Moving Up to Your Purpose

Kevin Cashman – Author of
“Leadership From the Inside Out”

“Moving Upstairs” to Our Purpose

Purpose is that home within, that place where our talents, values and service-drive reside. It’s there all the time, waiting for our arrival. We may have been too busy “living our life downstairs” to even notice.

A few years ago, I worked with an executive who had recently realized that she had been “living downstairs.” She entered my office in a down mood, and after very little chitchat, she blurted out, “Cake mixes don’t give any meaning to my life!” Caught off guard, I started laughing. She wasn’t amused, and said, “I’m serious. I used to love my job, but it just doesn’t seem important to me anymore.” After I worked with her for a while, she began to explore the contents of her “upstairs flat.” Her discovery centered on “using her innovative and conceptual gifts to enrich and to nourish people’s lives.” She had been “living downstairs” for so long that she actually thought that cake mixes were supposed to give meaning to her life!

Her purpose became overshadowed by her day-to-day focus.

When she finally uncovered her purpose—to enrich and to nourish others through innovation—her attitude about her job changed, her creativity returned and her performance soared. Her life wasn’t about cake mixes; it was about being a creative force to enhance people’s lives. This realization permeated her entire life situation, and nearly everyone in her life sensed her renewal.

Purpose Is Bigger and Deeper Than Our Goals
How often have you heard someone say about extraordinary people, “He was born to do this. She was born to do that.” It is as if the “thing” was their only goal, their only reason for being.

What happens when the “thing” is done or the career is over? Does that mean the person no longer has a purpose? Are these people then expendable from life? Purpose is the natural flow of our gifts as they serve those we touch. Sometimes we may inhibit or ignore this flow, but it is always there, seeking expression. How it manifests depends on our ability to open up to it and the particular circumstances we may be facing at the time. Purpose is constant; the manifestation of purpose is always changing to serve the situation.

The higher the purpose, the greater the energy. Purpose also frees us. The more profound the purpose, the greater the sense of freedom. Purpose opens up possibilities. When observing the passionate, focused behavior of people, it can sometimes be difficult to know if they were being passionately obsessive or passionately purposeful. If the behavior is adding energy, joy and fulfillment to them and others, then it is probably coming from a purposeful place.

Bridging Individual and Organization Purpose

Helping people to tackle their leadership challenges with substantially enhanced self-awareness, shared purpose and shared inspiration is invaluable in supporting our strategic and cultural transformation.”

Purpose powers performance.
 Helping people connect to their individual and collective purpose multiplies cultural and financial value.  How can each of us better contribute our talents to serve a larger purpose?

Infusing Life With Purpose
Orbiting Around Core Purpose

Actually, the only thing I know for sure is that it is a critically important, endless journey of exploration. While the core may be a constant, ever-present reality throughout life, our clarity increases over time as we heighten our awareness and dedicate ourselves to discovering it. It is a bit like orbiting around a hazy planet and slowly focusing the image.

This focusing process is expedited by engaging in a journey to answer two critical questions:
What is so important to me that I am endlessly fascinated by it?
When I am at my best and creating value for others, what am I bringing to make this happen?

Keep the following principles in mind as you begin to master leading on purpose:

1. Get in touch with what is important to you.
Understanding our values, what gives meaning to our lives, gives us the “GPS coordinates” of our purpose.

2. Act “on purpose.”
Most people have an intuitive feeling about their purpose in life. Turning this hazy intuition into a clear, tangible commitment helps turn a dream into a reality. 

3. Find team core purpose.
While personal purpose is transformative for leaders, team purpose is powerful for the entire enterprise. Once you get clear on how your gifts make a difference, consider engaging your team around a similar exercise. When a team’s purpose supports the organization’s mission and strategy, great things happen. What is your team’s core purpose? What are the distinguishing differences your group has? What is the big impact, big service or big difference that you are going to collectively achieve? Why does this team exist? 

4. Do not mistake the path for the goal.(Journey Orientation).
Be careful not to simply adopt other people’s views of your purpose. Too often, people internalize the latest personal development trend, spiritual teaching or management guru theory into a dogmatic, inflexible, restrictive practice. This is mistaking the path for the goal. Finding your purpose is finding how your gifts can serve, not just adopting someone else’s value systems.  Always remind yourself that the program or practice, no matter how stimulating or fulfilling, is the methodology—not the goal. The essence of purpose mastery is the very personal process of discovering how your gifts can serve something bigger.

5. Focus on service.
Purpose is not purposeful without serving others. It is not self-expression for its own sake; it is self-expression that creates value for those around you. Therefore, key into your gifts, but don’t stop there. Focus on expressing your gifts to improve the lives of everyone and everything you touch.

6. Be purposeful in all areas of life.
Too often we might be purposeful in one area of our life but not in another. We may be purposeful at work and not so much at home, or we may be purposeful in personal relationships but not in our work. Once you clarify how your gifts can make a difference, examine the degree to which you are being purposeful in all parts of your life. Seeing these purpose gaps can reveal our real growth challenges. Too many leaders have lost their sense of purpose because they were not using their gifts in their personal lives or were not fully expressing their deepest personal values in their work. Congruence of purpose in all domains of our life is the aspiration of purpose mastery.

7. Learn from “failure.”
Failure is a subjective label we apply to unintended or unexpected experiences. Usually, we are unwilling or unable to integrate these experiences into a meaningful context. From the vantage point of purpose mastery, failure does not exist. It is God attempting to teach us some new lessons or trying to point us toward some new directions.

8. Be flexible. My friend Rich Galloway said it best; “Blessed are the Flexible for they shall bend and not break.”
Genuine insight into our purpose can take the form of a recurring theme that connects divergent areas of our lives. Like an orchestra interpreting a symphony, the expression of our purpose will change. For instance, someone’s real purpose in life may be to guide and nurture others. At different stages of the life cycle, this will be expressed very differently—as a student, parent, professional and retiree. We need to be flexible, open to the process of expressing our internal sense of purpose in many different roles and life circumstances. Transactive managers follow set procedures in a consistent, predictable manner; transformative leaders flex to a myriad of conditions, gracefully dancing around a purpose-filled core.

Excerpted from Leadership From the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life, Third Edition by Kevin Cashman.

Adapted by Bill Hoffman

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