For the virtuous circle of leadership to be triggered, the discovery and development of a tight connection to purpose is key. Keeping this connection strong gives us superpowers and makes us feel alive and “at home”. Supporting others’ in their own discovery processes is probably our most meaningful contribution and a “mission” necessarily undertaken by those who want to exercise real leadership.
A purpose goes far beyond objectives and does not have their “utilitarian” side, but a quality more similar in nature to the one that a "mission" confers. Being connected to it helps us navigate the storms and get out of the “holes” quickly, and with less “pain” -only if we apply wisdom-.
This "mission", and the choice of devoting our energy, our time and our attention to fulfill it, is a strategic choice, and, according to Cicero, is one of the three fundamental decisions we can make in life and it gives us the impetus to move forward despite the obstacles. It also teaches us to cultivate yet another key quality of the best leaders I have worked with, and which I call "strategic patience":). This sense of mission, this being connected to our purpose, allows us to feel “useful, valuable and necessary”, the three fundamental needs we have according to child development specialists. It also allows us to not depend on someone else’s recognition to fulfill these needs, which in turn fosters internal freedom, such a rare quality these days.
Finding and being true to one's purpose is fundamental to unlocking our full potential, both individually and at the organizational level. It is also key to the emergence of our own voice, and it gives us courage in defining moments and when everything else fails. In my experience, and as anticipated by Stephen Covey, it sits somewhere at the intersection of talent (our natural gifts and strengths), passion (those things that naturally give us energy, and which activate, motivate and inspire us), need (including something the world needs enough to compensate for it) and conscience (that inner voice that appears at crucial moments to make sure that we do what is right and that does not give us respite when we deviate from it). Living without it does not seem worth it, and abandoning it somewhere during the journey makes us lose our “glow” and settle into cynicism. On my path I have witnessed very large and also very small "missions", and I have discovered that often the key characteristic of a "mission" is not its magnitude, but its authenticity. I have also experienced how conflicts of purpose or not being faithful to ours make us shake and sometimes break. Finding our own true North and supporting others in their process to find theirs is the essence of inspiration and of inspiring.
In the Japanese cosmovision, they use the term ikigai to refer to this very concept. Our ikigai is our “reason for being." The word is usually employed to indicate the source of value in one's life or the things that make one's life worthwhile. Each individual's ikigai is personal to us and specific to our lives, values and beliefs. It reflects our inner self and expresses it, while simultaneously creating a mental state in which we feel at ease. Activities that allow us to feel "ikigai” bring us individual satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life. The search for our ikigai undoubtedly requires a deep inner analysis, which is not always easy for any of us, but living away from it takes away the meaning of our lives, and with it all the “fun”.
My wish for you, for all of us, is that we find ways to get closer and closer to our purpose, to our “ikigai”, and that we “exercise” it in our daily lives and especially at work. This is the true path to self-expression… A life with meaning and “colors” is a life where we can express our gifts and ourselves. I have seen what does that for people and for organizations… and also what happens when people “sell their souls” or lack the invisible thread that ties them to their organizations and their purposes.
In this same spirit, let me close by telling you how “on purpose” I feel with the work that I am doing with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights… A beautiful group of purposeful people with an unbeatable -and tough- organizational mission. I feel grateful because I am seeing their “essence” and witnessing their efforts to be truthful to themselves and to their organization. I am curious to see what the transition they are going through will bring and the ways that they will find in the coming future to reignite the defense of human rights in the world with more traction and renewed influence.
And a final wish… that of a summer (or a winter for the southerners) full of light, warmth and peace… which will bring us a reservoir of improved energy to keep fighting to get close to our purpose and to express our gifts, regardless of the consequences…