A Coaching Power Tool Created by Mark Bishop
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
This power tool explores the difference between focusing on a position within an organization and focusing on your client’s purpose or passion. Coaches can use these terms when working with clients in professional environments or career planning scenarios. We spend an inordinate amount of time in our working environment, for most adults it amounts to more than 13 years, and change jobs an average of 12 times. With that much significance on our working environment, it pays to focus on what makes us happy at work and try to maximize that feeling, as much as we can over those 13 years!
In leadership coaching, we are not only focused on the leader as an individual but on their effectiveness in leading others to successful outcomes. Research shows that employees are happier and more productive when they are led by managers who have a clear sense of purpose. This research also reveals that only 20% of managers consider themselves purposeful leaders. [Forbes – Krapivin]
When a client focuses on attaining a position or title in an organization without giving careful consideration to their purpose, it can lead to dissatisfaction, underperformance, and burnout. This power tool focuses on helping the client understand their purpose first to decide which positions and roles might be the most rewarding.
In many organizations, there is a strong priority placed on positions of authority and influence. These are often measured by the team’s size, the budget managed, and other visible gauges. The status of a leader is often incorrectly measured by these criteria. The larger the group, budget, or office, the greater the leader is thought to be. These are inaccurate measures of effective leadership. It is this perception that often drives individuals to seek these positions, even though attaining these roles may not bring fulfillment.
I have seen this many times in my years in Human Resources; the desire for a job title, an office, or to manage more people drives decisions and actions that are not necessarily consistent with the client’s purpose. This tension begins to create dissatisfaction and discontent, which often leads to poor performance or disengagement. As a coach, do not underestimate the drive for these trappings and how much this can influence the client’s decisions. I have worked with many leaders that do not feel joy or excitement in dealing with large teams, yet they hold onto these teams with a fierce grip.
Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and current professor at Harvard Business School, says
“Before anyone takes on a leadership role, they should ask themselves, ‘Why do I want to lead?’ and ‘What’s the purpose of my leadership?'”
According to George, if the answer to those questions lies in power, prestige, and position, there is a risk that internal desires and purpose may go unsatisfied. He believes that while these are not inherently wrong with these objectives so long as they are tied back to the individual’s inner purpose.
Many clients don’t really consider the difference between purpose and position. Let’s look at the two:
The position is what a person does and not why they do it.
- Positions exist within an organization to give clarity on the individual's responsibilities
- The position is often associated with levels of authority and autonomy
- It is not uncommon for individuals to confuse leadership with positional authority
- The position is what you do.
Focusing on a position, title, or level within an organization is a common ambition for many people in the business world. Positions are often equated to success through influence and authority in an organization. Many times, individuals focus on a title, such as a Manager, Director, or Vice President, without fully understanding the full responsibilities of these roles. Often, these roles come with unwanted duties and obligations.
- Passion is what makes you happy – it's the visible side of Purpose
- The purpose is what you care about – it is the basis for authentic leadership
- Your purpose is your why!
- Your purpose is who you are.
A client shouldn’t think of their purpose as immutable. A client’s purpose can change and be impacted by circumstances, like a global pandemic, or public protests. Purpose changes over time and under differing circumstances. Helping the client understand their purpose, what brings them joy, what they enjoy about their profession, can give them a solid foundation for pursuing work and activities that will be more rewarding.
Clients should be encouraged to explore their motivations and understand the cost of their ambitions. It takes a considerable amount of exploration and reflection to break through to defining a genuine purpose.
Some questions that may help:
- What activities give you the greatest satisfaction?
- What is it about these satisfying activities?
- When do you feel the most achievement in your role?
- What aspects of your role is the least satisfying?
- What is it about these unsatisfying aspects?
- What activities are you longing to do but don't experience in your current situation?
- What impact do you want to have in the organization?
- What is it about managing and leading people that interests you?
- How do you feel when you have to deal with the complexity of humans working together and the conflicts that can arise?
- Why do you want to have responsibility for a financial element such as a sales target or operational budget?
- Where in your life do you experience wonder and awe?
- What do you feel truly grateful for? How might you pay it forward?
Another helpful activity is to work with the client to define a purpose statement. This is a brief written description of the client’s purpose that can be used for periodic reflection, for guiding decisions, and for grounding the client’s ambitions. Keeping this nearby, your client can refer to this when making decisions. It can also be revisited when circumstances change or life events occur that might influence the client’s outlook on their purpose. Explore with the client the meaningful moments in their lives that continue to inspire them, that fulfill them, that give them delight.
Getting to understand purpose can be done on a micro basis – exploring activities, accomplishments, and behaviors that the client enjoys and finds rewarding, then reflecting on why these activities bring joy and how to translate that into purpose.
It can also be done on a macro basis – exploring seminal moments in the client’s life that define who they are and what they enjoy. Similarly, this can be translated into defining the client’s purpose.
As noted early in this power tool, the desire for a certain position in an organization can be a false trail to professional happiness and engagement. However, for most clients, it can be a highly rewarding outcome to discover and define the client’s purpose to guide career ambitions. The client may have the same ambitions; however, the basis for them becomes clearer. In some cases, the client may recognize their ambitions have been misplaced. In either case, knowing their purpose enables the client to begin translating it into excelling in their position.
Having a clearer purpose can also have positive effects on the organization as well.
This is where purpose comes in. Simply put, having a sense of purpose in your job means that you feel that your work makes positive contributions to the world, beyond earning yourself a paycheck or improving your company’s bottom line—you feel a commitment to something bigger than yourself. Mindfulness.org
And one study has suggested that having a sense of purpose can literally add years to your life!
Jon M. Jachimowicz, October 2019.“3 Reasons it’s So Hard to Follow Your Passion”. Harvard Business Review
Bill George, June 2011. “Why Leaders Lose Their Way”. Harvard Business Review website.
Pavel Krapivin, January 2019. “The Financial Value Of Having A Purpose In Your Life”. Forbes
Brad Wolfe, March 2015. “Can Higher Purpose Help Your Team Survive and Thrive?
A conversation with Twitter’s Niki Lustig about how the social media giant fosters a sense of purpose among their employees.” Midful.org
Neil Si-Jia Zhang, August 2014. “Can Purpose Keep You Alive?” Greater Good Magazine, Greatergood.berckley.edu