Are You Living Your Life On Purpose?

go do it

Deep down inside, I believe all of us want to be significant. We want to make some sort of a difference. We want our lives to mean something and leave our mark on the world. We want to wake up and feel excited about our day. Work hard at a job we’re passionate about and create an impact. So why then, do so many of us wake up filled with dread about going to work, do the bare minimum we need to in order to get by, and become complacent with mediocrity? Somewhere along the line we trade our optimism for cynicism and our dreams for security. Why?

I’m not saying that security in and of itself is a bad thing – paying the bills is important. But is it enough? Is pursuing security worth ending up in a job where you countdown the minutes of every day and live for the weekend? Is it worth enjoying only 2 out of the 7 days of the week? Think about it. 2 out of 7 equals 28.6%. Whose goal is it to enjoy life only 28.6% of the time?

At my job, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with many young, bright, intelligent high school and college students. Despite their many difference, most all of them are wrestling with the same questions – What do I want to do with my life? What do I want to be when I “grow up?” Very rarely do I hear them say, “Work at a job I can’t stand because it pays the bills.” No, that mindset creeps in slowly from the outside and usually from people who mean well.

“I’ve thought about going into counseling, but you know, my mom says you don’t make much money in that field.”

“I love to cook; and always wondered what it’d be like to be a chef. But, my parents think I should be a nurse. They say there’s good job security in that industry.”

Look, I’m not an idealist; I know we all need to make money to support ourselves. But shouldn’t making money be only one of the criteria by which we choose a career path instead of the only criteria? When thinking about a career, I usually tell people to consider three things: what they are passionate about, their strengths, and what other people will pay them to do. Where the three come together – that’s your niche.

Your niche reflects your purpose. It’s where you can create your unique impact on the world. Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it take hard work and dedication? Yes. Will it require us to think outside of the box? Most likely. But the good news is that when we are working out of our strengths and in areas we are passionate about – we don’t mind working hard. We’re not staring at the clock counting down the minutes until 5pm. Instead we get caught up in the complexities, challenges, and opportunities in front of us. We unleash our creativity and innovation. We come alive.

No, it’s not a guarantee that life will be perfect, and there will still be days that you may feel tired or frustrated. In the midst of those times, however, you can be assured of one thing – the hard times are worth it. There might be bumps along the road, but the destination – having lived a life of purpose – is worth enduring them. You will find rest in the satisfaction of knowing that come the end of your life, you won’t have to look back and say “I wish I would have…” or “Why didn’t I try…?” Instead, you’ll know that you gave it your all. You lived your life with intention and made your mark.

At this point, you might be thinking, “That all sounds well and good, but I don’t even know what my strengths are.” Or “I’m not sure what I’m passionate about.” Or, “But you don’t understand, I could never make enough money doing what I want to do.” If that’s you, then join me over the next few weeks as we explore those types of questions together. Join me as we explore how you can be intentional about living your life on purpose.

[If you enjoyed this post, check out the second post in this series, “Are You Living a Strong Life?”, and the third post, “Are You Living a Life of Passion?”.]

Catalyst – The Third C of Leadership

Harry S. Truman once said,

“Men make history and not the other way around.  In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still.  Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” 

These history making leaders have a vision for a better future, rally people around the vision, and work with those people to achieve the vision.  In other words, they act as Catalysts.  Therefore, Catalyst, the third C, refers to the leader’s ability to inspire aligned action toward a compelling vision. 

Kouzes and Posner (2006) state that leaders must “inspire a shared vision” by “envisioning the future” and then “enlist others in that common vision by appealing to shared aspirations” (p. 4).  Organizational change expert John Kotter (1995) declares that every successful transformation effort he has researched involved the leaders developing a clear and inspiring vision for the future.  Kanter (2005) puts it this way, “A raw idea…must be shaped into a theme that makes the idea come alive.  Ideas don’t launch productive changes until they become a theme around which others begin to improvise, a vision that raises aspirations” (p. 4).  And, Senge (1990) emphasizes that, “The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance” (p. 488).  And finally, Gill (2003) writes, “A vision is a desired future state: this is the basis for directing the change effort” (p. 312).

In regard to the transformational and servant leadership theories, vision plays a prominent role in both of them.  To begin, the servant-leader characteristics of “conceptualization” and “foresight” emphasize the importance of vision.  Conceptualization is the ability “to dream great dreams,” and foresight is described as “closely related to conceptualization” because of its focus on future possibilities (Spears, 2002, p. 7).  Next, the inspirational motivation factor of transformational leadership involves leaders creating excitement and enthusiasm around the vision through the use of symbols, emotional appeals, and simple messages (Northouse, 2010).  This link between the vision and motivation is one of the main reasons why it is so important to leadership.

Motivation expert Kenneth W. Thomas (2009) explains, “the purpose and vision, then, provided a target that could align the efforts of different people to solve problems and cooperate….the compelling vision was a strong motivational force that inspired people” (p. 23).  It is important to note, however, that when it comes to creating a vision or purpose statement, research has shown that not all visions are equally effective.

