Are You “On Purpose?”

“There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.”

–Napoleon Hill



Do you love what you do for a living?

Do you look forward to going to work every day or do you grudgingly show up in order to pay the bills? Do you work past quitting time because it’s expected or because you’re “into it” and lost track of time?

Many people know their calling in life, their true purpose, and live “on purpose.”

Are you one of them?

Take this True or False Self-Quiz to determine whether you are operating from a place of purpose.

  1. When I get up in the morning I look forward to the day ahead, whether it’s a work day or my day off.
  2. I love the work I do — any external reward I receive I consider “the icing on the cake.”
  3. My work makes me feel rewarded and motivated rather than drained and exhausted.
  4. When I have spare time I participate in activities that I’m passionate about, and those activities reflect my purpose.
  5. I know what my greatest talents and strengths are, and I apply those attributes to my work in some capacity every day.
  6. I know I’m living my true purpose when others notice and compliment me on my abilities.
  7. My life, personal and professional, reflects and is in alignment with my core values.
  8. I consistently base my decisions on my beliefs, not on the expectations of others, and, overall, I’m happy with the outcomes.
  9. If money were not an issue I wouldn’t change much of what I do and how I do it.
  10. My work environment is supportive of my personality and talents and allows me to not only show up as my true self, but to perform at my optimal level.
  11. When my work environment fails to provide me with opportunities to utilize my unique abilities, I look to make a positive change.
  12. The good (and great days) at work far outweigh the occasional “bad” days.
  13. My work is enjoyable and often feels like play.
  14. By fulfilling my own dreams and desires, I am making a positive contribution to the world as a whole.
  15. Determining one’s life purpose can take a long time, but I’m confident that, even when I question what my purpose is, I know that I have one.


If you answered false to many of these, you may benefit from discovering how to live a life on purpose. Living a purposeful life is as much about how things are done (with love, attention, passion and focus for example) as it is about what is done. It’s also a great way to feel fulfilled regardless of the “job” you may find yourself in.


Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications



Foresight: Survival of the Optimists

“Optimists have a sixth sense for possibilities that realists can’t or won’t see.” ~ Warren Bennis, leadership professor

There is a dramatic difference between people who react to roadblocks with a sense of futility and pessimism and those who react with determination and optimismand see possibilities.

Psychologist Martin Seligman has validatedthat the most successful business leaders are inspired by a sense of optimism. I can say that of the people I’ve worked with, the ones who succeed most often display a sense of realistic optimism. They are grounded in reality, but see things in a positive light. Setbacks are temporary, impersonal, and challenges to be overcome.

Those who learn to be optimistic about life and work are far more likely to be successful than those who view a current event through the pessimist’s lens. Being optimistic doesn’t mean ignoring reality or the hardships required to getgreat results. Leaders can define a business reality, yet defy a negative verdict. By being optimists, leaders give people the hope, energy and strength needed to carry on.

The more you understand the big picture, the more prepared you are to endure hardships and adversity. Optimism, and a vision for what’s possible, supplies the energy and hope to keep going, persist through challenges and come out on the other side.

One of the best ways to expand your potential leadership abilities is to work with an executive coach like myself, who can help you expand your capacity for inspired leadership. An experienced coach will stimulate your thinking about what’s possible.

You Can See Forever

To become a better leader, or to be seen as a high-potential leader, spend more time in dreaming and imagining the future. In time, a future focus will permeate your thinking and saturate your communications.

Everything you do and say will remind people of the future you believe is possible —for yourself, your colleagues, your customers and the organization. You will draw upon your past experiences, your core values, your strengths and your guiding purpose.

You will become well-read about trends as you study the future and talk with other people about the exciting possibilities. There’s no doubt that we live in interesting times, and game-changing ideas, products and services are popping up all the time.

Being part of the future allows you to contribute to its creation. You can’t do that without taking time to develop your capacity to be future-focused. And you can’t become future-focused without discipline and action.

