What is Purpose?

Your purpose is your brand, what you’re driven to achieve, the magic that makes you tick. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do your job and why—the strengths and passions you bring to the table no matter where you’re seated. Although you may express your purpose in different ways in different contexts, it’s what everyone close to you recognizes as uniquely you and would miss most if you were gone.

At its core, your leadership purpose springs from your identity, the essence of who you are. Purpose is definitely not some jargon-filled catch-all (“Empower my team to achieve exceptional business results while delighting our customers”). It should be specific and personal, resonating with you and you alone. And it’s not what you think it should be. It’s who you can’t help being. In fact, it might not necessarily be all that flattering (“Be the thorn in people’s side that keeps them moving!”).

To figure out who you are in such a world, let alone “be nobody but yourself,” is indeed hard work. However, when you have a clear sense of who you are, everything else follows naturally.

The first task is to mine your life story for common threads and major themes. The point is to identify your core, lifelong strengths, values, and passions—those pursuits that energize you and bring you joy. What did you especially love doing when you were a child, before the world told you what you should or shouldn’t like or do?

After this reflective work, take a shot at crafting a clear, concise, and declarative statement of purpose: “My leadership purpose is _______.” The words in your purpose statement must be yours. They must capture your essence. And they must call you to action.

Clarifying your purpose as a leader is critical, but writing the statement is not enough. You must also envision the impact you’ll have on your world as a result of living your purpose. Your actions—not your words—are what really matter. Of course, it’s virtually impossible for any of us to fully live into our purpose 100% of the time. But with work and careful planning, we can do it more often, more consciously, wholeheartedly, and effectively.

Summing-up: The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. To be a truly effective leader, clarify your purpose, and put it to work.

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