Why Purpose trumps Vision
Leadership Coach, Front of Room Leader and Systemic Change Guide

Most people struggle when asked about their personal vision for life. They tell me about goals, about what they don’t want. They often linger on those things they desperately want out of their lives – the sooner the better. Often they wish they had a better job, got more recognition at work, lived in a more fulfilling relationship. All of these are legitimate goals, worth striving for, but they are not deep intrinsic desires. Rather, we think of them as secondary goals. Which means that they serve a deeper vision for life which is worth becoming aware of, in order to gain orientation and drive.

This is why we start our coaching relationships and almost all of our group experiences by drilling down to the deeper Why, to the intrinsic motivation underneath what people tell us is most important to them. We want our clients to go get what they truly and deeply desire, and from a place of love, not fear.

If we did not take a stand for that, we would be mere enablers who help them settle for the best they think they can get, and that is so much less than what is possible for them and most of the time not fulfilling. This is true for almost everyone. I recently read in Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline”, a seminal work on the disciplines a learning organisation must master to stay in the game: “A teenager in one of our programs once said, ‘We shouldn’t call them grown ups, we should call them given ups.”

That’s funny, though really it isn’t, because there is a lot of sad truth in this remark.

In Senge’s work we also find a definition of purpose and how it differs from vision: “Purpose is an individual’s sense of why he or she is alive.” Vision and goals are important vehicles that allow us to live up to our purpose, but purpose is what ultimately brings us meaning and has us aspire to contribute something meaningful to the world.

So I wonder: What is it that you genuinely care about? And what do those, who you hope to lead, genuinely care about?

There’s a good chance that you have no clue. Well, you are not alone!

But it matters. Plugging into our personal compelling purpose, allows us to truly connect with a vision. And people love following purpose-driven leaders, because they stand for something bigger than themselves. Plug into the vision you see for your company with your purpose, and your people will follow you with passion. They will freely give you their creativity, energy, and commitment, rather than exchanging their time for your money.

Purpose and vision often get confused. So what is the difference between them?

Purpose is a general direction. It is abstract, a feeling, a guiding North Star. Vision is a clear destination, somewhere we can get to: The Heath brothers call it a destination postcard in their amazing book Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard. This postcard clearly shows those you are inviting to come, where you want them to come with you. While vision can get knocked over in an instant by external events in this VUCA world, your purpose anchors you. It will orient you so you will be able to adjust your vision, and that new vision will be another manifestation of who you are and what you stand for. Simon Sinek calls purpose the foundation of your house. Vision is what you want that house to look like. It might change while you are building your house: Perhaps you’ll have a different idea for the roof, and perhaps you decide to pull it down altogether. In that case, your foundation will still stand, and you can build another house on it. Likewise a community, or company, or society can course correct its vision without losing identity when anchored in purpose.

A purpose on its own is lofty and will not lead anywhere. But a vision that is not anchored in a strong purpose often ends up being hollow, focusing on shiny objects and words that sound inspiring. Check out your organisation’s vision statement, talk to people, and ask yourself: Does it really compel everyone to work towards the same big, audacious and hairy goal? Or would your people have to look it up if I asked them about it?

A vision that engages and unleashes everyone needs to be grounded in purpose.

We will support your team and organization to connect to purpose and align around a shared vision and goals.

Get in touch for a powerful conversation!

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