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?”.]

Courage – The Sixth C of Leadership

The sixth C, Courage, refers to the leader’s willingness to seize opportunities despite the inherent risk and uncertainties.  It is easy to have an idea.  Many people are quick to point out problems, and even speculate about solutions.  What sets leaders apart is that they have the courage to act on those ideas and implement those solutions.  It should be emphasized that courage is not about fearlessness.  It is about being afraid and moving forward anyway.  It is about pursuing a passion – a purpose – that is greater than one’s fear.

Leaders influence change toward a common vision.  Change can be inherently difficult, and sometimes frightening.  It involves leaving the realm of “what is” for “what could be.”  This is risky and requires courage.  Why are leaders willing to take this risk?  They do so because the best leaders understand that failure, while it hurts in the moment, is a passing thing.  Regret is not.  The regret that comes from not trying – from missed opportunities – can last a lifetime.  So, even more than failure, leaders fear regret.  They understand the adage, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”

Leadership experts, Kouzes and Posner (2006) refer to this willingness to take risks as “Challenge the Process” and describe it as “searching for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow, and improve” and “experimenting and taking risks” (p. 5).  What is known is usually safe; the unknown is often risky.  That is why one of the main ways leaders can encourage others is by creating a safe space for team members to take risks.  Leaders can do this in two primary ways: (1) providing help and support to an individual taking a risk and/or trying to achieve a goal; and (2) treating failures as learning opportunities.

One theory that addresses the role the leader should play in their followers’ goal achievement is path-goal theory.  According to Northouse (2010), path-goal theory involves leaders who “help subordinates define their goals and the paths they want to take…when obstacles arise…[it] may mean helping the subordinate around the obstacle, or it may mean removing the obstacle” (p. 132).  It emphasizes that it becomes the leader’s job to provide appropriate support to the subordinates.  Similarly, organizational change expert Kotter (1995) refers to it as empowering others to act on the vision.

Kotter (1995) echoes path-goal theory when he states that empowering others involves removing obstacles for employees trying to contribute to the vision.  “Renewal [achieving the vision] also requires the removal of obstacles” (p. 7).  Gill (2003) also recognizes the importance of empowering those carrying out a vision or change initiative.  To him, empowerment involves “giving people knowledge, skills, opportunity, freedom, self-confidence, and resources to manage themselves and be accountable” (p. 315).

In addition to empowering – rather encouraging – others, leaders can develop a risk taking culture by viewing mistakes and failures as learning opportunities instead of immediate grounds for dismissal (Kouzes & Posner, 2006).  Thomas (2009) puts it this way:

Progress and learning, then, mean expecting and allowing some honest mistakes – and using them as important learning opportunities.  If workers are afraid of being punished for honest mistakes, they are likely to play it safe and stay very close to well-established, tried-and-true solutions. (p. 165)

While followers must be held accountable, creating a no-fail culture will severely cut down on innovation and growth.

These principles presented by Kouzes and Posner (2006), Thomas (2009), and the path-goal theory are also reflected in the transformational leadership model.  Specifically, intellectual stimulation, one of the four factors of transformational leadership, involves supporting “…followers as they try new approaches and develop innovative ways of dealing with organizational issues” (Northouse, 2010, p. 179).

Finally, in addition to having the courage to take risks and cultivating this same courage in others, it is also important for leaders to take the time to celebrate success.

[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.
  • 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.
  • Thomas, K.W. (2009).  Intrinsic motivation at work: What really drives employee engagement. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler.

Thanksgiving Leadership Lessons

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we at Inta-Great hope you had a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, and maybe even some time to relax and rejuvenate.

We also hope you had some time over the holiday vacation to reflect on what and who you are thankful for—in both your personal and work life.  So here’s our question, did you let anyone know what you are thankful for?  Did you let anyone know you are thankful for him/her?

