On Purpose: Is Yours Clear?

The importance of PURPOSE seems to be showing up all around me lately.  I see a theme, and trust you may find it as useful as I do.

Many professional venues and colleagues have been reminding me of the importance of purposefulness, in one form or another:

In a recent coaching training workshop, the central focus was on “setting the agenda” – of a single coaching session, of a coaching engagement, and even of a client’s career progression.  The session highlighted something that may sound obvious, but often gets demoted below seemingly more urgent priorities:  When the agenda of a coaching conversation – or any business meeting – is not established up front, it is extremely difficult to ascertain if the discussion is valuable, if it is even complete.  Many false starts, divergent topics, and even major misunderstandings emerge unless all parties are clear on the presented issue and the desired outcomes.

Management literature gets at purposefulness from many angles. “Strategy+Business” a journal published by Booz just had an article on the essential CEO skill called “purposeful story-telling.”  In the article, Hollywood entrepreneur and executive Peter Guber emphasized the art of story, with a clear focus on story with a purpose.  When one wants to lead, influence and attract others, communications must have crystal clear purpose.  Otherwise, they may be informative, but they are merely transactional and do not engage others and build relationship or trust.  Similarly, I recently heard David Rock, who writes about the neuroscience of leadership promote the value of “speaking with intent” – if we are not succinct and clear about our intentions, we cannot expect others to be drawn toward us and eager to collaborate.

[Guber’s new book is Tell to Win:  Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story.  David Rock’s best-selling books include Quiet Leadership and Your Brain at Work.]

Switching venues entirely…  My yoga teacher also emphasizes purposefulness.  She begins each class by asking us to silently choose an “intention” for the practice.  Rather than simply travel through the poses; do it with purpose and focus.   If you know any yogi’s, they will attest to the value of such mindfulness.

Purposefulness plays out on both an interpersonal and intrapersonal level. The example of coaching conversations is of course interpersonal, where a clear agenda moves things along productively. At the intrapersonal level, purposefulness is about focus and self-management. In both domains, when purpose is clear, other things fall into place more easily — or fall away as unimportant. Some examples of the gains attained when purpose is clarified include:

  • When a team is involved in a group effort to edit or refine a work product. By reaching agreement about the purpose of the output (and addressing disagreement head on), the group produces a higher quality product in less time, with less frustration.
  • When a trainer or facilitator spells out the learning objectives of a session up front, participants can absorb more with less distraction and apply the learning with less confusion.
  • Role clarity is an example of clear purpose. When we understand how our job fits in relative to others’ and relative to goals that are much larger than any one person, we are more engaged in our work. We approach our efforts with a powerful intentionality and confidence (just like the yoga practitioner).

Where can you be more deliberate in your work and life about clarifying purpose up front? Start with a single task or meeting. See what improves for you as a result – it may be prioritization and scheduling, relationships and meetings, or even the quality of the solutions and opportunities you generate.