In her book Happiness At Work, Jessica Pryce-Jones calculates that people will spend an average of 90,000 hours at work in their lifetimes. If you’re going to invest all that time in the workplace, it’s important to understand why you are there.
OK, so most of us go to work to make money, to learn, and to connect with others. But we also want to find fulfilment. This article looks at purpose at work, and how it links to gravitas.
What is purpose?
There are as many versions of gravitas as there are people reading this article. But based on my research, the one thing that unites people with gravitas is that they all have a sense of purpose. And whenever I ask people on my courses why they lead the life they lead, at home and at work, everyone ultimately wants to make a difference to the world around them.
Purpose sits at the heart of the Gravitas Wheel I feature in my book, Leading with Gravitas. To use the Wheel, you start by identifying a goal you’d like to achieve at work, then assess how you see yourself against the six qualities I discovered are essential to gravitas. (There’s more on that below.)
At the outset of my book, Leading With Gravitas, I say:
At a fundamental level, a leader with gravitas has spent time exploring who they are and their unique purpose in life. They look beyond their immediate horizon to the world on a wider scale and are willing to make a contribution that is beyond personal gain.
If you think about any heroic story, whether it’s the latest blockbuster or your favourite fairytale, the lead character becomes aware of their personal mission and destiny.
- What’s yours?
- What difference do you want to make?
- What legacy do you want to leave?
Sometimes the pressure to find your ‘why’ can be quite stressful for people! “I’m just doing my job”, they’ll say, “I’m not here to discover the secret to everlasting happiness or solve the climate crisis!”. If that’s you, don’t worry. It is possible to have a fulfilling purpose that brings meaning to your life, and this can make a massive difference at both a career level and organisational level.
Finding your purpose
Mel Robbins, international best-selling author of The 5 Second Rule says:
“The most important skill you need to find your purpose is listening. Deeply listening. Your body, your spirit and your soul will tell you when you are close to your purpose.”
The first quality you’ll need, therefore, is self-awareness, to understand where you are right now – this is also the first segment in my Gravitas Wheel.
A good leader needs to be aware of their potential, their flaws, how they come across and their impact on others. It’s a starting point and a checkpoint throughout your progress.
To do this, you’ll need to both practice inner reflection and be receptive to feedback. This will help you appreciate and nurture your strengths, be honest about your weaknesses, and understand how you react under pressure so you can learn from your experiences and act with more self-control.
You’ll also want to reflect on your personal values and beliefs to see how they align with your organisation’s vision, mission and values, so that you can either embrace the culture you’re in or move on if there’s a disconnect.
- Actively seek out feedback so you know how you are perceived. One way to do this is to give feedback that’s well-intentioned and constructive, as this may encourage other people to reciprocate. Request specific actionable feedback on one-off events or projects you deliver. Take advantage of the 360-degree feedback process (if offered by your organisation). Look at any useful truths and work out what you’ll do differently next time
- Build self-evaluation into your day. Examine what went well (or not) and incorporate the learnings for the future
- Study some of the many self-awareness books, thought papers and talks that are available, online and offline
- Model leaders who inspire you
The next step is to decide where you want to go.
- You might be familiar with setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant and Time-bound). However, realistic and achievable goals might not inspire you as much as heart-based or BIG goals (see below)
- Broaden your thinking to encompass long-term results that make a difference to you, your organisation and the world. Choose goals that get your heart going, that excite and inspire you. Make them so compelling that they enliven your everyday life
- Make your goals BIG. Brave, Inspiring and Ground-breaking. Share them with your friends, family and colleagues. This will act like a powerful magnet to keep pulling you forward event when times get tough
- • Imagine yourself in the future when these goals have been achieved. What do you see? What do other people see in you at that point? What sounds are around you? What do other people hear? What emotions are you experiencing? How do other people feel? What will be your job title and role? What awards, accolades and accomplishments can be credited to you and your team?