Thanksgiving serves as a good reminder about how important it is to express gratitude.  Good leaders are appreciative.  They understand that an encouraging word and a sincere “thank you” can help motivate others and create a positive work environment.  After thirty years of research,leadership experts Kouzes and Posner concluded in their latest book, The Truth About Leadership, that:

“the highest performing managers and leaders are the most open and caring…They are more positive and passionate, more loving and compassionate, and more grateful and encouraging than their lower performing counterparts.” 

Why does being grateful and encouraging make such a difference?  It’s quite simple really.  We all work harder and smarter for people we like, and we tend to like people who appreciate and encourage us.  This is often clear in our personal lives.  Most of us would not settle for a spouse or significant other who did not appreciate our efforts or encourage our personal development—and the data shows us that most of us will not settle for a boss who does not appreciate our efforts or encourage our personal development either.  A Gallup poll of more one million employed U.S. workers concluded that the number one reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor.  And, a separate study by Florida State University found one of the main reasons someone is labeled as a “bad boss” is for “failing to give credit where credit is due.”

Not only do people work harder for bosses they like, they are also more willing to take smart risks.  Recently, we wrote an article about the importance of courage and risk-taking when it comes to leadership.  As a leader and manager, you should strive to cultivate leaders at all levels of your organization, and this means giving employees the freedom to take risks.  Innovation will not take place if your employees are afraid to leave their comfort zone.  Knowing they work for a positive and encouraging boss makes employees feel safe enough to be courageous and innovative.

That is why it so important for leaders to not only be appreciative, but to express their gratitude as well.  Don’t let this overwhelm you.  Expressing gratitude doesn’t mean you have to develop a new, complex HR policy about employee recognition, it just means you have to say “Thank you.  Kouzes and Posner put it this way, “recognitions don’t need to come in the form of elaborate events or expensive awards.  In fact, the more personal they are, the more impact they can have.”

So, if you haven’t already, take a moment and reflect on who and what you are thankful for this year.  Maybe you’re thankful for the many ways your spouse has supported you this year.  Maybe you’re thankful for how your employee managed that high profile project.  Maybe you’re thankful for the dedication and loyalty someone has shown to the organization.  Perhaps you’re thankful for someone’s positive attitude and enthusiasm   Maybe it’s even something “little” like everyone pitching in to keep the office kitchen clean.

Then, once you’ve identified who and what you’re thankful for, let them know it.  Send them an email.  Add a personalized thank you note to those Christmas/Holiday cards you hand out every year.  Or better yet, tell them in person.  For many leaders, end-of-year or mid-year employee performance reviews are coming up—those are great opportunities to let your employees know you appreciate them.  In the end, we promise you’ll be thankful that you did. 

Referenced Works:

  • Kouzes, J.M. and B. Z. Posner. (2010). The truth about leadership: The no-fads, heart-of-the-matter facts you need to know. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Courage, Failure, & Leadership

cour·age
noun \ˈkər-ij, ˈkə-rij\
Definition of COURAGE
: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
–  Definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When it comes to defining courage, the key phrase is: “and withstand.”  Courage is not about fearlessness.  It is about being afraid and moving forward anyway.  It is about pursuing a passion—a purpose—that is greater than one’s fear.

In his book, Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley identifies courage as one of the “five essentials for those who will shape the future.”  I’ve struggled with this emphasis on courage because courage seemed to be more of a personality trait than a skill.  And, requiring a leader to have a certain personality trait reminded me of the outdated “Great Man” leadership theories.  These theories essentially said that leaders are born, not made, and all great leaders share a certain set of personality traits.  Contrastingly, at Inta-Great, we subscribe to the transformational and serving leadership theories—theories that focus on skills and competencies leaders can learn and develop.

However, after moving along in my leadership journey, and watching others on theirs, I have come to realize that Andy Stanley is right.  Courage is essential to leadership.  But what I have also come to realize is that courage is less of a personality trait you are born with and more of an attitude that is cultivated.  [Look for another post about how to cultivate courage in the near future.]

