People will sacrifice their lives for a purpose they believe is important enough. That is how much courage our belief in our purpose can provide.
The most rewarding periods in our lives are often the times when we feel our highest sense of purpose. The periods that seem the emptiest – the times when we feel least valuable – are often when we feel our least sense of purpose. Our sense of purpose is connected to our sense of worth.
In this chapter we will discuss how to give courage to others for pursuing their purposes, and how to resolve our courage for the purposes we are pursuing.
A Purpose Greater Than Ourselves
Our purposes that have the most value and bring the most satisfaction tend to be purposes that are greater than ourselves. We are wired to feel stronger and more courageous when we are focused on a purpose greater than ourselves. People respect us more when we pursue a purpose greater than ourselves, and we respect ourselves more.
Focusing on ourselves diminishes our courage. Sadly, we seem to cut our natural wiring for strength when we succumb to the fear that results from focusing on ourselves, or from the fear that causes us to focus on ourselves. People respect us less. We respect ourselves less.
We admire those who focus on purposes greater than their own well-being more than we admire those who don’t. We think of heroes as those who, when faced with adversity, think beyond themselves. Even in personal hardship, they sacrifice and persevere in the interests of others. We see this noticeably in leadership.
When leaders are known for their charisma, it is often for their ability to embrace and express a purpose that is greater than themselves, and to inspire their followers to embrace that purpose. This is the kind of leader that people want to follow, because their courage is contagious. People bring more courage to an endeavor when they believe that the purpose matters, and that their contribution to the purpose matters.
Just as discouragement can cause us to lose belief in ourselves, it can also cause us to lose belief in our purpose. These are times when we need to be able to give encouragement to others, and to receive the encouragement they give to us. We need to help each other to see beyond the adversity to the payoff for enduring it – the payoff for others as well as for ourselves.
We can lose our perspective in the face of adversity. We see the adversity as the end of the story, when in fact it is a story in progress. When we lose our courage in the midst of adversity, we need to take seriously the encouragement we receive from others. When we lose confidence in ourselves, we need to receive the confidence that others have in us.
If someone loses their sense of purpose because the purpose no longer seems worth the adversity, we can help restore their courage by asking them if they still believe in the purpose apart from the adversity. When the adversity has passed and the price has been paid, will the purpose have value once it has been achieved? A sense of purpose should include a vision of the payoff.
Encourage yourself in this way, too. Will the price of pursuing your purpose be as high as the price of not pursuing it?
In order to encourage yourself and others, and to receive courage from others, you don’t always have to “feel” it. Sometimes encouragement is an expression of will more then feeling. When the waters get rough during the pursuit of an important purpose, remember that the harder it is to show hope and optimism, the more important it is. We need to help each other restore our belief in our purpose, but also our belief in our role in that purpose. We need to encourage each other that our contribution is important.
One of the strongest connections that people can have with each other is the connection of shared purpose. As our shared purpose grows, so does the strength of the relationship. As shared purpose weakens, it can threaten our relationship unless that lost purpose is replaced by an even stronger one. The relationship and the sense of purpose can strengthen each other. So encouraging each other in times of adversity, and receiving the encouragement they offer to us – giving ourselves permission to receive it – has a huge payoff for everyone. This is an important principle in teamwork.
Do You Want to Encourage Others in Their Purpose?
Whenever you talk to people about their purpose, realize that their courage may be hanging in the balance. If you want to discourage them from their purpose because you sincerely believe they will regret it, that’s one thing. In that case you want to take away their courage. However, if you are seeking to give them courage, take them seriously by listening intently to what they say about their purpose. Then respond by telling them what you heard and how it affected you. This will help them clarify and solidify their own thoughts about their purpose. Either way, be intentional about the impact you are having on their courage. Don’t accidentally take away their courage by showing disregard for their purpose.
If you want to show that you take someone seriously, take their sense of purpose seriously. If you want to show that you value them, show that you value their purpose, not necessarily for its benefit to you, but for its benefit to those for whom it is intended. You don’t have to love their purpose as though it were your own, but you can encourage them in their purpose by showing your interest in it and your respect for it.
One way to show sincere interest in someone’s purpose is by relating their purpose to who they are, or who they are becoming, or who they want to become, or who they can become. Relate their purpose to what it could be preparing them for. Reflect with them on the value of their purpose – whom it will benefit, and the difference it will make.
Purpose and Values
If you believe that the purpose they are pursuing conflicts with their core values, the best way to encourage them is by collaborating with them to resolve this conflict truthfully. When purposes conflict with core values, energy is lost, and with it courage. Tell them what you are hearing from their words, and ask their opinion of your interpretation. Ask how they will resolve it before they try to move forward. Share your opinion if they seem stuck, or if you believe they are making a mistake.
This conflict between their purpose and their values must not be left unresolved, or their discouragement will pick up speed rolling downhill. They must feel a sense of integrity in aligning purposes with values in order to have courage. Achieving this kind of resolution also applies when someone has multiple purposes that conflict with each other, because this, too, causes internal dissonance which erodes courage.
In these kinds of dilemmas, your goal as an encourager is to partner with them to reach a decision about their situation which gives them the courage to keep moving forward, or the courage to stop. The absence of this decision diminishes their sense of purpose and the courage that goes with it.
They also need to have vision and hope about moving forward in order to do it with courage. Their vision doesn’t have to be completely clear, and their hope doesn’t have to be completely certain. But the vision and hope must have purpose with integrity – the kind of integrity that comes from truthful collaboration.
The Purpose of Their Purpose
We often have to support the purposes of someone else, whether as an employee, a member of a group or organization, a member of a family, or as a friend. When we are supporting someone else’s purpose, it is important to understand the “why” behind their purpose. And when we are asking others to support our purpose, they need to understand why.
We have more courage for our purpose when we understand why the purpose exists. This includes understanding who will benefit from it, how they will benefit, and why it is being done this way instead of some other way. It is also important to have a meaningful, if not completely clear, vision of the payoff. This is one more way to help people to feel invested in someone else’s purpose.
Employees have a higher sense of purpose, belief and motivation when they understand why things are the way they are. People don’t need to understand everything, but more understanding inspires more belief, and more belief inspires more courage. With courage comes perseverance, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice.
Creating understanding and buy-in is not the place to take shortcuts in the name of efficiency. It is not just a check-the-box chore. You need for the people on whom you depend to have a complete thought process about your purpose and their role in it – a thought process in which all of the dots connect. It is about inspiring the sense of purpose that motivates and empowers the people on whom you are depending to say, “I’ll do whatever it takes, because our mission is worth it.”
Do employees have to buy in to do what they’re told to do? Shouldn’t it be enough just to tell them to do it? From an authority standpoint, yes. But from a belief standpoint, they won’t be as strong. So it depends on the task. If the task doesn’t require any belief, then understanding it is not so important. But if the task does require belief, as in selling or service or competing or anything that requires passion to be strong, then buy-in is worth pursuing.
Asking and telling why also shows you are taking the other person and their sense of purpose seriously.
In order to buy in, employees need to understand why the mission is valuable, and why the organization believes that the way they are doing it is the best way. In these situations, it is also important for leaders to project their own hope and optimism. Leaders make an even bigger difference during challenging times that require more courage than they do in easier times. As we said earlier, the harder it is to project hope and optimism, the more important it is. This is a crucial way to give courage, and also to receive it in the process of giving it.