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Four steps to help your team members find purpose


The Art of Leadership Newsletter

As we continue navigating our way through the COVID pandemic, leaders need to ensure that focus on the future remains clear. This is critical for not only teams and businesses as a whole, but for individuals, ensuring that their drive and engagement remains optimal. One way to support this as a leader to is to ensure that your team members have clear purpose.  

In this month’s lead piece, our Head of Coaching & Mentoring, Richard Clarke, offers some perspectives that might help you and your people gain clarity on purpose as an anchor during this continuing uncertain period. 


Four steps to help your team members find purpose

Helping team members find their sense of purpose could well be the single most important action you could be taking as a leader in the current climate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been highly challenging, forcing change and compromise in work and home life for most people on the planet. Understandably, it has also been taking a toll on levels of engagement and wellbeing. Amidst all of this, a sense of personal purpose seems to be rising in importance.

For example, in a study involving 55 different organisations, we asked respondents to rank the key drivers of workplace engagement according to importance. At the top of the rankings was: “having meaning and purpose”.

An even more extensive study by McKinsey earlier this year found that people who say they are living their purpose at work report five times higher levels of wellbeing and are four times more likely to have higher engagement levels than those who are not.

Their evidence also shows that individual purpose benefits organisations through improving employee experience, engagement, organisational commitment, productivity, and profitability.

Given the significance of individual purpose, the natural question to ask is, “How do you find your purpose?” However, according to author John Coleman, that might be the wrong question. He writes, “We should be looking to endow everything we do with purpose, to allow for the multiple sources of meaning that will naturally develop in our lives, and to be comfortable with those changing over time.”

Consider Julian (not his real name), a partner with a multi-national professional services firm. After achieving the significant career milestone of promotion to partner two years ago he had felt increasingly disengaged and unclear what he was striving for both in a professional and personal sense.

He engaged me as a coach to help him discover his purpose and use this to guide the next stage of his career development. Firstly, we discussed his reaction to his promotion to partner which had been a significant life event. For most of his career he had dreamed of this day and worked tirelessly towards achieving the goal, but when reached had realised that this was just another rung on an ever-extending corporate career ladder.

We initially worked to acknowledge the significance of his promotion and the clarity it had given him that this was not the end game for him. It had served to provide purpose up until now, but he was now at a life stage where he needed more.

Todd Kashdan, Social Psychologist, academic and best-selling author on the subject, defines purpose as having three core elements: an enduring aim or intention, something of consequence beyond the self and, a pathway toward meaning in life.

Kashdan’s research indicates three ways to develop purpose: proactive effort, reaction to significant life events and social learning. The proactive approach to seeking purpose involves effort over time, gradual refinement, and clarification.

A reactive purpose is formed in response to a significant life changing event such as job loss, death in the family, or systemic crisis such as the current pandemic, which adds clarity to a person’s life.

Third is social learning, which involves forming purpose through observation, imitation and modelling.

Like our DNA, each person’s purpose is unique. Coaching conversations using appreciative inquiry are a practical way to help your team members discover their purpose.

Here are four steps to follow to help someone articulate a meaningful sense of purpose:


Step 1: Find the Bright Spots

Discover the best of what is now, identify strengths and conditions for when your team member feels at their best.


Step 2: Visualise Success

Have them dream of what life looks like at a point in the future if everything turns out the best way possible and they are operating at their very best at work and in life.


Step 3: Design the Pathway Toward Success

Help them design goals and a pathway consisting of incremental steps on a ladder leading towards the ideal future self, consider potential obstacles and resources which can provide agency.


Step 4: Embed the Daily Habits

Support them to identify and develop daily habits which will build and sustain progress towards the destination, and leverage the reinforcing neurological feedback loop of cue, routine and reward.


Kira Newman, Managing Editor at the Greater Good Science Center, echoing the thoughts of John Coleman says, purpose isn’t something we find but rather something we cultivate through deliberate action and reflection that will evolve throughout our lives.

Right now, amid the most significant social, economic and health crisis of our lifetime, having clarity of purpose has never been more important.

About the Author:
Richard Clarke is a leadership coach and the Head of Coaching & Mentoring at SMG. Richard has a passion for helping people find purpose and perspective to unlock their full potential. 

What’s On


Perspectives on Leadership for Women

Coming to Brisbane, this two day workshop for female leaders, focusing on resilience, leadership presence & communication and managing change & complexity, and includes two dedicated coaching sessions, is not to be missed.

23 October & 27 November 2020


Executive Presence and Impact Workshop with Peter Kingston – In Person 

Following strict COVID safe guidelines, we will be running our popular Executive Presence and Impact Program in Sydney.

Peter’s ability to engage with his audience and personally encourage participants to step out of their comfort zone and challenge the way they present themselves, makes this a program not-to-be-missed.

SYDNEY: 12th November 2020

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Explore our new virtual resources and programs to support leaders through COVID-19
The dramatic impacts of COVID-19 on organisations and their people has meant that leaders have had to find a new level of agility and adaptability.

Our COVID-19 resources including dedicated Webinars, Downloadable Resources, One-on-One and Team Virtual Programs have been specifically developed to help you and your organisation meet changing needs.

Explore our new virtual resources to support leaders through COVID-19

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