For the past decade, the focus of my work has been putting purpose into action, what I call your “Super Objective.” A Super Objective is what you care about most deeply. What you stand for. What drives you. Because it’s set in active language, it puts you on an active path.
A few years ago, on a conference call I was leading, one of the leaders shared an insight that I found so powerful. She had recently spent some time in a hospital with a loved one and noticed that all of the people who worked in the hospital—the doctors, nurses, staff, etc—all seemed to have a clear sense of their Super Objective. She was impressed with how well they demonstrated that sense of purpose through their actions. She was excited to witness that everything I had been talking about in our session—”Why they cared,” “what they stood for,” “what drives them”—was all out there for people to see and experience. “It made me wonder,” she pondered aloud, “if what I stand for—my Super Objective—is something that everyone else around me could see and recognize. Is my purpose that visible?”
Then she continued, “It’s easy to understand, in a hospital setting, how you’d experience someone’s Super Objective. But what about in a corporate setting? At work would others know what I’m about just by my actions?”
We talked about how some settings are more conducive than others to put purpose into action. For example, if what drives you is “healing” or “nurturing,” certainly a hospital will give you ample opportunity to do that. But what if you’re driven by “healing” or “nurturing” and work in corporate America? Is it impossible? Is it just too hard? Is it foolish to even try?
The term “Super Objective” is borrowed from the theatre world. Back in the turn of the century, a Russian guy named Stanislavsky was studying the difference between the actors that gave a bad or mediocre performance, comparing them to those who brilliantly captivated an audience. Since he was both an actor and a businessman, he wanted to figure out how to replicate the performances that caused audiences to consistently flock to the theatre and spend money. What he discovered was that when actors could focus all their attention outside themselves it changed everything. Instead of focusing on what people thought about them, or about trying to prove themselves, or all the physiological sensations that show up when you’re in the spotlight, the actors who were able to shift their focus on achieving what drives their character at their very core, in spite of the obstacles in their path, (they call it drama for a reason—there’s no shortage of obstacles in the theatre) were the actors who brought the kind of presence that kept the audiences coming back for more. The byproduct was a consistently powerful performance. The byproduct was the theatre made more money. But these results were simply a byproduct of their focus on the impact they wanted to have outside themselves. On action to achieve purpose.
It’s understandable to wonder if in your conference calls, through your emails, in your daily exchanges at work, if it’s worth your while to aim for a higher purpose. To expect more from yourself in the face of the constant chaos, impending deadlines, and competing priorities. To focus your attention on something outside yourself. Something bigger. On the impact you want to have. And it’s natural to think that the obstacles are the problem. If you just could do your thing in a setting that is a natural fit, then life would be easy. But it’s the ability to focus your attention in the face of obstacles where we separate the wheat from the chaff. Where you find out what kind of leader you really are.
What kind of leader do you want to be?
I absolutely loved that the leader on our call was challenging herself by evaluating her own actions—as it’s only when we have the courage to look at ourselves and reflect, can we hope to be better and expand what is possible for ourselves. For if we truly stand for something, regardless of the obstacles in our path, shouldn’t our purpose indeed be…visible?
This post is dedicated to the brave leaders out there who are working to make an impact.