One of the more difficult questions I am asked is about purpose. As much as we maintain a level of professionalism (let’s hope!) in our work, a depth of connection can form and considerations about the point of life emerge. Purpose is one of those topics. Am I doing what I should be?
What a mark of trust to be asked this! As the hearer of the question, take a moment to first acknowledge the vulnerability and willingness. Expressions of gratitude are appropriate to share. When someone determines that you are worthy of being asked such a deeply personal question, it is only right to respond with appreciation. The deposits that have been made into this relationship have caused respect to flourish, and now, it’s being expressed.
Tread carefully in the response to a question like this. Pay close attention to what’s being asked. Sometimes, the question isn’t as direct as “What’s my purpose?” but rather one that’s disguised in questions about performance, fit and advancement. As people, we desire to know that we matter, that our efforts matter and that others are benefitting from our contribution. Even those folks who seem to thrive on irritating others often use that tactic to deflect as a defense mechanism to their own insecurity of purpose.
One mistake regularly made is to respond to such questions with a generalized answer. “Oh, you’re doing fine” or “Don’t worry about that. No one is complaining” are not the confidence producing responses that will meet the vulnerability expressed initially. Frankly, it could very well lead to that person pulling back in future interactions. When someone is looking for validation and we meet it with a thoughtless answer, it’s more damaging than not responding at all. Think about an answer.
If you’re not sure how to respond, then share that. It’s okay to be unsure of all that they are asking; just share that. Maybe you can share that you are grateful that they’ve asked this of you. Maybe you can offer some initial thoughts around what you know. But, if you sense that the person is asking more than what you can comment on, then ask for clarity. Over-inflating a response is not a right response either. Vulnerability should be met with honesty.
Is this too much for you? Perhaps you’re reading this thinking that Baldino has finally snapped into Touchy-Feely World.
We’re in an economy of purpose. “An organization’s culture of purpose answers the critical questions of who it is and why it exists. They have a culture of purpose beyond making a profit. An organization’s culture of purpose answers the critical questions of who we are and why we exist through a set of carefully articulated core beliefs. A culture of purpose guides behavior, influences strategy, transcends leaders–and endures” (Punit Renjen, Deloitte Global CEO, 2014). For the last five years, as the truth of this has permeated our markets, some companies have avoided it.
People want to know how they fit into the grand scheme. The values of an organization mean something more than pithy wishes or marketable phrases. Those values translate into how people find purpose in the work they do. They want to believe that the work done brings value to the organization and to the clientele supported. Existence is vitally connected to work; how does what I do enrich or enhance the lives of those around me?
Approach questions of purpose gingerly, but willingly. Let staff know that such consideration is normal. We want to know that we have a purpose to our lives. Purpose acts as a cement for excellence in work.