Field of Light, Uluru, Australia. Photo taken by Lorenn Ruster

What it feels like to be a part of a purpose-driven organisation

There’s a lot of talk about purpose-driven organisations.

How to create one . How to unlock purpose in your employees. How purpose is the key to success.

But what does it feel like once you’re on the inside?

I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of a couple of purpose-driven organisations — most notably, Acumen and PwC’s Indigenous Consulting and have recently been reflecting on this very question.

Here are four feelings I’ve experienced as part of purpose-driven organisations:

I feel emotional. Sure, there are numbers, revenue/fundraising targets, org charts and systems and processes, but in my experience, the leadership at all levels of a purpose-driven org begins with the emotional connection they have to the work and with the people. They choke up, voice wavering, when reflecting on the year gone by. They talk in proudest moments, not achievements. And this flows on to every member of the organisation. There is no escaping feeling emotional.

I feel connected. Perhaps because of the emotion, I feel deep connections to the work, to my colleagues and to the ecosystem we operate in, in ways that go beyond ‘business as usual’. This connection rears its head in a sense of responsibility to play my part, a sense of accountability to do it well and a sense of admiration for my team mates and the people we work with and for each day. I feel part of a much larger whole. It feels deeply personal.

I feel human. Anthony Howard, a wise leadership voice who I greatly admire, talks about how the 21st Century, with its ever-accelerating rate of change, requires more human leaders. In my experience, a sense of care is at the forefront in a purpose-driven organisation. Relegation to merely being a resource, or headcount burden, is not a focus of the vernacular or sits very uneasily if it begins to dominate.

“…it won’t be a question of what we do, though, but of who we are, of what kind of people we are, of how we relate to one another, how we care for one another.” Anthony Howard

I feel like the time is now. A sense of urgency and momentum rests firmly at the core of purpose-driven organisations. There is never a time when complacency is an option; it’s not a purpose that will or can wait. This underlying forward movement comes from a different place to an organisation solely driven by market demands or customer satisfaction. The sense of necessary contribution in the largest sense of the word is wide and deep.

Of course, it’s not all a bed of roses. I’ve also found it incredibly challenging to be a part of organisations driven by purpose, emotion, connection, humanness and urgency. Here are some of the other feelings evoked in my experience working in purpose-filled organisations:

I feel exposed. The ‘bullshit detector’ is high when you work in purpose-driven organisations. It’s pretty difficult to compartmentalise your in/out of office self. There is little space for a protective shield. It becomes necessary to bring your whole authentic self to your work which can be difficult and intimidating, particularly if you’re working with people and experiences that have brought you pain or trauma in the past (which can often be a core driver of purposeful work in the beginning) and/or if you’re on a continued journey of working out who you really are. Which brings me to…

I feel unsettled, confused and conflicted. Not all the time. But there is no doubt in my mind that bringing your whole self each day to do important, significant, often emotional work, means that matters of identity are often in question. Particularly as you discover how you and/or your organisation may play a role in a larger system that has adverse consequences despite your good intentions. Contributing to complex, systemic change is confusing and often requires holding multiple conflicting perspectives concurrently.

I feel waves of ‘purpose imposter syndrome’. You know, that conversation in your head that goes a bit like this: ‘Wow. What a story! Their connection to the purpose of what we’re doing is SO much stronger than mine. Do I even deserve to be here? I can’t articulate such a strong connection… What IS my role in this organisation? Am I even the best person to be a part of driving this change?’. I think we all have this self-conversation at times; a consequence of working with amazing people!

I feel all-consumed. Separation between work and life is certainly smaller when in a purpose-driven organisation. It makes total sense: your life’s work is linked to living out your purpose in the world, it’s emotional and all-connected. Burnout is a high risk. Taking wellness seriously is incredibly important.

You could say that it’s swings and roundabouts. But at the end of the day, my focus will always be working in or creating purpose-driven organisations. I can’t help but think it to be an amazing privilege to be able to execute on my deep desire to positively contribute to the world through my everyday work and being.

What’s your experience been as part of purpose-driven organisations? What does it feel like for you?



Exploring #dignity centred #design #tech #AI #leadership | PhD Candidate ANU School of Cybernetics | Acumen Fellow | PIC, SingularityU, CEMS MIM alum|Views =own

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Lorenn Ruster

Exploring #dignity centred #design #tech #AI #leadership | PhD Candidate ANU School of Cybernetics | Acumen Fellow | PIC, SingularityU, CEMS MIM alum|Views =own