Do You Know Your Purpose?

“…just do your job, then let go.” – Tao te Ching

How clear are you on your leadership purpose? An essential part of your job as a leader is defining your purpose for yourself. This includes big questions like: why am I here? What do I want my legacy to be? You also need to consider the short-term purposes in your leadership role. For example, if you are new to your role, your immediate purpose is to get well connected with people. This year, some leaders are finding their short-term purpose is helping their organization survive the current economic crisis. Over time, you can develop your thinking about where you would like to head as a leader and how you might like to see that happen.

Your position in the organization affects your purpose. If you are the leader at the top, you have the opportunity (and challenge) of articulating a broad-ranging purpose for the organization. Whether president, pastor, principal or parent, you are in charge. If you are in a subordinate role, you take your purpose in part from whatever powers that be. When you’re in the middle, it’s just as important to think through your purpose for yourself. Whatever your position, here are questions to ask: Why did you take this job? Why are you staying? What do you want to accomplish?

Clarifying your purpose means you must focus on yourself, at least for a time. Spend some time alone, doing the hard work of thinking through your own direction. Those you lead deserve the benefit of your own thoughtful consideration of your leadership. It’s the best gift you can give them.

As you develop clarity, tell people what you are thinking. Think of it as self-definition: “I think” “I believe” “I want to.” How clearly can you articulate your own hopes and dreams and direction? Then pay close attention to the feedback you get. Are they confused? Excited? Angry? Intrigued? How do you think about this response? What do you need to say further? Try to clarify, avoiding anxiety and defensiveness as much as possible.

Finally, let go of the outcome. You are issuing an invitation to people to follow. You cannot force them. Their participation is voluntary, and they must choose to follow. The paradox is that the more we can let go, the more likely we are to get a positive outcome. It may not be exactly the picture we have dreamed of. But when we get clear on our purpose, share that purpose with others, and make adjustments along the way, we can move forward toward new possibility.

7 replies on “Do You Know Your Purpose?

  • Betty

    Given the subject matter, it seems ironic that I would just get back to the blog today. Busy putting out fires Tripp! I like your analogy (or should I say “live it”! I’m thankful for the recording Margaret. I’ve listened to about 1/3 of it so far.

    Tripp, I think I’m going to let some of those proverbial fires you talked about, just burn. Maybe they’ll burn themselves out. “Why am I here?” has been a huge question for me lately, coupled with the fact that I really do want my legacy to be that I was connected with people, whether or not I excelled in accomplishing the tasks at hand.

    I hope I have accomplished, in following God’s purpose for my life, the ability to not take responsibility for other people’s reactions to my decisions. It’s a tough one when the criticism comes, but one I think is essential.

    Rob, I appreciated especially your last paragraph. Got me to thinking . . . when we are “sleepless in ministry” what are we demonstrating for others? Better to demonstrate that we take the time necessary to stay focused, huh? A friend back in seminary used to sign his emails, “The focused life is a powerful life.” I think I may be learning (albeit, slowly!), what that means.

    Reply
  • rob

    (revised)

    Betty . . .

    Betty, you got me thinking . . .

    Left unchecked, busyness attending to others’ can all too easily lead to firefighting, and . . .

    The problem with becoming a ‘firefighter’ is that you’re always on call 24-7. (Sleepless in Ministy!)

    The other bad news: you can end up always operating in a high stakes high stress emergency. (After all, whoever called you up and said…’just a heads up, I’ll be in crisis the week after next!”).

    Wait there’s more: if you get “busy” and good at this you’re only a crisis away from a general impression that you really can be depended on to resolve other people’s problems. (Talk about stress!)

    Better to ‘take the time for me’ >Get focused on your you own needs and goals required to successfully make your way in your role. Deomstrating for others around you the first step toward attending to most of life’s trials and tribulations.

    Reply
  • rob

    Betty . . .

    Betty, you got me thinking . . .

    Left unchecked, busyness attending to others’ can all too easily lead to firefighting, and . . .

    The problem with becoming a ‘firefighter’ is that you’re always on call 24-7. (Sleepless in Ministy!)

    The other bad news: you can end up always operating in a high stakes high stress emergency. (After all, whoever called you up and said…’just a heads up, I’ll be in crisis the week after next!”).

    Wait there’s more: if you get “busy” and good at this you’re only a crisis away from a general impression that you really can be depended on to resolve other people’s problems. (Talk about stress!)

    Better to ‘take the time for me’ >Get focused on your you own needs and goals required to successfully make your way in your role.

    Reply
  • Margaret Marcuson

    If we have some clarity about purpose, we have at least a beginning basis for making judgments about those fires. It’s still much more of an art than a science — unfortunately, no simple formula exists!

    Reply
  • Tripp

    And that hits the nail squarely on the head. Thank you, Betty. The metaphor of “firemen” (women) comes to mind. We can be so busy putting out fires that we can forget our purpose. The trick is that many of those fires actually need putting out. How to know which to let burn and which to quell? It is a huge challenge.

    Reply
  • Betty Johnson

    Thanks for the great reminder Margaret! I wonder if busyness too often clouds my purpose. As I took time to read your post this morning I have the proverbial gazillion things to be done, including the unexpected funeral. Why am I here? What legacy do I want to leave? Not that I was the hurried pastor who managed to “get everything done, and done well.” That’s good, and things must get done, but I’d prefer to be the one who “always took the time for me” type of legacy. Balancing the two is difficult at best! Thanks for making me think – again!

    Reply

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