“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” – I acutely remember the first time I heard someone share this quote from Mark Twain. Since then, I have become a professional coach and it is all the more resonant.
As a trained Co-Active Coach, my intention is to be a trusted thinking partner for my clients as they uncover what makes their lives fulfilling and how they can make powerful, conscious choices to engage in values-led action. These conversations are a really beautiful thing to be a part of, which has prompted me to share some reflections on the power of purpose.
I am a big fan of the psychologist, Dr. Susan David, and in particular her work on ‘walking your why’, which is her term for “the art of living by your own personal set of values”. To build on this, I’ll share a quote from Dr. David: “Determining what you truly care about is only half the process of walking your why. Once you’ve identified your values, you then have to take them out for a spin. This requires a certain amount of courage”.
I also wanted to throw this quote out there because I do think this topic starts vulnerable, brave conversations – conversations that are inextricably connected to our mental health and wellbeing! There is also a call to courage for purpose-led individuals because living into our values is not always comfortable, easy, or fun, but it is ultimately worth it.
I also really appreciate how my own coach describes values as a compass to our chosen life directions, informing the kind of person we want to be, the things we choose to be a part of, and what we stand for. As you can tell, we are stepping into what becomes deeply personal territory here, which is perhaps why these conversations do not always permeate the barrier between people’s ‘personal’ lives and work lives (although those lines are getting increasingly blurred as the pandemic goes on!). There is a mutual benefit for employers and employees to bring conversations about purpose into the workplace though – brands with purpose grow, and fulfilled people live meaningful lives and thrive.
Speaking of which, there is one business out there that has especially embraced walking your why and is seeing the benefits of it, Unilever. I remember hearing Leena Nair, Unilever’s CHRO, speak at the last MAD World London Summit on an investment the business made in putting over 50,000 employees through bespoke workshops to discover and connect with a sense of purpose at work since 2017. I left wanting to know even more!
My curiosity always seems to get the better of me so I was able to create that opportunity by speaking with Nikki Kirbell, Unilever’s Wellbeing Lead for UK & Ireland. Nikki kindly offered up her time to share from her personal perspective how her understanding of the intersection between purpose, wellbeing, and leadership has evolved being part of a business that is driving a purpose-led narrative. If you have not yet heard much about Unilever’s approach, check out their perspectives on how brands with purpose grow and why purpose is one of their pillars of wellbeing.
Without further ado, let’s hear a few thoughts from Nikki to bring this to life and hopefully inspire you to reflect on what this could look like for you and your business…
So how has Nikki’s experience at Unilever shown how embedding purpose into a business’ values, vision, mission and strategy leads to positive outcomes?
“From a personal perspective, I’ve found that if you don’t have a clear purpose, it can really affect your overall wellbeing – essentially, it’s about understanding where you fit into the world and what motivates you to do what you do. If you can relate your own purpose to what you’re doing, both inside and outside of work, you’re far more passionate about what you do”.
I think what was important for me in hearing this was response was that this concept of embedding purpose in a business is not just a warm, fuzzy aspiration – it can be operationalised and people can be practically upskilled!
It truly is quite unique that purpose is one of Unilever’s pillars of wellbeing – the typical focus seems to be physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial wellbeing. So, I asked Nikki to speak to the impact she has seen having purpose as a wellbeing pillar have on employees regarding mental health and wellbeing:
“From my perspective it has been an extremely positive experience. Being able to take the time and work through what makes you “you” has been so powerful in developing my mental health and wellbeing. How can you have a keen sense of self without understanding what drives you? People often have a sense of their purpose, but being able to define it really has an impact. It’s also been a great way to really find your place within the business – either within your current role or within a different role. But that’s so powerful as you’re truly invested in what you’re doing and understand why you’re doing it”.
I’m not sure if your business has taken a pillars approach to breaking down wellbeing, but if so, perhaps – based on this positive impact story – there’s something here about integrating purpose in some way, shape, or form.
When I set out to write this article it was in the back of my mind that in a recent MADflix session, Candice Schaefer at Twitter suggested that sometimes people who are too driven by their work purpose can be at risk of burnout. I threw this point Nikki’s way as a point of discussion:
“For me, purpose is about understanding what’s important to you – what gets you out of bed in the morning! That will be very different for everyone. Arguably, anyone is at a potential risk of burnout if they don’t prioritise themselves and look after their wellbeing. You’re never going to be able to live your purpose unless you have the energy to do so, and so the common reference of putting your own oxygen mask on first is truer than ever. Creating a culture of looking after yourself so you can bring your best self to all you do is vital”.
I would certainly echo the sentiment that our wellbeing is our source of energy to do all of the great things we want to do. Also, I think this relates to my earlier point that living into our purpose is not always easy and can take a toll, so achievable goal setting and health boundaries are key along the journey!
I asked Nikki one final question I’d like to share to bring this to a close, which is how she defines purpose-driven leadership in her own words:
“For me, purpose driven leadership is about creating an environment that motivates and inspires people to connect to what they do. Feeling part of something bigger is key to a sense of belonging and that drives people to be their best and achieve the best”.
Now, very importantly, my call to action for you is to answer this question for yourself – what does purpose-driven leadership mean to you? Better yet: What is one thing you can do to show up as a purpose-driven professional in your business? You don’t need to literally be in a ‘leadership’ role for this to apply, or to 100% have your values and purpose ironed out! My invitation is to make a start on getting stuck into this ever-important topic because your personal growth and your business’ growth depend on it.
About the author
Kendelle Tekstar is a trained psychological researcher holding a Master’s degree from King’s College London in Mental Health Studies, with a research focus on the treatment of affective disorders and clinical focus on psychological diagnostics and assessment. She transitioned into business psychology and currently works for a learning and development consultancy called Acre Frameworks, which focuses specifically on upskilling Health, Safety & Wellbeing (HSW) professionals with key non-technical skills. She is a BPS certified psychometrician and Co-Active Coach. As a coach, Kendelle unlocks the curiosity, creativity, and courage she believes is essential to thriving in an HSW role.
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