Purposeful Purpose


“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

–  Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) (1835 – 1910), American humorist 

Ever wonder whether he meant “find out” or “figure out?”

I have.

And then I realize that sometimes all the effort we pour into figuring things out gets in the way of the things that are right there for us to find out.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking semantics, but I really don’t think so.  It’s a logical segue from a series of posts on Faith back to our usual business / leadership / difference-making approach.  I like to think of it as being purposeful in finding our purpose.

Going someplace with this, Heston?


The best interview question I’ve ever been asked is, “What kind of work is both effortless and energizing for you?”  It’s a brilliant question, and I guess that cultural deficiencies keep many companies from asking the question or caring about the answer.  This approach goes hand-in-glove with Buckingham’s Strength-Based Leadership concept, and it’s why the best teams and organizations become the best.  They focus on putting people in a position to play to their strengths as much of the time as possible.

Remember the “Shooters Shoot” post?  Or the difference between being short-staffed or poorly-staffed?  Selecting and deploying talent is a blending of art and science.  If Susie is born to teach, and we don’t put her in a mentoring or teaching role, we’re not only missing out on maximizing Susie’s contributions to the team, we’re sucking the life out of her workdays.  If Pat is blessed with exceptional selling skills and we promote Pat to be the sales manager — we might be killing our momentum, not to mention Pat’s passion for the company or the work the company does.

How do we know what our purpose is?  How do we know what our employees’ purposes are?

Remember “effortless and energizing.”

At dear old Fairfield High School, everyone knew that you went to Allen, Brad, or Susan if you needed help in math.  Science?  Jay or Wellsy.  English?  That was me, Richard, Peggy, Clark, or Jeannette.

In other words, the team typically knows where to go within the team for whatever “secret sauce” they need at a given moment.  They look to the people who are effortlessly energized by the task at hand.

It’s one of the primary reasons we ought to include the team in our interviewing and hiring decisions.

What’s our alternative?

Weak leaders spend all their time trying to get Joe to be better at things he’s not good at.  (Yes, people came to me for help with English, and I just ended a sentence with a preposition.  Sue me!)  “If only Bill was a better closer!” the sales manager says.  “He’s such a good presenter.  Why can’t he close deals like Mary?”  Except Mary might not be a good presenter.  Why not pair Bill and Mary together and leverage both sets of gifts?  Trying to force someone prone to math errors to be a better auditor is like putting someone with two left feet in the dance team’s front row.

A CEO I know had a dream to be a brain surgeon like Dr. Warren.  This now-successful technology CEO achieved amazing grades in science, was blessed with amazing deductive skills.  The guy has off-the-charts memorization talent.  But his hand-eye coordination is in the bottom quartile of all people.  Not just brain-surgery applicants, mind you, but everyone.  We once used a tennis ball to make sure that we didn’t interrupt one another during meetings.  If you had a point to make, you raised your hand, and the person talking tossed you the tennis ball so we’d know who’s turn it was next.  It lasted for about six minutes until we realized that our CEO couldn’t — catch — the ball.

As for his dream, apparently, hand-eye coordination is way up there on the prerequisites list for putting sharp objects into people’s brains.  He was fortunate to have a mentor who steered him towards his purpose — leadership in the business world.  Not only are more people alive today for that choice, but hundreds have had better careers because this guy found his purpose.  Purposefully.

As leaders, we’re called upon to not only purposely find our own purpose.  We’re Blessed with the responsibility of helping our team members find theirs.

If our goal is to provide that second, best day — how much more successful will we be?


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