According to Thomas (2009), workers are rarely inspired by purposes that are focused on making a profit or other economic considerations.  Instead, the vision or purpose statement should connect to workers’ need for recognition, responsibility, and the opportunity to fulfill one’s potential.  For example, Chick-fil-A’s mission statement, “Be America’s Best Quick-Service Restaurant” hits on all of these needs.  The focus on being known as the best speaks to one’s need for recognition and fulfilled potential, and it makes the employees responsible to America for their service.  In the end, however, having a vision is not enough.  Leaders need to utilize the rest of the Cs in order to go about achieving the vision.

[As was discussed in a previous blog post, here at Inta-Great, we define leadership as “a service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences others toward a common vision.”  In order to be effective at influencing others in the pursuit of that vision, we propose that leaders follow the Inta-Greated Leadership Model which consists of the “Seven Cs of Leadership:” (1) Composition; (2) Character; (3) Catalyst; (4) Compassion; (5) Communication; (6) Courage; and (7) Celebration.  Embodying the Seven Cs is what allows leaders to have an impact at the personal, team, and organizational levels and ultimately results in real transformation and sustainable results.]

Referenced Works:

  • Gill R., (2003). Change management or change leadership. Journal of Change Management 3(4), 307-318.
  • Kanter, R. M. (2005). Leadership for change: Enduring skills for change masters.  Teaching Note, Harvard Business School Publishing, 1-15.
  • Kotter, J.P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformational efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 1-9.
  • Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2003). Student leadership practices inventory.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th ed). Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Senge, P.M. (2003). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. In J. S. Ott. Classic reading in organizational behavior (pp. 484-491). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
  • Spears, L. C. (2002). Tracing the past, present, and future of servant-leadership. In L. C. Spears, & M. Lawrence. (Eds.), Focus on leadership: Servant-leadership for the 21st century. (pp. 1-16). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Thomas, K.W. (2009).  Intrinsic motivation at work: What really drives employee engagement. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler.

2013–A New Year & A New Start

2013– a new year and the perfect time for a new start.  

This concept is nothing new.  For as long as most of us can remember, people have been using this time of year to set their “New Year’s Resolutions.”  However, for most people, those resolutions are broken as quickly as they are made.  Anyone with a gym membership will tell you gym traffic typically doubles during the month of January before slowing down to its usual flow around mid-February.  So why are we so bad at following through with our New Year Resolutions?

Most of our resolutions tend be made in the moment with lots of emotion but with little consideration and little planning.  For example, we look into the mirror on January 1st, see the results of our holiday merry-making, and adamantly declare–“I NEED to lose weight!  I will start working out!”  This example highlights another problem with many new year’s resolutions–they tend to be reactive and not proactive.

The many problems begin shortly after we join the gym.  We don’t actually know what exercises we should be doing–are we just trying to lose weight or build muscle?  Or maybe we should be trying to tone muscle.  Then, real life hits, and suddenly it is hard to fit going to the gym into our busy schedules.  And finally, we haven’t actually made any changes to our eating habits, so even though we are going to the gym a bit more often, we’re not seeing the results we want–and before you know it those problems add up and we stop going to the gym altogether.  Have you ever experienced anything like this in your own personal or work life, and what can we do about it???

Most resolutions fail because they are not linked to a broader vision.  Instead of standing alone, personal and organizational goals should support our personal or organizational vision.  Therefore, identifying the vision becomes the first step.  We’ve already discussed the “Key Aspects of a Great Vision” before, so we won’t go into all the details about it here.  But, we will remind you that quite simply, vision paints a picture of the future state you/your organization wants to achieve.  It defines what success looks like.  If we go back to the weight loss example, a strong vision statement would be, “Living a healthy lifestyle that includes a regular work-out program and a nutritional diet.”

But sometimes, having a big vision can seem overwhelming to a leader.  We have these big dreams—how are we ever going to achieve them?

The answer is simple; we need a plan.  The key lies in translating the vision into multiple, smaller goals.  When we do this, it is very important to write these goals (or resolutions) down.  Writing them down creates personal accountability, because now, we have a list that we can go back to and measure ourselves against.  However, don’t just take my word for it…

According to Dave Kohl, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech (as quoted in Five):

  • 80% of Americans say they don’t have goals.
  • 16% of Americans have goals, but they don’t write them down.
  • < 4% of Americans actually write their goals down.
  • < 1 % of Americans write down their goals on an ongoing basis.
  • People who regularly write down their goals earn 9x as much over their lifetimes than those who don’t.

So, don’t wait.  Make this the year you get serious about your resolutions.  Take the time and identify your vision and break it down into smaller goals to achieve that vision.  Then, write those goals down.  You’ll be amazed at the difference consideration and planning can make.

