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What is the point of your job? What difference does it make? How much do you care about it, and why should anyone else?

Forgive me, these are slightly awkward questions, and we’ve only just met.

Sad to relate, I meet far too many people in my work as a leadership development trainer, who don’t have answers to these questions. In many cases they’re questions they’ve never really considered in any depth. They relate to what I call Purpose, and having clear answers to them is what provides the energy you need to get up on a Monday morning. If you don’t have the answers, your career mojo may well be impaired and you may find yourself lacking in energy and fulfilment in your job.

Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why addresses this issue. He talks about how most organisations are great at telling people WHAT they do, and in some cases HOW they do it, but they ignore the most important aspect, which is WHY they do it. As a result, their marketing messages fail to inspire, and the outside world reacts by asking “So what?”.

“We’re the world’s leading provider of purple widgets. They play a tune when you insert them and we only use recycled plastic.”  “So what?”, we say.

In my experience not only do most organisations not have a clear “Why”, or Purpose: neither do teams or individuals. It’s not that this is an impossibly difficult thing to work out, it’s just that people haven’t considered it.

Even if your organisation lacks a clear “Why”, you can create one for yourself or within the team you work with. I remember facilitating a workshop to help a Finance team to develop its own “Why”, and after a tough process of generating ideas and then refining them they ended up with this superbly simple and yet motivating Purpose for themselves: “Making finance easy.” In other words, their top priority and focus was to make it easy for the rest of the business to do business, and to act as a facilitator rather than a barrier to others. Having established this, they have a core principle against which they can align their daily activities, new projects and decision making. A team with a clear focus such as this need not flail around being busy and hoping that what it does is relevant. Everyone is clear about the main target, leading to smarter working and reduced stress.

How aligned are your preferences?
Alongside this question of clarifying why we do our job is the equally important question for you as an employee of how well your personal preferences align with the work you do. Taking this into account, using whatever model you like best (for me, Myers Briggs is the one I use most often), when looking at career options, gives you a far better chance of finding your work an easy fit: just as writing with your dominant hand is far easier, fluent and natural than using the opposite, work which optimises your preferences will be less stressful and more enjoyable.

I spent the first 15 years of my career in the UK hospitality business. I had no idea about my preferences, and fell into the job when I realised (far too late) that my degree in Music was taking me down a path I didn’t want to pursue. In a mad panic I applied to any large corporate who I thought would take me, and naively accepted the first offer which came my way. Hardly a well informed career choice, and it turned out I was not a good fit for large corporate land: far too structured for a free wheeling improviser like me. I got lucky and they made me redundant in my mid thirties, thus allowing me space for a rethink. I got into training and finally found not only a great fit for my personality, but also a fantastic Purpose/Why.

I believe that most people have far more potential than they realise, and helping them to unlock that is what gets me into a training room the morning after a long haul flight with passion and energy for the day ahead. That’s my Why.

Mission Impossible?
My challenge for you, should you choose to accept it, is to take this question with you on a long walk at the weekend.

What, truly, is your personal Purpose/Why, and how well does that align with the job you do?

If it doesn’t align, you have options (sometimes people need to be reminded of this, sadly). I urge you to consider them and avoid deferring this in the hope that things might get better. I suspect they won’t, and meanwhile you could be missing out on a chance to shine. Best of luck.

Michael Brown – Michael Brown Training Ltd

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