A Leader’s Perspective on Purpose

by Jim Haudan December 2, 2015
December 2, 2015

Purpose. When people believe what they do matters they show up differently, they engage differently, and they contribute differently. I believe we all have a driving purpose. As a leader, it’s what motivates me to get up and bring my best self to work. But as in the words of Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, “it is a leader’s responsibility to bring purpose and meaning to the work of the organization.”

When I first started the company, I knew asking people to separate their purpose from their work lives would be impossible. How can you ask someone to set aside their personal goals and intentions for the better part of their day … five days a week? As technology has eroded the divide between our work and personal lives, it’s simply too difficult to separate our business and personal lives. Therefore I believe it’s absolutely vital for people to have the ability to integrate their personal purpose with their organization’s purpose. It is a sure-fire way to get people to commit their whole selves to doing the best work possible. I was recently presenting with one of our young leaders when she was asked why she joined the organization she works at. Without hesitation she said, “I wanted to work at a place that first shared my personal values and second that wanted to aim high in making the world a better place.”

But what about those people who voluntarily separate their personal selves and their work selves?

Sure, in some cases it is possible to find success at a job that doesn’t reflect their personal value or have a valued purpose. However, it won’t be a long-lasting career. Scenarios where people are merely doing what they need to do without feeling a personal investment become transactional situations – show up, do the minimal work needed to get by and get paid. Managers and leaders might feel this is enough … but just imagine what would happen if these people find a way to engage in what they value and act on an inspirational purpose!

When we are able to live out our purpose, our cause, our beliefs at work – that’s when our best capabilities are called to the forefront.

Embracing Your Personal Purpose

Whether we like it or not, fear is one of the dominant forces in the workplace. Unfortunately, many organizations struggle with creating environments that foster engagement, trust and safety. As a result, people just don’t feel safe to say what they really think. They fear being vulnerable. So purpose has to be nurtured and nudged out. People have to realize their leaders honestly want to know what they believe in, and that we want to connect with them.

I think the best organizations are seeing how important connecting with their people is on a personal level – it’s exploding, but it’s not commonplace. As leaders, we have lots of work to do. But the benefit of tapping into our people’s personal passions has amazing benefits – it’s how we can motivate, engage, and connect with them to do their best work.

In Cheryl’s words purpose inspired people “arrive early and stay late, they find creative solutions to problems, and they raise the energy level, commitment, and performance of the teams” they serve on.

Living out your purpose is more important than you can imagine. In the book The Top Five Regrets of The Dying, written by a woman who spent years working in palliative care, I learned the most common regret people have at the end of their lives is that they didn’t have the courage to live a life true to themselves. When people realized their lives were almost over, they often felt unfulfilled because they had made choices based on what others wanted – or to please others – instead doing things based on their own beliefs. This validates the importance of identifying and living out your personal purpose. We need to find the courage to do what we are really called to do – to embrace and live and breathe our purpose. It’s such an important piece to living without regret.

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