the platform which helps you push the edges and try new things.
8. Energy. A purpose unleashes passion. It sustains you in the face of adversity. It energizes you making you stronger and better.
9. Vision. A purpose is at the centre of a vision. It is the foundation which allows you to fly.
10. Inspiration. A purpose lifts you up. It nourishes you. It keeps you focused on the big picture.