What Is The Hidden Purpose In Your Life, Work and Organization?

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Photo: Pixabay/bearinthenorth

Imagine if you discovered the sweet spot of purpose in your life, work and organization.

We’ve all heard that discovering your core purpose is a key ingredient to achieving your goals. But what about the purpose of your role at work? Or the purpose of your organization? Discovering where these three elements intersect is an important part of knowing where you fit in, and where you’re headed.

Dan Pontefract is a Chief Envisioner at Canadian telecommunications company Telus, and the author of Flat Army and most recently The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning In Yourself, Your Role, and Your Organization.

I recently interviewed Dan to discuss the subject of his latest work, and how understanding purpose from top to bottom can increase employee engagement. (The transcript below has been edited lightly for space and clarity.)

Kevin Kruse: You call the intersection of purpose in three areas: yourself, your role, the organization, as “the sweet spot.”

Dan Pontefract: What I want you to do is envision a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram is composed of three circles. There's one at the top, and then there's two at the bottom, and they're all intersecting. When I was researching and then thinking about my own life and all the time I've spent in the academic world and in the corporate world, it dawned on me that there are a lot of books and a lot of authors out there who aspire or predict or recommend that purpose of self and life is important, and it is.

There weren't a lot of people looking at the integration between work and life and purpose. As I began to, as we all do, peel this onion back a little bit when we're writing and we're researching and interviewing, it was this Venn diagram that kept popping up in my head and in some of the interviews I was doing.

At the top of the Venn diagram is what I call ‘personal purpose’. Then at the bottom, the other two circles, on the right hand side is ‘organizational purpose’, and on the left hand side is ‘role purpose’. Here's how it works: We all have a life, and, as I mentioned, life-work integration, so personal purpose, that's our life. That's the circle at the top. That's “What am I going to do to define myself? Who am I going to be in life and at work? Who am I going to be known as? How am I going to show up each and every day?” Those are the questions: What am I? Who am I? How am I? That's the ‘personal’ side.

See, we all, I think, most of us, maybe not Bill Gates, but we've got to go to work. Ultimately, what's happening is if you're in an organization that is operating with purpose, I found that if that purpose mindset of the organization is in lockstep with how you're defining yourself— the “what you want to be when you grow up”, if you will—there's a really good combination there, a good relationship.

But that's not enough, because we all go to work for the organization in which we work for in a role. For example, you may be a call center agent. You may be a sales exec. You may be a business analyst. You may be in marketing. You have a role. When there is lockstep between your personal purpose— that's again back to “who you are”, etc.—the organization, which is hopefully demonstrating its purpose, and in the role that you occupy, if you feel valued, if you feel that you're delivering value, ergo you feel valuable, hopefully you have the purpose mindset in your role.

Kruse: How then, should I think about my ‘role purpose’?

Pontefract: If you have figured out who you are, what you are, and how you want to act in this world, so you've got your ‘personal purpose’ established, if you're working in a big pharma company and you feel as though their contributions and the way in which they operate is delivering a value to society— which I call the “good deeds” incidentally—then what you've got to do is investigate and analyze your own role now.

If life's good, and work (i.e., the organization) is good, now start looking specifically at your role. What are you doing in that role? Are you feeling as though that it's in lockstep with where the organization's going and where you're going in your life? Again, sometimes these are journeys. You can't immediately expect that you're going to be purposeful in your role today. What's the journey that you're on?

If you feel as though the things that you're doing in a role are far too transactional or hedonic or you feel as though there's no value in it and you don't see the progression, then you've got to start analyzing and ask yourself those questions that you asked about your personal purpose in the role: What am I about in this role? How am I feeling in this role? Who am I in this role? You can have a very engaged quote organization and still be in a role where you feel as though you're not contributing.

That may be the team you're in. That may be the dynamics of the role. It could be and often is the boss that's supporting you. You've got to really almost have an existential look at, “What is it that I'm doing in this role?” Even though life feels good and organization feels good, it may not be exactly as such in that role.

Kruse: What’s something our listeners can try today to become 1% better?

Pontefract: Depending on how your organization is set up, I would go to your senior leadership team, whether by email, whether it's the open mailbox, whether it's a town hall, whether it's an email to your CEO, and I would ask them if they believe their organization is working and operating with purpose, and if so, how is it demonstrated? Because if you really take a look at what's happening in society, whether you're for-profit, public sector, not-for-profit even, there's a lot of power that's being used, and I would say ill-advisedly used, in the senior leadership teams of our organizations.

If you ask your senior leaders if it's operating with purpose and how do we demonstrate it, then you get an answer from the top. Then you can make a decision. You don't quit right away if it's not to your liking. Build a development plan to either get out of that org or to get another role or whatever the case may be. That's why I often say, is, “Do you know if your organization is operating with purpose?”

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.

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Kevin Kruse
CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE trial of the LEADx platform at https://page.leadx.org/demo.