What are you doing to express a future orientation in your communications? Where can you interject more forward-thinking and anticipatory thinking? How are you asking your people to think about the future, for your products, services and customers? I’d love to hear from you.

3 Ways to Grow Your Future-Focus

When I’m working with clients, we look at ways to expand leadership qualities, and in particular, their ability to become more future-oriented. The answer is to spend more time thinking about the future, but this is harder than it may seem at first.

There are three ways to expand your ability to become more future-oriented and hone your leadership effectiveness. In The Truth About Leadership(Jossey-Bass, 2010), Posner and Kouzes urge readers to spend time learning about the future through:

  1. Insight
  2. Outsight
  3. Foresight

Insight: Explore Your Past

This exercise that follows will help you connect your past experiences and values with your current work. When you look backward, you can see farther ahead and imagine future possibilities.

Look for repeating themes in your life—the recurring messages that keep reminding you of what matters most. Search your past to find the theme. It will probably form the basis of your core values and higher purpose. When you know more about yourself, your dreams and your purpose, it will be easier to keep this information in mind each time you visualize the future.For younger leaders, there’s less past to recall; however, it’s still important to use the richness of your life experiences to uncover ideals.

Here are some questions to explore:

  • Identify the recurring theme in your life.
  • To which topic do you return again and again?
  • What story do you keep telling and retelling?
  • Take the Strengthfinder or Stand Out Assessment for more information/insight.

Outsight: Imagine the Possibilities

To be a credible leader, you need to spend more time reading, thinking and talking about long-term possibilities. Develop the discipline to put time in your schedule/calendar for the research and visioning – spend more time studying the future.

Establish a “future committee” dedicated to collecting ideas, articles, information and resources about trends affecting your organization. Track publications, both off- and online. Circulate these ideas to stimulate discussions and innovative thinking.

For example, The World Future Society recommends examination of six distinct business-trend categories:

  1. Demographics
  2. Economics
  3. Government
  4. Environment
  5. Society
  6. Technology

Improve your understanding of the world around you, not just in your industry. A game-changing product in an unrelated field could impact your customers and their need for your services. No one can afford to be short-term–oriented in today’s globally connected marketplace.

These are two ways to become more future-oriented, a key leadership trait. In our next post, we’ll discuss a third way.

How to Develop Future Focus

How do you develop your capacity to be future-focused? In the work I do coaching clients, I recommend leaders carve out some time each week to imagine possibilities of what may be out there.

Start with 2 hours per week, using the time to learn about what are the trends in your industry, with your customers, with the potential future of your products and services. You can read magazines, books and/or online research.

Top executives estimate they spend only about 3 percent of their time thinking about, and getting others on board with, the critical issues that will shape their business 10 or more years down the road. It’s simply not enough time.

Sparking Energy for What Really Matters

Here’s the problem: In tough economic times, everyone hunkers down on tactics. They focus on survival and results. Decisions become pragmatic. After a while, however, this short-term approach grinds us down, and we lose sight of the big picture,the business strategy.

In today’s difficult times, people need to be reminded of why they are doing what they do—and why it matters(purpose). This is when leaders can step up and make a difference. Leadership is more than encouraging high-performance; it’s about reminding people of what they are trying to build and why it matters.Creating hope and engendering trust.

In many ways, leadership supplies oxygen to keep the fires going. When people are mired in day-to-day work details, they can lose their bearings. An effective leader makes a difference by helping people see their role in building a better future.

It’s your job to connect the dots for people in the work they do. Show them how their work contributes to the results of the organization. Map out how what they do today ties to what the company is trying to build for the future.

What are you doing to keep the fires of engagement burning in your people? I’d love to hear from you.

What People Want from Leaders

Leadership professors Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes,after surveying thousands of people on ideal leadership qualities, reveal that the ability to look forward is second only to honesty as the most admired trait.

On average, 70 percent of workers worldwide select “forward-looking” as a key leadership competency. Think about the leaders you’ve followed or admired. The great ones are visionaries who serve as custodians of the future, dreamers. You want to partner with leaders who can create hope for a better future.

