Unleash Your Purpose

team of people holding raised hands with sunset behind them
Jun 25, 2020 at 12:12 pm
Debbie Stoewen, DVM, MSW, RSW, PhD

With the world essentially shut down, we are in a time of chaos. Surviving it is one thing; successfully emerging from it requires a whole different way of thinking. We need to adjust and adapt to successfully navigate this era. Key in this, however, is to remain bound by purpose.

Great leaders believe in something beyond their job, their title, and the products and services they offer. They unite their teams through a higher purpose, a shared value of why they do the work that they do. It’s in times of crisis that this is more important than ever—people want to feel like they are working toward something more important than their job description. People need to be reminded of the real reason behind their work—their purpose—and, as leaders, we must communicate the actions we’re taking because of this purpose. Purpose is what unites and elevates. It’s what brings people out of themselves to work together to co-create. Like a flagship, it sets the direction. As Chris Houston, founder of The Telosity Company, a creative management consultancy dedicated to helping leaders build and grow healthy human companies, eloquently shared in a recent webinar:

“How do we make space for doing the right thing while we’re also managing a crisis? One of the things that’s easy to forget when everything is changing is that ‘something’ isn’t at all, and that is ‘we’re still human beings.’ Despite all the worries, ‘we’re still human beings.’ And for human beings, one of the most important things is meaning. If we have meaning, we can cope with just about anything. Meaning always derives from something which is beyond us. It’s about doing something outside of ourselves, often for someone else, something bigger than ourselves, and that’s where purpose comes from. Purpose yields meaning and it yields stability, so at the very moment when a business needs to change how it does things – the marketing strategy, distribution mechanism, and how it interacts with customers – when these may radically change – what stays the same is ‘why’ it was doing it in the first place, which is its purpose. This is a time when knowing who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing is the rock, the axis around which you can pivot 180 degrees and not lose your bearings, because you’re anchored in the sense that ‘Here’s the company. I know why the company is here. Everything is changing, but I know why we’re doing what we’re doing.’ We need an anchor around purpose and a real flexibility about method.”

Purpose needs to be shared, and outside as well as inside the company, made visible with the people, companies, and organizations that we work for and with. The “what” that we do needs to be backed-up—or highlighted—by the “why.” As you discuss the challenges faced by the people, companies, and organizations you serve, stay close to what the challenges mean for them, and look for the ways you can live your purpose—and live up to your brand promise. Look for how you can be more and offer more, how you can be responsive. Whatever it is that you offer, demonstrate that you are with these people, companies, and organizations, with “We get it, we care, and we’re here for you.”

Simple, but powerful.

If you’re with a corporation

Corporations have moved beyond the mindset of Milton Friedman in his 1970 article, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits,” which, since 1997, was championed by the Business Roundtable, America’s most influential group of corporate leaders. The agreed upon principle in this mindset was, “The paramount duty of management and of boards of directors is to the corporation’s stockholders.” The interests of other stakeholders were only “relevant as a derivative of the duty to stockholders.”

Last August, the Business Roundtable released a statement on the purpose of a corporation that is radically different. It essentially rejects the theory of late economist Milton Friedman, who said seeking profits for shareholders would alone allow a company to prosper, keep people employed, and fuel the economy. Instead, it is pulling from the idea of “conscious capitalism,” which proposes that a company has a broader responsibility to society, which it can better serve if it considers all stakeholders in its business decisions. It closes with the declaration, “Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities, and our country.”

 If you’re with a corporation, are you talking about purpose—what it is that you stand for—and how you’re sharing it, when you’re sharing it, where you’re sharing it, why you’re sharing it, and with whom you’re sharing it? It’s more important than ever to be bound by purpose, and in this, unleash it.

For all of us

happy dog

Purpose can be further understood as viewed by The Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit think tank and forum for values-based leadership:

“Purpose is a firm’s vision for the value it seeks to create, and how that value is created. It defines what the corporation is and does, whom it serves and how it contributes to the well-being of society.”

Now is the time we all need to be thinking about the well-being of society and our place in it—the role that we hold, what we contribute, and the “why” that gives it meaning. It’s time to be thinking big, not small. It’s time to be thinking “we,” not “me,” and beyond this, what we’re doing to make things better. Story your purpose—with those you work with, and those you work for—with all your stakeholders. It will mean something today… and will be remembered tomorrow.

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Dr. Stoewen is a veterinarian and social worker with a PhD specializing in veterinary medical communication. She publishes in veterinary and social work journals and newsmagazines, and has given over 375 presentations internationally in the areas of veterinary wellness, veterinary-client-patient communication, teamwork, organizational culture, and leadership. She is an academic, entrepreneur, and facilitator committed to advancing the health and welfare of people and animals at the intersections of industry, academia, and civic society.

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