Having a sense of meaning in life has a powerful impact on the quality of our lives, and a significant positive impact on others. Richard Leider, founder of Inventure – "The Purpose Company" says, “Purpose is our aim to live a life that is meaningful and makes a positive contribution to the world,” and “it’s living a life of our own choosing,” versus a “default life” that was chosen for us. Leider and his co-author David Shapiro, propose that “everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put into every heart.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about meaning and purpose lately. One reason is the impending death of my 99-year-old father, who has always had a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life. From a very early age (according to my grandmother), my father wanted to be a doctor. He says his desire to become a surgeon was born out of a significant loss he experienced early in his life when a close school friend died at the age of seven. From the time he went to medical school at age 19, until he retired from surgery and teaching at age 87, my father’s life revolved around this core desire to save people’s lives and to make them well again.
This unique ability to listen to his heart, understand what motivated him, and sculpt the values he wanted to live by, created a light and energy that was undeniable. He has always been growing and giving, which became synonymous with happiness, not only for himself, but for tens of thousands of others.
As we say our goodbyes to him over the next several days, I feel appreciative of his singular focus and commitment to serve others. Now, just three months shy of his 100th birthday, he is surrounded by a community of people, friends, former students, and patients who have all received from him in some way. Quite simply, he is surrounded by love, because he loved so fiercely.
How does one find Meaning in life?
It takes some (most of us) much longer to figure out our purpose for being in this world. What gives us meaning comes from a collective of influences in our lives, such as our experiences from the past and our present moment experiences. A sense of purpose can evolve from our own gifts and talents, the ones we were born with, or those gifts nurtured in us by the adults in our lives when we were just children. The ingredients are latent in us all - a compilation of our beliefs, values, and the unique patterns in our lives. To know what has meaning to us requires us to be present and intentional in our lives, and nothing short of clear-eyed and focused.
What’s Purpose got to do with Leadership?
Leaders with a sense of purpose demonstrate a passion for what they do every day. They lead from a place of an internal values alignment, that fuels their mindsets, behaviors, words, actions and decisions. Employees like to be around leaders with a sense of purpose, as their actions and words create greater clarity for all. They are what they practice, as it is not about a goal or role for them. As such, they are free to ask questions of others, listen deeply, and demonstrate a natural sense of curiosity, without carrying the burden of external expectations.
Leaders with a purpose know why they come to work every day, which is a WHY that goes beyond themselves to self-transcendence (Victor Frankl and Maslow). A sense of clarity, courage, curiosity, confidence, and authenticity inspires well-being, healing, longevity, and superior performance at work.
Purposeful people exhibit the following characteristics:
I will miss my father very much and will be forever grateful that he showed me how important having a purpose in life can be, as a guidance system we can live, continue to grow, and die by.
*Richard Leider is the author of eleven books, including three best sellers about purpose; Repacking Your Bags, The Power of Purpose and Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old? The Path of Purposeful Aging.
In our past few blogs, we have been writing about Becoming What We Practice, Managing Emotions During Stressful Times, and Reflecting, As A Valuable Practice for Leaders.
In coaching conversations with leaders, they wonder how to build or maintain resilience in times of unprecedented stress in the workplace (and in life). How can they build resilience and sustain energy when faced with serious fatigue?
In a recent Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence survey of more than 2,000 Senior Leaders in multiple countries, more than 70% said they’re considering quitting their job to support their wellbeing, and an even larger percent said that improving their wellbeing is more important than advancement in their careers:
Leadership or wellbeing is not a compromise we can continue to make. Leaders must build resilience for their own wellbeing to do the challenging work of leading others. The work of leadership today requires an ability to strike a balance between compassion and confidence, and vulnerability and resolve. When leaders take care of themselves, they are more able to sustain this delicate balance, without signaling their fatigue, or striving for unrealistic and inauthentic positivity.
A CEO without oxygen is of no use to anyone. Knowing this, and recognizing the downstream effects of burnout, is often a painful but necessary starting place.
So, how do leaders build a practice of putting the oxygen mask on first? They must begin with a healthy sense of empathy for their own situation. They must see that having empathy for themselves is not about wallowing or self-pity. It’s a realistic practice of seeing their fatigue (self-awareness), paying attention to the telltale symptoms of burn-out (self-regulation), and doing something about it before it becomes destructive for them, and everyone they work with (social-awareness).
Here are some empathetic practices that build the much-needed reserves for leadership:
I’ve been writing for the past two years about the unusual times we are living and working in as people and leaders. The uncertainty that comes with living and leading in a post- pandemic or current-pandemic world (however you might see it), creates a constant state of emotional flux, highs and lows, and uncertainty. This is the human condition, no matter if you’re leading or following, or are somewhere in between, which requires us to learn new skills that enable us to adapt, change, and thrive with an ever-present state of the unknown.
In our last few blog posts, we’ve discussed the need to work with our emotions in times of perceived crisis and unrest, and to develop greater awareness of our emotional state and our impact on others. Another critical skillset that goes together with our emotional intelligence capabilities is our ability to reflect.
The practice of reflecting is about taking periodic breaks or time away from our daily tasks and responsibilities, for careful consideration about past or current events, important decisions we need to make, potential new approaches to living our lives, or thinking about past or future conversations with others.
The value of reflection is to make conscious to us - our beliefs, narratives, behaviors, feelings, or actions, with a renewed opportunity to learn from them. If we make time for a consistent reflective practice daily, weekly, monthly, or annually, we are making an investment in our growth and development.
In times of extreme stress, taking time for reflection provides an opportunity for our brains and limbic (emotional) systems to pause amidst the chaos. Taking a pause to breath, walk, recover, and reflect affords us the opportunity to think more effectively and to make different choices or take alternate actions.
At this time of year, a look back to take stock of the year behind us can set us up for conscious changes or improvements in the quality of our lives or in our effectiveness as leaders for example.
I’m currently preparing to celebrate my father’s 99th birthday with him over the Thanksgiving holiday. My reflection questions in this moment are: How would I like to spend this time with him? What would be an important conversation to have with him while he is still here with us? What can I do for him to make this time special and memorable?
When we take time to evaluate and take stock, we learn. When we learn, we can make different choices in the current moment and in the future. We become more able to sort through the confusion, to consider multiple interpretations or perspectives. We make meaning of our past to create a more meaningful future with potential better outcomes.
The following recommendations may help you to develop a consistent practice of reflection:
I founded The Red Rock Consultancy for the specific purpose of working with C-level executives, senior leaders and their leadership teams as an integral leadership development resource.