As we age, gain more experience and move up the organizational hierarchy, our desire for a forward-looking leader increases, according to Posner and Kouzes. While only about one-third of undergraduate college students ranked “forward-looking”among their most important leadership attributes, more than 90 percent of senior executives had added it to their lists.

Some leaders are naturally future-oriented strategists; many othersexcel as executors or talent managers. Still others shine at getting things done and making things happen; others bring out the best in people.

While achieving great results with people is always rewarding, it’s not enough for promotion to higher levels of responsibility and leadership. To take that step, you must expand your ability to communicate a vision, a dream for the future. Forward-looking leaders can spot opportunities in their day-to-day work, and they excel at anticipatory thinking.

How Far Can You See?

It’s easy to get caught up in the urgency of each moment. Do you look beyond what’s in front of you—especially when daily tasks take up so much time and energy? Do you schedule dedicated time to envision, strategize in your work week?

How do you become future-oriented and still handle day-to-day challenges? This is something we work on frequently with clients.

While the ability to focus on the future separates leaders from the rank-and-file, many of us fail to understand and appreciate its importance. We devote almost no time to developing this vital quality, which then becomes a huge barrier to future success.

The challenge of being forward-looking escalates with each managerial level. Front-line supervisors are expected to anticipate events about three months ahead. Mid-level managers have timelines for more complex projects and need to look three to five years into the future.Those in the executive suites must focus on goals that are often 10+ years away.

Leaders Are Future-Focused

What do you think is the single quality that distinguishes and differentiates high-potential leaders from ordinary contributors in an organization?

It’s their ability to be forward-looking and focus on the future. There’s a lot of research on leadership development and this single quality stands out.

What do you need to develop in yourself if you want to be perceived as a high potential C-office candidate? To become a better leader or distinguish yourself as primed for promotion, you’ll want to develop your capacity to envision the future.

In the work that I do as a coach, we spend time working on developing a future-focus. Some people are naturally predisposed with a future-orientation. But even if you’re not, you can still learn to expand this skill.

Focusing on the future sets leaders apart. The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is a defining competency—perhaps the most important one, next to honesty.

In The Leadership Code(Harvard School of Business Press, 2009), Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman reviewed leadership theory and distilled leadership competencies into five overarching roles:

  1. Strategist—Leaders shape the future.
  2. Executor—Leaders make things happen.
  3. Talent manager—Leaders engage today’s talent.
  4. Human capital developer—Leaders build the next generation.
  5. Personal proficiency—Leaders invest in their own development.

While leadership has evolved over time, these five areas of focus have remained constant as key functions of effective leaders, across all industries. Leaders must be able to answer the question,“Where are we going?”

We look to our leaders to envision a future,figure out where the organization must go to succeed, evaluate ideas for pragmatism and determine if they fit the company’s core mission. Leaders focus on how people, money, resources and organizational capabilities will work together to move from the present to a desired future.

To become a strategist, your thinking must be future-oriented. You’ll need to become intensely curious about trends, both inside and outside your organization’s field. You’ll need a systematic way of staying informed and tracking changes. This requires you to engage everyone in the organization and collect new ideas from various sources. Invite everyone to participate in creating a better future.

My question to you is what are you doing to develop more forward-looking thinking?



Showing up for your Bigger Game– If Not Now, When?

Imagine a graveyard. Under the big oak tree there’s a granite headstone. Take a look at the headstone. See the name engraved? Yep, it’s yours.


So you’re standing there, gazing at your own headstone. There’s your year of birth, and the year you—heaven forbid—pass. And between them, there’s a little, coy hyphen.


Now, here is the opportunity: that hyphen is what you get to play with.



Let’s take a moment to pause and contemplate that hyphen. There are two things that anyone who aspires to play a bigger game must consider. The first is knowing what you aspire to. Or, in the words of poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (We’ll get to the second in a moment.)