So, why is courage so important to leadership?  As it was defined earlier, courage involves persevering in the face of “danger, fear, or difficulty.”  Danger, fear, and difficulty tend to result from ambiguity and uncertainness about the future.  And, if there is one area leaders specialize in, it is ambiguity and uncertainty.  At Inta-Great we define leadership as, “A service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences a group of individuals toward a common purpose.”  One of the key words in this definition is “change.”

Leaders influence change toward a common purpose.  Change is inherently difficult, and sometimes frightening.  It involves leaving the realm of “what is” for “what could be.”  Leaders are not content to relax, put their feet up, and pat themselves on the back.  Instead, they are leaning forward, looking toward the future, and thinking about how things could be even better—and yet, thinking about it is not enough.

How many people at your workplace have opinions about what should change in the organization?  Probably a lot.  Most people have ideas about how communication could be improved, what new products should be developed, what management should be doing, etc.  But, they are not doing anything about it.  Contrastingly, leaders at all levels are those who not only see the opportunities, but seize the opportunities—taking steps toward making change happen despite the inherent risk and uncertainty.  This requires courage.

Sometimes taking the risk pays off.  The leader is successful and achieves what he or she sets out to achieve.  And, in some ways this is what one is taught when studying leadership.  If you follow this approach—if you utilize these essentials of leadership, or these four factors of transformational leadership, etc.—you will be successful.  But sometimes this doesn’t happen.  Sometimes a leader will do everything right—cast a great vision for the future, empower those around him or her, etc.—and he or she will fail.  What happens then?

Recently, my mentor, a successful and engaging woman, set out on a new path.  She felt led to pursue what many called an impossible goal.  She knew it was going to be an uphill battle, but her vision of what could be and her passion to serve others gave her the courage to try anyway.  And try she did.  She gave 110%, made some great progress, inspired many along her way, but in the end, she failed.  She did not achieve her goal.

So once again, she, and other leaders who have failed or will fail, must tap into the power of courage.  This time, courage will be needed to pick oneself up, identify one’s next goal, and begin working toward it.  As Mary Anne Radmacher has said, “Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

While everyone needs time to “lick their wounds” so to speak, leaders refuse to let failure define them.  Instead, they use it to strengthen them.  Leaders know that failures are great learning opportunities.  They know that failure experiences are hard, but they help the leader cultivate wisdom for next time.  Sometimes failure is a necessary perquisite for success.  This is the risk the leader is willing to take.

Why is the leader willing to take such a risk?  As we’ve already discussed, the passion and purpose the leader is pursuing is a strong motivator.  But, there is something else.  The best leaders understand that failure, while it hurts in the moment, is a passing thing.  Regret is not.  The regret that comes from not trying—from missed opportunities—can last a lifetime.  So, even more than failure, leaders fear regret.  They understand the adage, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”

So, while my mentor may not have achieved her goal, she can rest in knowing that tomorrow, or next month, or next year, or twenty years from now, she will never have to look back at her life and wonder “What if…”  “What if I would have taken that risk?”  “What if I would have left my comfort zone?”  Instead, she will know that she worked hard, made a lot of progress, inspired many individuals, and paved the way for those who will come after her.

And now, in some ways she has an even bigger opportunity than those who achieve their goals—for it is during times of trial and darkness that one’s true character really shines.  By refusing to let this experience define her, she will go on to impact even more.  I know for me, she remains a source of inspiration and a great lesson in courage and leadership.  Finally, it is my hope, that others will be inspired by her story to act courageously.  For as we have seen, courage is essential to leadership. 

-Written by Valerie Faust, Director of Blossom & Flourish and Training & Development Consultant

Animated Leadership Lessons

Here’s a creative article filled with leadership lessons! Who knew there were so many hidden gems in some of our kids’ favorite animated movies?

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?    

Explore. Dream. Discover.

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain

What are the things you keep putting off today to do tomorrow instead? What risks have you been avoiding?

Words of Wisdom from My Coffee Mug

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Words of Wisdom from My Coffee Mug

One of our favorite coffee mugs at Inta-Great! Some great words of wisdom.