Making Purpose Visible
In OnStage Leadership-language, we call “Purpose” your “Super Objective”. A Super Objective is what you care about most deeply. What you stand for. What drives you. It’s your purpose set in active language. Thus, it puts you on an active path.
I was on a conference call yesterday and one of the leaders on the call had such great insight, that I thought we could all benefit from her observation. She had recently spent some time in a hospital with a loved one and noticed that all of the people who worked in the hospital – the doctors, nurses, staff, etc – all seemed to have a clear sense of their Super Objective. She was impressed with how well they demonstrated that sense of purpose through their actions. ‘Why they cared’ – ‘what they stood for’ – ‘what drives them’ – was all out there for people to see and experience. After she shared her observation, she said something that I thought was so insightful. She said, “It made me wonder if ‘what I stand for’ – my Super Objective – is something that everyone else around me could see and recognize. Is my purpose that visible?”
Then she continued, “It’s easy to understand how, in a hospital setting, why you’d experience someone’s Super Objective. But what about in a corporate setting? At work would others know what I’m about just by my actions?”
We talked about how some settings are more conducive than others to put purpose into action. For example, if what drives you is “healing” or “nurturing”, certainly a hospital will give you ample opportunity to do that. But what if you’re driven by “healing” or “nurturing” and work in corporate America? Is it impossible? Is it just too hard? Is it foolish to even try?
The term “Super Objective” is borrowed from the theatre world. Back in the turn of the century, a Russian guy named Stanislavsky was studying the difference between the actors that gave a bad or mediocre performance and those who brilliantly captivated an audience. Since he was both an actor and a businessman, he wanted to figure out how to replicate the performances that caused audiences to consistently flock to the theatre and spend money. What he discovered was that when actors could focus all their attention outside themselves on achieving what drives their character at their very core – truly focus their attention – in spite of the obstacles in their path (they call it drama for a reason – there’s no shortage of obstacles in the theatre) – those were the actors who brought a sense of presence to the stage that kept the audiences coming back for more.
It’s understandable to wonder if in our conference calls, through our emails, in our daily exchanges at work, if it’s worth our while to aim for a higher purpose. To expect more from ourselves in the face of the constant chaos, impending deadlines, and competing priorities. To focus our attention on something outside ourselves. Something bigger. And it’s natural to think that the obstacles are the problem. If we just could do our thing in a setting that is a natural fit, then life would be easy. But it’s the ability to focus our attention in the face of obstacles where we separate the wheat from the chaff. Where we find out what kind of leader we really are.
I absolutely loved that the leader on our call was challenging herself by evaluating her own actions – as it’s only when we have the courage to look at ourselves and reflect, can we hope to be better – can we expand what is possible for ourselves. For if we truly stand for something, regardless of the obstacles in our path, shouldn’t our purpose indeed be..visible?
This post is dedicated to the courageous leader on my recent call. You know who you are.
©OnStage Leadership, 2013
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