Practical Approaches to Maintain Purpose
In this post, Alessandra Wulf explores some of the approaches founders of social enterprises can take as they endeavour to maintain purpose and make a difference in the world.
Organisational growth is stressful and can run the risk of derailing a leader’s sense of purpose. However, the external threats can be seen in a more productive light. By adopting this adapted way of thinking, leaders may have a higher chance of staying true to themselves, and remaining authentic and connected to the values and vision which motivates them: their purpose.
1. Reduce the Threats
External threats on purpose can include dependency on external financiers, increased competition, lack of internal talent, and the increased administration and red tape that are consistently reported as leeches to precious time, money and energy. But that does not mean that they need to be showstoppers. Some ways around these threats are to foster independent financing models to reduce dependency on external financiers. Alliances or partnerships are also helpful in increasing available talent pools while reducing competition. As one of my directors used to say, “The best way to kill your competition is to engage in a contract with them and create fair rules of play”.
If plausible, leapfrog the immediate desire to react to the issues or strains and consider how design thinking could be adopted to treat the threat as a scenario to be innovatively explored. Thinking strategically, and with others, about long term approaches and solutions may be more effective than a knee jerk reaction to short-term pain.
2. Stop and Listen
It is often the case that our strengths become our weaknesses, but it is hard to see this when we are always on the move and under pressure. Reflection, done the right way, without self-judgement, helps us to see how we are in ourselves and with others. We don’t need to find a mountain top in Tibet to learn the art of reflection and mindfulness. Observation of the mind can be found in everyday modern activities.
Meaninglessly watching the trees flicker past on the train ride to work, hanging up the laundry, watching that native bird fluff its feathers in the birdbath, or chopping a carrot can be just as effective. Help yourself along with questions like “What are my thoughts? Where are they coming from? How do I feel about them? Why do I feel that way?” Listen to the story that your mind, emotions and body are telling you. Then, state your purpose, over and over again, embedding it with truth and conviction, to yourself and others.
The key is having a significant amount of time to the activity (at least an hour), for it to be relatively mindless so the mind can drift to self-observation and for it to be undisturbed by others. Create this space, protect it and repeat it as often as you can.
3. Be Wary of Expectations
Purpose is a loaded word with many different meanings. Leaders with purpose are said to be good. There is also the claim that purpose brings happiness, and so we expect happiness when acting on our purpose. Newsflash – this is not the case. It is counterproductive to sit in a place of suffering or feel that you do not live up to the expectations upon yourself or the purpose you create.
So, it is important to create space for yourself to reflect on expectations. If they are in a healthy or unproductive space, determine what you can do to dig yourself out of suffering, if that may be the case. Satisfy the needs that are simply important to you. This may mean not compromising on quality time with family, a hobby or something else you enjoy.
4. Loosen the Grip
Should you hold onto your purpose or let go of it? Which one is it? Well, it depends if the impact is either helping or hindering you. Hopefully, self-awareness brings light to how you feel about your purpose. In the act of reflection, listen for thoughts and verbal expressions like “it feels like it is one hurdle after another”, “the only way to fix it is to do ‘x’”, and “if I just work harder at this I’ll get there”. There is no point flogging a dead horse. The frustration of being too wedded to an idea or path is a key indicator that that road may be closed. Allow the emotion of frustration to signal the need to step back and gain perspective on whether the purpose is well-positioned or if there are alternate pathways to explore.
5. Show and Tell
If you feel like your purpose is beginning to dwindle, reignite it in the presence of others. Talk about what your purpose is, how it lives in the work that you do, what the challenges are, and despite all of that, the positive impact you are making. Choose supportive and curious communities who value these insights This is an important activity because it adds fuel to the fire that motivates you and challenges you to rethink what it is and how you go about staying true to it.
And if familiar communities or people, like mentors, feel that you are straying from your purpose, they will hold you accountable to it by calling it back as a reminder to you.
It is difficult to conclude with absolute certainty that one path will work for everyone. We have seen that for most the journey can be frustrating, lonely and confusing.,When pulled between interests which are equally important: growth or purpose, we can realise that the perception of polarity between purpose and organisational growth is self-constructed, and so, whilst it can hold us prisoner, it can also be changed within ourselves. We can renounce dogmatic demands and accept evolution more liberally, we can confront the model of organisation growth as the traditional path to scale, we can alter the words of our purpose whilst retaining its essence. We can change the world around us by changing the way we accept it and think about it.
When it comes to maintaining purpose, not losing sight of your vision and goals is much easier when your organisation is running smoothly. And what’s a better way to take care of your day-to-day operations than with the help of others? We take care of all the digging and scrolling so that you don’t have to. Sign up for a membership today and have any and all relevant opportunities presented to you on a (virtual) silber platter. It’s really that easy!
Image by Tommy Chandra