Referenced Works:

  • Zadra, Dan. (2009). Five: Where will you be five years from today?. Seattle: Compendium, Inc.

Key Aspects of a Great Vision

You cannot lead others if you don’t know where you are going–that is why having a vision is so important.  

So, what are some key aspects of a Great Vision?

1. It is clear and compelling, and it is short and sweet.   

2. It makes people excited to be a part of something greater than themselves. 

3. It appeals to one’s need for: recognition, responsibility, and fulfillment

4. It’s NOT about the money.

Listen to the clip below to learn more about the key aspects of a Great Vision.

How Leaders Can Facilitate Change

Change is an integral part of any type of growth.  If any organization is to grow, leadership must recognize that change is inevitable, and then set up a process to help people embrace it.  Too often, employees experience what they perceive to be random attempts at change with no thought-out plan.  It is these impulsive and unsuccessful change attempts which lead to an organizational culture of skepticism and negativity.  To prevent such a culture from taking root in their organizations, leaders need to: (a) be aware that most people dislike change, (b) solicit input from the employees, and (c) communicate and celebrate the change.   

When trying to implement a change, the first thing leaders need to understand is that most people reject change.  In fact, up to 80% of people in an organization can be labeled as reactive thinkers.  Reactive thinkers tend to resist change, avoid responsibility, fear taking risks, and have low confidence (Oakley and Krug, 1991).  Therefore, change efforts must begin by changing the mindset of these individuals As Oakley and Krug emphasize, one of leadership’s main responsibilities is to bring out the best in those they lead Attitude is critical to performance, and one of the key issues behind attitude is one’s self-esteem.  One way to help improve employee self-esteem is by soliciting their input during the change process.

Some leaders have the “it’s my way or the highway” mentality – they believe they can impose their ideas onto other people.  And yet, as Oakley and Krug point out, this philosophy does not work for implementing long-term change (1991).  Instead of only telling people what to do, leaders should strive to engage employees in the change process.  Leaders can do this by asking for employee feedback, questions, and ideas to make the change more successful.  This experience not only increases employees’ self-esteem and confidence, it also helps employees feel a sense of ownership for the change initiative. 

Engaging people throughout the change process facilitates organizational “buy-in.”  Without such commitment it will be impossible to move change forward.  Another way to develop buy-in is by building trust with one’s employees.  It is only when people trust a leader that they will be willing to follow him or her into the unknown territory of change.

One way of building trust is through constant, clear, and honest communication.  The first step in the communication process is to develop a clear vision around why the change needs to take place and what it will look like.  Unless change is clear in the leader’s mind, it will be impossible for him or her to communicate a compelling vision to others (the same is true for leadership teams).

Once the leader is clear on the vision, he/she needs to communicate it.  Leaders can communicate the vision by delivering speeches, sending emails, posting the vision statement on the wall, participating in discussions – but most importantly –  by “living out” the message.  As Kotter (1995) says, “Communication comes in both word and deeds, and the latter are often the most powerful form” (p.65).

This consistent communication in word and deed will reinforce the change process as will celebrating successes.  Many times leaders are so bogged down with trying to achieve results, they do not take the time, energy, and resources to acknowledge success.  For employees, the perception of never being recognized can erode their desire to engage in change as engaging usually takes great effort.  One way to combat this is by celebrating short-term wins and recognizing, perhaps even rewarding, employees for their involvement in the change process (1995).

Overall, leaders need to remember that change does not happen overnight.  Instead, it is a long and deliberate process that requires engaging one’s employees, communicating a clear vision, and celebrating successes along the way.  When used together, these actions will help employees open their minds and be more receptive to new ideas and change in order to help the organization grow.

Resources:

  • Kotter, J. (March, 1995). Leading change: why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review.
  • Oakely, E., Krug, D. (1991). Enlightened leadership. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster.

Be the Best You

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Michael Phelps has been quoted as saying, “I simply want to be the best Michael Phelps.”

While you may not be the most-decorated Olympic athlete of all time, you do have unique strengths and gifts. Ask yourself, “How can I be the best ME there is?”

Walk with the Dreamers

Words of Wisdom from a greeting card!

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The Really Great

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“Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too, can become great.” – Mark Twain

No one is ever too young or too old to need or be a mentor.  Who can you mentor today?  Who is someone great that inspires you?

The Beauty of Dreams

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“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”  
– Eleanor Roosevelt

What are your dreams?  What solutions do you have to offer the world?  Believe that you can make a difference.    

Live like Today is the First and Last Day of Your Life

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“Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution. Stop repeating the past and start creating the future. Stop playing it safe and start taking risks. Expand your horizons. Accumulate experiences. Enjoy the journey. Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can. Live like today is the first and last day of your life.”
– Chase the Lion

How can you make a positive difference where you are right now?  In what areas of your life have you grown cynical, and how can you start to overcome that?  If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?  What are you currently thankful for?