Executive Insider

Find Your Spark: How to Discover and Lead with Purpose

Do you have a strong sense of purpose? Can you write down your personal purpose statement in a single sentence or two?

An article from Harvard Business Review points out that “fewer than 20 percent of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose. Even fewer can distill their purpose into a concrete purpose statement.” Very few of us think about purpose, yet having a clear sense of it is directly associated with enhanced performance and overall success.

Take Roz Savage for example. Roz had graduated from the prestigious Oxford University and moved right into the professional world. She’d married a hardworking, intelligent man and they’d bought a home together. Her growing experience as a management consultant was moving her up the ranks of corporate structure. Everything was going exactly to plan.

Yet, one day on her commute to work by train, she realized she was feeling dissatisfied — enough so that the desperate realization of it was overwhelming. She noticed that the man seated directly in front of her was reading his newspaper and, as he flipped the page, the obituary section came into view. There in front of her marched the columns of people that had recently passed away, their entire worldly experience encapsulated into a handful of words.

“What would people say about me when I died?” she thought to herself. “Is my life even worth an obituary?”

Roz knew then that she was merely existing — living a life that on paper sounded pretty good, but wasn’t fulfilling to her. Roz decided to write her own obituary as an exercise to see how she would like to be remembered and it changed the course of her life. As a result, she quit her job, left her husband and set off on a new path of discovery. Her deep introspection eventually led her to decide to row across the Atlantic Ocean — and subsequently, the Pacific and Indian Oceans — to become a spokesperson for sustainability. Now one of the most prolific ocean rowers in history, Roz found the courage on that fateful day to change her life and set in motion a quest to find her true purpose.

When you have individual purpose, you’re more engaged in your work, demonstrate more ethical behavior, are more adaptable to change and uncertainty, and are more likely to align behind goals. Having clarity around why you do what you do has a long reaching impact on your physiology and directly impacts the quality of your life. It’s a main reason many elite adventurers tie expeditions to a worthy cause — it keeps them driving for results because they’re doing it for something bigger.

Within organizations that are more purpose-driven versus profit-driven, studies indicate that employees tend to be better decision-makers because they have a guidepost to check against. They are more fulfilled because they know why they’re coming to work each day, and they perform better because they find alignment with personal purpose. In fact, according to the 2016 LinkedIn Purpose at Work Study, 58 percent of companies with clearly understood purpose statements experienced over 10 percent growth.

How do you begin to articulate your purpose? Here are three ideas to explore:

1. Find your own spark: Explore those things that make you excited at work and outside of it. What did you love to do before the responsibilities of life took over? Maybe write your obituary, as Roz did, and determine what you want your legacy to be.

2. Align your spark with your values: Determine not only what your spark is, but how it connects to what you value most. Take the time to think about your current job and how you can find more meaning in your day-to-day tasks.

3. Contribute to the greater good: At the heart of purpose is finding ways to make a positive impact on others. That’s when we, as humans, are at our best. Have a look at how your work impacts others and you may find that spark of purpose in your daily efforts without even needing to look very hard.

Written by Amy Posey.

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Amy Posey
Amy Posey is a Silicon Valley-based leadership consultant focused on neuroscience and high performance. She is the founder and CEO of SUPER*MEGA*BOSS, a manager training company. Kevin Vallely juggles his life as a registered architect, leadership mentor, author, keynote speaker and father, while also becoming an internationally recognized explorer. Their new book is Wild Success: 7 Key Lessons Business Leaders Can Learn from Extreme Adventures (McGraw Hill, March 10, 2020). Amy Posey is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.