Purpose: The Key To Better Decision Making
“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” – John F. Kennedy
As an avid outdoor kid, one of the first things I remember asking for at Christmas was a good multi-purpose tool. Back then it was a Swiss Army knife called the Huntsman. It had two knives, a little saw, scissors, can opener, screwdriver, and about twenty other things on it for any possible emergency. It even had a toothpick and tweezers! I used it constantly for everything. Still do.
Our purpose is a lot like that.
It is invaluable to have a secret multi-purpose tool in our back pocket to help us stay on track, solve problems, and get out of our comfort zone. Knowing our purpose requires us to understand our triggers and the emotions they spark – and helps us stay focused when they do. Awareness equips us to “press the pause button” before reacting automatically and before the triggers take over.
When we “press pause”, even just to take a breath, we buy time to assess the situation, seek advice, and better understand on our broader intentions. Clarity around our intentions allows us to choose a reaction that is appropriate for the situation. In life, while this may be difficult, it is necessary to control our response. Companies do it every day when they plan to react to market fluctuations and competitive threats.
Clarifying Your Purpose
Your purpose is your highest and best intention in a situation.
While it certainly helps to have thought through the overarching purpose for your life, what we are focusing on here, is our purpose in the acute situation driving the need to push pause. The quality of the decision made in that moment, to be more resilient, is directly proportional to our ability to zero in on our purpose specific to the situation because that is what demands an immediate response.
Every situation gives us a chance to be who we really are.
Knowing what you want that to be is your little Swiss Army knife for your life. Ideally, figuring out our purpose is the prework done before we open our mouths. It asks the critical question:
What is the single most important outcome I want from this interaction or the leadership quality I need to visibly demonstrate in this situation?
Related to your team or those around you, “What is the most important message you want to convey to others involved in the situation?”
Think about your desired long-term outcomes. Ask yourself if this is a pattern, or if what you’re dealing with is a one-time situation. When clarifying your purpose, often the most critical question to ask is:
If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the other person (or group of people), what would it be?
To help think that through, we can ask what the stakes are for us (positive or negative), the business, the other party, the team, or anyone else involved. What stands to be lost or gained? We tend to focus on losses like losing a job, or costing money specifically for the person we are talking to, but often, there are much greater stakes if you look at both positive and negative impacts for a broader group of stakeholders.
Your Purpose Drives Your Decisions
Knowing the stakes helps clarify our situational purpose and enables us to create a dialog to solve issues with the highest and best outcome. Knowing our purpose allows us to make choices in alignment with a long-term goal. It’s like putting on a pair of glasses we didn’t even know we needed, and suddenly we can see things much more clearly.
Consider a clear purpose like the GPS on your phone: it’s with you always, pointing the way to your desired destination as it streamlines and enables difficult decisions.
Juan Carlos Eichholz, adaptive leadership expert and author of Adaptive Capacity: How Organizations Thrive in a Changing World, calls its purpose, an organization’s soul. He believes that work is not only about doing well, but about having a lasting and positive impact on the world. “For this reason, an organization without a purpose will not be able to attract people who work with purpose.” Eichholz describes an organization without a purpose as industrial and focused exclusively on performing tasks efficiently. Where an organization with purpose will go beyond the task in realizing its full potential [and the potential of the people within it].
“An organization without purpose manages human resources, whereas and organization with purpose mobilizes people.” – Juan Carlos Eichholz