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Doing Well on Purpose by Ken Perry

Updated: Jul 28, 2021

It seems like “Purpose” is the new leadership thing. For me and everyone at Do-Well, this has been the cornerstone of our work since we set up in 2014.

It’s an interesting time for a debate around purpose work as consultancy practices of all sizes are setting up teams to help organisations find their purpose and examine different approaches, and this is something I welcome.

It’s been a valuable prompt for me and the band to think about the work we have been doing to help people, places and organisations find their “why” and how we have shaped our approach over the last six years.

Leadership vs management

In every organisation there is a need for both - operationally an organisation isn’t able to thrive without good, effective management.

In management development we are trained around the importance of knowing, what, when, how and who. These are all skills and behaviours attributed to great managers and, in management positions, we can set up systems and develop organisations to ensure compliance.

There is no doubt that this is hard and complex work in the management space, but leadership is different.

Leadership is about being able to articulate a compelling vision, which can be difficult when we are unsure of our “why”.

Leadership is also about building commitment. This can be beyond organisations, across systems, organisations and places and therefore beyond the usual controls. Building commitment requires being able to articulate why something matters to you and why it should matter to me - this is the essence of purpose.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that most of us do not allow ourselves the time or invest in the support to enable us to think deeply about what matters to us. Why is that?

There can be a temptation to talk about what matters to you or to those within your teams without going that step further to understand this.

I believe that without being able to say why something matters to you, it won’t connect with the people you are trying to influence.

Worse still, if you don’t say why something matters, it is likely that those you’re seeking to influence will fill the gap for you and you may not like the assumptions they make!

This could leave you feeling frustrated, but ultimately if you leave the space, it’s important to accept that others might fill it for you.

The leader’s role

A leader is anyone called/moved to act and is not always implied by positional power.

I believe that it is the leader’s role to say what matters to them – purpose - yet to motivate people to act - leadership – you need to explain why! When was the last time you stopped to think about your purpose or to share it with others?

Often, we assume people will just know, or don’t give it much thought, we unveil the new “purpose statement” to a deathly silence and wonder why.

If you don’t think deeply about why something matters to you, hold it open for challenge, engagement and reframing you are probably not doing well on purpose.

Doing the work to be completely mindful will create something that engages and most importantly, mobilises people.

Purposeful leadership

Our work on purposeful leadership is influenced by Professor Marshall Ganz, Professor Keith Grint, Dr Thomas Horan and Simon Sinek. Through this, and from our own practice, we believe any purpose must be bigger than you, otherwise it’s a mission statement, which is often about self or an organisation.

For me, purpose is about something bigger, a calling. To end an injustice or build on, or create, a good.

Finding out why this matters to you can’t be extracted on your own or through some form of psychometric testing.

At Do-Well we believe it is crafted through practices like conversation, framing / reframing, assumption surfacing, problem definition and enabled reflection.

Curious and compassionate conversations

Conversations need to be curious and compassionate but challenging on things like data and evidence.

You may have a belief narrative already, but for it to be robust and ready for others to follow, it needs to contain some evidence, passion and practicality about it.

Daniel Ash tells us in his work around public space that we have often forgotten about conversation and go straight to debate. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that telling someone they are wrong doesn’t build much of an alliance.

Staying in the conversation space for longer, deeply understanding what you know, feel and are maybe already doing about your passion fits perfectly with systems leadership theory.

Building trust

Going slowly at the beginning, being open and transparent about hopes and fears builds trust, as does vulnerability about your cause. We know that values and showing vulnerability connects us at the most human level.

Over the last six years, I have found through my work with Do-Well that purpose defined well creates the narrative to enable mission, vision, values and organisational development to work together as one. It helps to build a shared purpose, one that is clear for others to sign up to, it is outcome focussed.

You can’t buy this off the shelf. It is not marketing, sales, communications or PR, it comes from within you through deep thinking and it’s important to have a professional friend that will help and challenge you along the way.

So far, Do-Well has helped over 300 people from all over the UK, from all sectors and walks of life to find and mobilise around their purpose using our bespoke approach.

It’s what we are passionate about because we see the positive difference doing well on purpose makes to lives every day.

It enables people, places and organisations to achieve long term, sustainable change, and it all starts with a good conversation – if you’re ready to explore what really matters to you and why or would be interested in hearing more about our approach or the work we do at Do-Well please do get in touch, the kettle is always on.

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