Here are a couple of examples.
Annabel runs a company that devises contracts for virtual assistants, to help them have good working relationships with their associates and clients. Her actual purpose is to help younger women at work (and that’s the demographic of most VAs).
Jackie is a trainer and speaker who realised she had the ability to make people laugh. She studied comedy improvisation and incorporated it into her sessions. It’s not just because she wants her audiences and trainees to have fun. Her real purpose is because, when people are laughing, they’re not angry or worried or in pain, just for that moment and perhaps for hours or days afterwards.
Where does intuition come in?
Gaining clarity on your wider purpose often comes when you tune into your intuition, which I explore in detail in my second book, Power Up.
The word intuition comes from the Latin ‘intuir’ meaning ‘knowledge from within’. It’s faster than rational thought, and draws on the deep well of your memory to inform your decisions.
Professor Brené Brown of the University of Houston defines it as:
“Our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight”.
Intuition is a valuable source of power, and many of the world’s most well-respected leaders prioritise intuition over logic for making decisions and taking action. For example, Oprah hails it as the instinct that’s driven all her best business decisions.
Intuition is the quiet guidance that will be by your side throughout your life, keeping you safe and propelling you forward. It’s based on knowledge, lived experience and the ability to trust your own judgement, and is the antidote to fear, hesitation and stuck-ness.
When you trust the power of intuition, you’ll be able to read people more easily, speak and act more authentically, make quicker decisions, free up the brain space to achieve your goals – and tune into your purpose.
To help my coaching clients develop intuition, I’ve created three simple steps I call ACT.
- Accept it’s real. Listen to that little voice and treat intuition as your trusted adviser
- Create the right environment. Your intuition needs time and space. Seek solitude and quiet, take a walk in nature, let your mind drift.
- Tune in. Intuition speaks more loudly when you’re relaxed, rested, safe, supported and content. Also, listen to your body, and the clues it gives about what you’re feeling
Sometimes, you’ll find the answer you seek when you gather all the information then stop thinking and relax. Maybe ‘sleep on it’ overnight and you’ll find you wake with new insights.
Resources to help you find your purpose
You may be familiar with Johari’s Window, devised in the 1950s by Joe Luft and harry Ingham, psychology professors at the University of California. It’s a four-box grid:
You might find it useful to map your own leadership qualities onto this grid, based on how you see yourself and feedback you’ve had from others.
Understanding your sense of purpose can be found when you tap into the ‘unknown’ quadrant.
Another model you might find useful is the Logical Levels of Change pyramid, where purpose is at the top where the lines intersect and extend outwards to the wider world. Ask yourself:
- What are my personal goals in life?
- What difference do I want to make in the world?
- What moves me to take action?
- How would I like to be remembered as a leader?
- What is my organisation’s vision and how do I relate to that?
Once you’ve completed the pyramid, you can create a series of literal or metaphorical statements that encapsulate your ‘leadership voice’. For example:
- I’m the conductor of an orchestra, drawing the best from each musician to create a unified sound
- I’m a rugby player always searching for the next gap
- I use my voice to inspire people to choose their attitude in any given circumstance
(Those are real examples from leaders on my programmes.)
Once you’re clear on your leadership voice, it will come through in the words you use, the way you carry yourself, and the way you relate to others. It will therefore be easier for you to lead from a place of conviction, act assertively and communicate with strength.
And finally, when Simon Sinek wrote Start with Why, he prompted people to focus on the things that inspire them. He developed the ‘golden circle’ theory which features ‘why’ in the middle, surrounded by ‘how’ and then ‘what’. He argues that the organisations (and people) that succeed focus on those three questions, in that order.
With self-awareness and emotional intelligence, you’ll convey a sense of solidarity, weight, strength and a quiet control – all hallmarks of gravitas.
To discover and live your purpose for the benefit of your own self-development and as a way of connecting with and engaging others, you might want to: