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Flowing with Purpose:  What is Purpose and how does it relate to Conscious Leadership?

November 16, 2017

Earlier this year I was invited to speak at Impact International’s flagship event LearnFest – where leading companies, heads of HR and OD, and practitioners in the field coalesce to learn about what is going on at the juicy edges of organisational development amid a festival environment in the Lake District.  It was a world-class event, run brilliantly by Impact International, and a huge success for those who attended.

After my talk I gave a workshop to a group of about 40 people, who wanted to dive deeper into ‘the organisation as a living system’.  One of the things we explored was the role of purpose in helping our organisations become more emergent, vibrant and resilient.  It was an absolute honour to have one of the world’s leading specialists on purpose at the workshop Richard J Leider, best-selling author of Repacking Your Bags and The Power of Purpose,  and the founder of Inventure – The Purpose Company.  Richard and I became engrossed in conversation afterwards, and I got to share insights with his lovely wife too.

In this article, I share some of the insights that come from Richard’s 30 years’ of exploring purpose, and blend it with some of my own findings along with findings from the extensive research by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his team on flow as the optimal human experience.

From interviewing and working with numerous leaders over his 30 years, Richard identified three themes when people look back over their lives:

  • Step back, pause, reflect – people regret not spending more time reflecting, pausing to sense into the over-arching storylines, the inflection points, and moments of transition. We all-too-often become too busy, too caught up in the relentless pressure of life that we do not adequately gain perspective on what is really going on. There’s an old saying, ‘we can’t read the label while sitting in the jar.’


  • Take more risks – people regret not taking more risks, being more courageous in exploring what makes their heart sing and then changing their lives to actually do what makes their heart sing, rather than merely dreaming about it. This is also about being courageous enough to find a good work/life balance, to sense deeper into our ‘calling’ and start making changes in our outer life in ways that enlivens and engages this inner calling.


  • Deepening our sense of purpose – Richard notes that if there was a pill we could take that makes us live happier, longer and more meaningfully with no negative side-effects, we would take it. Well that pill is purpose.  By spending time to check-in with ourselves, sense our purpose, and bring this into our lives, we improve our wellbeing, authenticity and success.


So what actually is purpose?  The word ‘purpose’ is everywhere these days, but what does it really mean when it comes to living more purposeful lives?

Richard unpacks purpose into three areas: purpose as a practice; purpose as a path; purpose as a sense of direction.

Purpose as a practice – this is a daily practice, a quality of attentiveness, how we are listening-in to ourselves, sensing into what feels right or not, learning to see beyond our constrictions and old habits that may be holding us bac, seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary, an improvisatory art of sensing-and-responding with purpose.

Purpose as a path – imagine a speedboat skimming across the lake or harbour. The path is not only what lies ahead of us, but the wake we leave behind us, our legacy. How we traverse through life is our path. Each day becomes a day of walking this path with purpose.  Richard speaks of the power of ‘growing and giving’ as part of our purpose path. Each day we may ask ourselves, how do I choose to grow today, how do I choose to give today?  And at the end of each day we may reflect over the day, perhaps journal, noting down the meaning-making moments, what we learnt, where did we grow and give.  We self-reflect and deepen each day as we walk the purpose path.

Purpose as a sense of direction – this is perhaps what people immediately think of when exploring purpose, a direction of travel. To be clear, it is not simply a static goal or target to aim for ‘out there’, it is a lived emergent journey within us and beyond us. A journey throughout which we call upon our inner purpose compass to help us navigate amid a wind-tossed sea of distractions and conflicting desires.  Hence, a daily discipline of clearing ourselves, grounding ourselves, remaining coherent and connected to our deeper self, so that our compass is ready at hand rather than buried under the stress and cacophony of day-to-day pressures.

It is through these three areas that we begin to harness the power of purpose in our lives.

And to help us on this purpose journey, I refer to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s insights on flow as the optimal human experience.  What Mihaly noted from his extensive research is that the power of intention and attention were vital, they are the two tools at our mind’s disposal.

Intention is the wish or desire we hold within our mind’s eye in order to achieve our aim, our purpose. It is what directs the focus of our attention. The intention we hold in our mind’s eye ought to be magnetised by and congruent with our life-purpose as then it gains extra potency.  We might form an intention about where we see ourselves in three years’ time, or we may hold an intention for how we would envision tomorrow’s meeting to go with an important client, for instance. We can hold an intention for anything, and envision how we would like something to turn out, in a way that best manifests our purpose journey.

Attention is the ability within ourselves to integrate our different ways of knowing (our rational thoughts, emotional feelings, body sensations, and intuitive perturbations) while deepening our connection and coherence with our deeper nature and the deeper nature of the situation/system we are in. Attention is the quality of our presencing the moment, listening-in to what is really going on at subtle levels within ourselves and within the system of relations we are participating in. By cultivating this integrated attention we gather our psychic energy in an uninterrupted and coherent way.

We diffuse our energy by getting distracted or dis-eased; we gather and cohere it when we deepen our attentiveness.

Our attention is taken beyond the realms of a direct beam of focused attention into a deeper vibratory and inter-relational awareness that perceives life in a participatory yet direct, intimate, sensate and embodied way.  We become more human, more attuned, more alive, more authentic, more purposeful.

Hence, we may see that purpose is both a being-and-doing, it is an outer activity manifesting our purpose, and also an inner quality of attentiveness, of listening-in, of sensing, and of reflecting and adjusting.

The famous writer and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl wrote in his classic work Man’s Search for Meaning,

‘Everyone has a specific vocation or mission in life…he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.’

And the great Mahatma Gandhi noted,

‘Service is not possible unless it is rooted in love and nonviolence. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’

And so living a purposeful life is about deepening our sense of self while opening up to the inter-relational and interdependent richness of life.  Our individuality becomes our vehicle for delivering our unique gifts into the world for the service of life through love.

Speaker, strategist, adviser Giles Hutchins is Chairman of The Future Fit leadership Academy. His latest book is Future Fit (2016) and he blogs at

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Roy W Reynolds permalink
    November 17, 2017 5:06 pm

    Giles, This is an extraordinary blog! By touching on the various qualities and attributes of purpose you draw us into the subtle realms of leadership awareness. Thanks for this. I’ll only mention (but not expand upon) the resonance here with the hermetic notion of the “daimon.” Yes, indeed, purpose is an inner quality, a sense of calling.

  2. Jessica permalink
    November 20, 2017 10:34 am

    Wonderful! Thank you

  3. ronditi permalink
    November 24, 2017 8:13 am

    Good stuff

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