The purpose of purpose


I have a disclaimer: I may be allergic to Purpose. I’m certainly bored by the word’s ubiquity, and irritated by the notion that Purpose is now yet another thing I need to add to an ever growing list. I’m also deeply averse to the (curiously widespread) notion that, once you’ve got it down in a neat statement, you’re all done.  

But for all the noise about Purpose, and for all that it brings me out in eye-rolling derision, I’m not bored of being purposeful. Or of being clear about what drives you. In fact, I believe clarity of intent is hugely valuable to figure out what you really, deeply care about.

That clarity can help you be more intentional in your decision-making, both personally and within the organisation. Articulating it can help you grasp opportunities – and ally with others to capitalise on your collective agency. Acting on it can bring you greater fulfilment, simply by doing what drives you and gives you energy. And knowing who you are and (broadly) where you’re going builds trust both among others and within yourself. It may not be easy, and you won’t escape messy conversations (you may have even more of them), but you’re more likely to come away feeling you’ve been true to your authentic self. And that in turn can save you energy and build resilience.

Inevitably, I learned this the hard way when things went somewhat awry for me. And I suspect that’s true of many of us. It’s often when we lack, or lose, our sense of purpose that we realise just how handy it is to have.

When I started my business I did so with a clear intention. I wanted to create cultures in which people could show up as adults so they could get stuff done with more clarity, ease, and speed. This was a serious mission. So I sought the opinions of kind people around me. So far, so sensible – had I not then folded their multiple purposes in with my own until Chirp became a muddle of everyone and no one, everything and nothing.

Clearly, that was my error, not theirs. And although all the stuff in the mix was great, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It wasn’t what I felt passionate about, and driven to deliver even against the odds. Worse still, there was no clarity of intent – which made my job even harder. Happily for me, a series of conversations helped me remember and relocate my own path. And, although stepping back onto it required several sharp intakes of breath, the moment I did so things began to change. Building my business was still hard work, but suddenly my ideas had traction.

So for all of my cynicism about purpose and how it’s endlessly bandied about, having clarity of intent changed everything. Including, luckily, the fortunes of my business. I could now talk about the business, and why it mattered. And connect with others who felt the same. Again, it still wasn't easy. But it was right.

I think that the purpose of purpose is not to develop a beautifully crafted statement. Rather, it’s to locate what really matters to you and then to be clear about that intent. And then to wear that as lightly or flamboyantly as feels right for you. So, however you locate it and however you phrase it, keep the purpose of purpose in mind: to make better decisions with greater ease, speed and clarity. And the purpose of that, of course, is to the live the life that’s right for you.

Voice tips for the social season 5: align intent and delivery

From intention to action. " Newton's Cradle " by Sheila Sund licenced by  CY BY 2.0 .

From intention to action. "Newton's Cradle" by Sheila Sund licenced by CY BY 2.0.

We're almost at the end of our week of voice tips, with just one more to help you make it through to Christmas. We hope they help you communicate more effectively in and out of work, both now and in the new year.

Tip 5: Align your intention with your delivery

We are most persuasive, convincing and effective when we show that we mean what we say. So don’t just tell – be. Aligning what you say with how you say it can help you deliver a clearer and more compelling message.

In essence, that means matching your tone with your meaning. It will help you imbue your words with the weight they deserve. So don’t undercut difficult messages with a nervous grin; and give grimaces a wide berth when explaining brilliant plans.

It might take a bit of effort sometimes, but you'll reap the rewards in terms of trust and confidence – both from others and within yourself.


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Why it pays to be precise

"Be precise." That was my dad's favourite phrase when I was growing up. Though infuriating at the time, it's proved to be sound advice. No one ever died from too much clarity, but lots of us have suffered the lack of it. Whether you're leading a team, collaborating with colleagues or negotiating social relationships, clarity makes everything so much easier.