Learn to find purpose, power, and perspective.
It was 1988. Guns N' Roses sang, "In the jungle/ Welcome to the jungle / Watch it bring you to your ... / It's gonna bring you down." The visceral scream echoed around my bedroom walls. It was a time of change: Glam rock was taking the charts by storm; the world's first major computer virus, the infamous Morris (later Internet worm) had reared its head; and what was then the Soviet Union had begun its restructuring and the start of its eventual collapse.
Thirty years later, welcome to disruption. It could still bring you down. Forget glam rock; digital transformation is consuming our world, bringing continuous change, complexity, limited time, and the inability to adapt, ending company legacies too many to name.
Amidst it all, artificial intelligence–enabled automation is steadily transforming the way we work and advancing opportunities for us to embrace new ways of creating value in partnership with technology. The opportunities AI offers often are overshadowed by concern that it will change the nature of work, dislocate the workforce, and eradicate many careers.
A new age of digital transformation puts pressure on everyone. Multiple objectives, priorities, and stakeholders create a sense of overload. The need for speed, aggressive deadlines, and the pursuit of innovation and agility are a new soundtrack for our workweek. The pace of change, lack of predictability, and evolving capabilities demand continuous learning and agility to reinvent how we create value.
As we navigate this landscape, new variables compound our experience of work and life. Social media continues to connect us, linking our lives, experiences, and perspectives of the world around us. It has also amplified the external references we compare ourselves to, fueling a desire to keep pace with others. If we are unable to, the gap between our expectations and our reality are often lived as failure, disappointment, and pain.
Organizations are responding. They are focusing on culture, learning, careers, wellness, and work-life harmony, which has become as critical to engaging people as work environment, leadership, and employee benefits. The growing appreciation for mental health and the emerging acknowledgement of how recovery, rest, mindfulness, and diet—well-respected in the sporting world—is now gaining a foothold as a foundation for performance in the work world.
How do you journey forward in this new age when businesses' and employees' performance and health are an imperative for all? How do you work together to create outcomes, solving problems at scale, while growing your capabilities with the speed of business? Then, how do you find a sense of peace among it all and flourish amid the change?
Begin by pursuing purpose, power, and perspective.
Purposefully and consciously be yourself. I recently had the opportunity to hear Vic Strecher, author of Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything, speak on the science of purpose and loved the insights his research conveyed. An understanding of the primary reasons people come to work caught my attention. These reasons include helping the company's interests, assisting others in reaching their potential, performing a role with excellence, furthering a career, providing for family, or inventing new products that improve the quality of life. Companies', teams', or individuals' ability to understand their purpose and embrace the drivers that bring them to work correlates well with performance over time.
At a company level, this is reflected in the book Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit From Passion and Purpose. The cumulative total returns of the 60 companies tracked in the book outperformed the S&P 500 by 14 times, and the well-referenced good-to-great companies did so by six times across a 15-year period. Interestingly, a significant positive inflection has occurred during the past five years, reflecting those companies' ability to flourish amid the digital disruption.
Understanding of the power of purpose for an enterprise is thought provoking. Equally, Strecher's research on individual's personal ability to be purposeful in life correlated with a gift list of empirically supported outcomes. These encompassed a decreased likelihood of depression, cognitive conflict, and burnout risk through to an increased likelihood of resilience, antibody production, DNA repair, improved diet, better sleep, and job satisfaction. What's not to like about that?
To become more purposeful as you embrace each day, answer these two questions, from Life on Purpose:
- What are you like when you are at your best?
- What matters most in your life?
Consciously being who you are when you are at your best in the areas of your life that matter most supports you to become more purposeful as you navigate your days. Taking the time to reflect on your answers to the questions above focuses your thinking and inspires behaviors and actions, which shape the outcomes you create and the energy and experiences you bring to those in your life.
By starting your days with gentle reflection on those core questions, you can calibrate and engage as your best self more often. Understanding what matters and being purposeful in how you embrace your work helps establish a robust foundation from which you can launch into work.
Create value and expand personal power
Early in my career, I was thrust into a new leadership role, a sales-focused charter to fix a business that was hemorrhaging. It was a fantastic elevation in my career journey, though riddled with political dynamics, an exhausted team, and a tough leader with a preference for applying pressure to drive performance. After being told that I had three months to fix what was broken or look for a new opportunity, I reached out to a mentor for advice on how I should tackle the work and my new boss. The mentor's response startled me at the time: "Make sure you make your boss's life easier and make them look good." Really? My supervisor was threatening my job security over a mess I had not created and I am supposed to make him look good? The advice felt incredibly traditional and a little outdated.
As I simmered on the guidance, I began to see it through another lens. It was not about a sycophantic approach to work relationships. It was a focus on directing what I did to help others succeed. If I can create value for others, help them make a decision, relieve pressure, solve a challenging problem, or find a new way, they will value me. If they value me, then they will look out for me, take risks on me, value me in terms of rewards and recognition, and be prepared to open doors for me. My job was to create value for those I worked with, reported to, and led. The greater the value I created, the greater the reciprocity that would follow.
My focus changed and my energy flowed with it. It was no longer about a job and an intense supervisor. It was about human beings who shared a desire to succeed. It worked for me and has continued to be a positive differentiator, helping me embrace challenges, work collaboratively across business boundaries and through the responsibilities entrusted, continue to create business outcomes, and have a meaningful career.
As you journey forward in your career, your ability to create value expands or contracts relative to the ideas and capabilities you bring to your role, teams, and organizations. It is amplified further by your ability to partner and work inclusively with others to achieve more than you could alone. The opportunity for talent and learning organizations to help enterprises access knowledge, collaborate, and learn at the speed of business is now more than ever a recognized competitive advantage.
Perspective and peace
While purpose sets a foundation and focus on creating value for others advances how you perform, there will always be wonderful days at work and woeful days. When things go awry, how you respond—or at the very least respond to your response—can shape how well you recover, bounce forward, and regain momentum.
The more you can be present in the moment without judgment, the more you can sustain an objective perspective on the challenges and opportunities that exist in any situation. The more you can be kind to yourself and assume positive intent from others, the more you will be able to sustain a rational and creative approach to problem solving and continuous improvement while maintaining relationships.
Newton's law of relativity—that every action has an equal and opposite reaction—is a thread that can help you and your teams remain agile and resilient as you navigate your goals and objectives. For every positive experience, there will, in time, be a negative experience to balance it and vice versa. Integrating that perspective will ensure you enjoy your wins while remaining humble, limiting the risk for complacency. In challenging times, it provides motivation to reflect on the lessons learned and how their application will help you come back stronger.
You are, after all, human, and able to adapt to the conditions around you, making meaning of your experiences, learning new ways, and evolving as best you can. By staying connected with your purpose, focusing on creating value for others, and maintaining perspective, you can ideally flourish in this remarkable age of change.
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