It was my senior year in college, and I was at basketball practice. While I was playing defense in a drill, my college coach at the time, the late Nancy Darsch, was coaching me to apply more ball pressure to the player with the ball. So, I started yelling “ball, ball, ball” as I defended my opponent. Coach then challenged me by saying, “Is that all you got?” So, with a little more robust voice and energy, I yelled, “ball, ball, ball.” She encouraged me more, her voice escalating, by stating, “I know you’ve got more in you! Put some purpose behind it!” So, with all my might, I got right into the space of the offensive player, both my eyes fixating on her eyes, and gave it my lung-popping, voice-squealing, practice-stopping “BALL, BALL, BALL!”

“Now that’s better,” Coach Darsch said with a slight chuckle. That’s the day I realized what she meant by “purpose behind it.”

Driving our teams, whether it be in sports, business, health, or politics, to the level of meaningful purpose is challenging, especially when the leader envisions a perceived threshold that has the possibility to be shattered. It’s nice when it’s ingrained within the individual, but that is not always so. Sometimes, individuals, or entire teams, have not realized their purpose yet. Does that make them a bad employee or team? Not necessarily. They may just need a boost, as Coach Darsch gave me that day at practice.

Employees come to work every day with their own life experiences and circumstances. Many times, employers are not privy to these life situations. That’s why it’s essential to get to know your team members individually. The more you know a team member, the better your chances of understanding their purpose. Understanding their purpose allows you to push it, assist in their development, and move the enterprise forward.

What Does Having Purpose Mean?

Having purpose means working beyond the individual, the team, and the organization to higher motivation. 

To find your higher motivation, you must see the possibilities and opportunities beyond yourself. In breaking this down, below are some things to consider.

Minute Daily Tasks

Think of the smallest, most insignificant thing you must do today that, for most, requires minimal effort, coordination, or knowledge. It might be picking up the mail or packing a lunch. It might be turning on the computer or checking an email. It could even be getting out of bed and preparing for work, school, or the day ahead. These minute tasks are all about you functioning on a day-to-day basis. 

These daily little things don’t necessarily define a person’s higher motivation, though sometimes a little encouragement is necessary to achieve them. These tasks are just required to move from day-to-day.

Team Tasks

Next, think of all the essential things you must do to keep your team functioning at a high level. You are part of that team. You may need to complete a project due for the team lead. You may have to prepare for upcoming appointments with other team members. You might have multiple phone calls and emails requiring responses from other team members, supervisors, or vendors. 

These tasks begin to define your motivations. Why are you a member of this team? Why are you doing these particular tasks?  Why does this task particular task need to be done immediately, for the sake of the team? Your answers are all aimed at something to do with the team’s success.

These team tasks help move the team toward wins, timelines, and bottom lines.

Organizational Tasks

Now broaden the view beyond your minute and team workload to include the entire organization. What can you accomplish today that you feel could benefit the organization beyond your team responsibilities? You could offer to assist leadership with a difficult project. You could offer up your time and resources to cover for someone who will be absent from work for a month. You could develop new, creative ways to better the organization and share those ideas with leadership.

These organizational tasks also describe your motivations. Why would you add to your already overscheduled workload? They have nothing to do with your title, position, or paycheck. Why would you add more work to your plate? You would engage in these tasks if you had a vision that your organization could improve in some way. 

Tasks That Transcend the Organization

Now think beyond the minute, team, and organizational tasks and view your life on a larger scale. What makes you tick?  What is most important to you? What brings a smile to your face? What gives you a natural high and lights up your heart?  What gets you excited?  Maybe you love family. You love helping your community. You get excited about a possible entrepreneurial idea that has kept you awake at night. You are passionate about something that offers possibilities to give you a life outside of work. 

Your motivations direct your choices. Your choices lead your purpose. Your purpose is what propels you in life, work, and play.

If you look at this trajectory – minute to team – team to organizational – organizational to community and beyond; a person’s motivations potentially build at each of these levels, and their purpose evolves right alongside each day’s experiences.  

How Do You Get Employees to Move on This Continuum?

Know Where to Begin

When considering the path to purpose, where do most of your team members currently sit on the continuum? Are they lost in the minute things they have to do? Are they trafficking their to-do lists, working day and night, spinning in projects for the team? Are they able to see beyond the team into the organization, and are they maintaining a higher focus within the organization? Are they so sure of their purpose in life that you can see their purpose when they come into work? It lights up their face.

You know these folks have evolved in the path to purpose and know exactly why they come to work each day. They make a difference in their communities and the world instead of just one organization or team.

As an example, I know of a man who built a park in his community explicitly designed for those with special needs. Before the park was born, he discovered his own child needed special assistance. After realizing this need, he set up a foundation so other children with similar requirements could get more help and attention. From the foundation, knowing that he and other children needed to exercise and play in a safe environment, came the idea of this park. He picked the location, then designed and funded the park. His purpose that he shared with the community, his work, family, and life, was indisputable. He accomplished all this outside of work, but this work became part of who he is. His purpose with this project also helped him elevate within his organization to leadership opportunities. He has since shared this idea with other communities and has made a meaningful difference in many lives. 

I’ve had players become better teammates and better student-athletes after they came to know their purpose. I had one student-athlete who played much better once she found the right church to attend. Feeling part of a church community brought out her purpose and fostered her need to be part of something greater. For her, it was the difference between thriving and surviving in college. An athlete who plays with purpose is an athlete who is thriving. The same is true for employees. 

Are your team members thriving or surviving in your organization?

Understanding where your team members are in this path to purpose helps you realize how they will approach their jobs. For example, if they are stuck in the minute minutia, they may not handle a more significant project within the team. If their actions only meet at the team level, they’ll probably not be ready to take on something that requires understanding the organization as a whole.

But if they can answer their whys and know their purpose, you probably have an energized person who may be your next best choice for a promotion. These are the team members and employees who you’ll want to give more responsibility, retain, and put on leadership tracks to challenge them with more responsibility and higher roles. They can see a bigger picture and operate with a higher motivation – a purpose.

Challenge Those Who Are Ready

Identifying where each team member sits on the continuum can help you decide who is ready for more responsibility and who to challenge to move toward a higher purpose. If your employees or team members are not prepared, then pushing them will not work. 

Have you ever observed one of your employees going beyond the team to suggest an idea for an improvement that would benefit the organization? Did this employee do this with no enticing or encouragement from management?  This person is an employee who deserves consideration for more significant projects and more responsibility.

This example demonstrates the possibilities within teams and organizations to perpetuate the development of purpose in the workforce. Find those who have what seems to be a purpose and then challenge that purpose to break thresholds. Put those folks on the tracks to leadership and more responsibility, first on their teams, then for their organizations, and then in their communities.

Fostering purpose is something every organizational leadership system should have in place. Find purpose and challenge, maintain, and grow it. This process strengthens organizations and individual employees. It’s a win-win.

The way Nancy Darsch pushed my threshold and challenged me to realize my purpose and grow it is the same way you can push and challenge those in your organization to discover and develop their own purpose.