In the midst of chaos, the unfolding pandemic, poor decisions on warnings and emergency management, the world  can seem like it is literally coming to an end as we know it.

It is soooo easy to get swept up with screen time being 67% up from last week (ahemm….), checking on Twitter and news sites to see what is actually going on, and trying to make those everyday decisions how to decrease your and your family’s exposure to the virus.

Yet, some are already pointing out that for those of us who are lucky enough to stay healthy, and have an opportunity to at least to do some remote work, there are increasing alternative strategies for interaction, innovation and finding time to reflect on some of our core assumptions and activities that we thought were constant.

In this new world that is unfolding in front of our eyes, we should also consider in those quiet moments of reflection to re-visit what our purpose looks like.


Stepping back can reveal something we didn’t know

Continuing with the theme on Rehumanizing Leadership, there are multiple ways to think about first of all what purpose is.

There is a real difference between vision and purpose:

Vision is really internally focused, but purpose is external. It forces you to ask the question from the perspective of the clients and society about what’s in it for them” (p. 200).

And this is the essence of purpose: it should be a driving force of your actions and operations and clear enough to be able to be useful for outsiders to see why you do what you do:

“Organisational purpose can actually be so aspirational that it is tied to nation building and, at the same time, be tangible enough to drive key decisions” (p. 199).

Once we have a clear set of purpose, we can evaluate opportunities, identify which directions support our purpose, and also be more clear also with ourselves what we are even trying to achieve and which steps are helpful in that journey.

Purpose does not have to be big leaps: purpose can be the backbone, the driving factor behind your thoughts and actions, the sun that enables you to have energy to produce energy.

As my friend Dave Stachowiak (who is btw the greatest leadership podcaster ever) says: it is all about movement and moving forward, and in that process any movement should be celebrated.

Because movement is about courage, movement is about commitment and making sure that even when times are insane (like now), we can still find ways to keep going even if this calls at times us to even re-evaluate our purpose.

So not having to rush to physical meetings at the moment, well not being even able to, we do have more control over our time, and we can create spaces to reflect on how our lives have suddenly changed, and whether indeed there are new shades in our purpose that can only emerge now.


Key steps in thinking and defining purpose 

There are several tips and key steps when we start thinking about our purpose.

These eight aspects remain key:

  1. It states why you exist, what you exist to do and your reason for being. 
  2. It clarifies your unique value. 
  3. It states what need you are filling, what is unique to you. 
  4. It states what  you are being “called upon” to do. 
  5. It defines the boundaries of your playing field; what business you choose to be in.
  6. It can describe whom you serve. 
  7. It can articulate what is unique about your methods. 
  8. It represents the part of  your organisations (group’s or team’s) essence that is always true, regardless of any particular vision for the future. (p. 194-195)

These all ring very true to me at the moment, both at an individual level as to why I am in the career I am in, but also for the groups I work with on Adaptation Science for example at Griffith University.

We had recently a Zoom meeting where we pondered this exactly as we were talking about different opportunities for research funding and collaborations, and which ones we should pursue, why and how we decide where to be heading.

And this came even more clear to me: if there is no strongly set shared purpose, it is difficult to see which steps and opportunities are the right ones, and which truly move us towards the direction that our purpose sets for us.

Building purpose should be a shared process and seen as “a single storyline that helps people see how they fit into the bigger picture” (p. 192).

As academics, our purpose is to develop new knowledge and engage the next generation of thinkers to create a society that thrives.

Such purpose can mean however so many different things because the way our own values, aspirations and life and career goals interact adds another layer of complexity.

But if we are clear and transparent even that we are struggling to find our own individual purpose, this can also open up an opportunity for sharing what a purpose can or could look like also for the team or the organisation.

Having such open transparent conversations enables us to see each other in a different light, learn about each other in a way that often doesn’t happen in busy corridors and faculty meetings, and also hopefully inspire for us to also re-think our own purpose.


Going from big purpose to current

Much of this can sound overwhelming especially now when there is so much uncertainty around us about what we can do with new restrictions on our movements, asked put our lives suddenly almost fully online, and trying to manage our households to the best of our ability.

I’ve got a 5-year-old and I can say that my focus will be split over the next few months on balancing just everyday routines, and trying to support him and myself in finding routines that work for us and keep us happy and going.

So if you feel like this is not a time for finding your purpose, I fully get you!

However, if you do have some headspace and quiet moments, or even during routine work, these 4 questions could be worthwhile to think about:

  1. What are your personal aspirations? 
  2. What are your passions? 
  3. What are your unique skills and abilities? 
  4. What is most important to you? (p. 175)

But during these crises, many of these questions might seem a luxury especially as we don’t know how long these crises will last, what measures are, will or won’t be in place 6-months down the line.

Perhaps our “purpose” is now quite different than it was a week or two ago.

But this does not mean we cannot do anything.

On the contrary, we can adapt the best we can to these evolving situations, and find our purpose in the midst of chaos, change and turmoil.

Who knows what will come out of these challenges, a new fresh purpose perhaps?