Determining who you want to be and the impact that you wish to have – what you want out of life—your career, relationships and your personal time—often we do not pause to be intentional about how we live our lives and the impact we have. It’s much easier to unconsciously abide by the rules and expectations of others than to look within ourselves and see clearly what we are meant to do—and the impact we can have with how we live our lives..


Here are 4 starting points for discovering your brand of showing up for the Bigger Game:


  1. What are your threads? Everything you’ve done and loved up to this point is a thread running through your life. Those threads are always with you, and you can choose to pick them up again at any time. Adored math as a kid, but your parents pushed you into sales? Maybe it’s time to take some classes and explore.


  1. Who makes you envious?  Envy is actually a wonderful way to unearth some of our big, deep desires. Who have you been envious of recently? Steve Jobs? Lindsey Vonn? Martin Luther King? Maybe it’s actually a clue to your Bigger Game.


  1. What have you always wanted/wished to do? Complete this sentence: “If money and time were no object, I would totally want to…” Work in Paris? Market my invention? You could start today with a language tape and learning about the patent process.


  1. What are your forbidden fruits? Sometimes we tell ourselves that certain things are off limits, when really, it’s just a mirage created by a limiting belief. What seems off-limits to you but might be great fun if it weren’t “forbidden”? Acting in a play? Buying a telescope? Writing a book?





Once you have gathered clues and are firmly pointed in the direction of your own bigger game, you will undoubtedly meet the second thing about being big. As any hero will tell you, once you start heading in the direction of bigger game …once you take small steps – action toward your goals…the second thing undoubtedly shows up. And that thing is fear or self-doubt.


Here’s the secret about playing your bigger game: The bigger your dreams, the greater the stretch the greater the voices of self-doubt are because they prefer you to play it safe and not to change.  So in order to show up and play to your bigger game you will still get the socks scared off you on a regular basis. (Perhaps even more often!) But it no longer stops you. Spooks you, absolutely. Makes your knees go weak, without a doubt.  But when you’re living big, fear ceases to be a reason to quit but a sign that you are on the right path or track.  So go for it.


Because you have a Bigger Game to play, greater contribution to offer with that little hyphen of yours.


Author’s content used under license, © 2011 Claire Communications

Be a Better Listener (Part 4)

9 Keys to Better Listening

Keep the following goals in mind when practicing good listening skills:

  1. Just listen.
  2. Don’t interrupt.
  3. Don’t finish the other person’s sentences.
  4. Don’t say “I knew that.”
  5. Don’t agree with the other person. Be neutral. Even if he praises you, just say “thank you.”
  6. Don’t use the words “no,” “but” or “however.”
  7. Don’t be distracted. Don’t let your eyes or your attention wander.
  8. Maintain your end of the dialogue by asking intelligent questions that show you’re paying attention. Move the conversation along, and allow the other person to talk.
  9. Don’t strive to impress others or demonstrate how smart or funny you are.

Be a Better Listener (Part 3)

Why Don’t We Listen?

When you meet with your boss, an important client, a potential new friend or a love interest, you manage to listen without interrupting. You’re a paragon of attentiveness, asking all the right questions and paying attention to the answers. You make sure you don’t talk too much.

Highly successful people do this all the time. They’re automatically good listeners. They show they care by thinking before they speak, they listen with respect, and they respond appropriately.

The rest of us forget these basic civilities. We get distracted. We don’t take the time to practice the mental discipline of good listening in every personal encounter. We rank listening opportunities according to assigned importance and apply effort only when it benefits our careers or personal lives.

Test Your Listening Skills

Here’s a simple exercise for developing better listening skills from Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There:

Close your eyes and count slowly to 50 with one simple goal: Do not let another thought intrude into your mind. You must concentrate on maintaining the count.
More than half the people who try this fail after counting to 20 or 30. Nagging thoughts enter the brain.

This exercise may sound like a concentration test, but it’s really a listening assessment. If you can’t listen to yourself as you count to 50, how can you effectively listen to another person?

The more you practice Goldsmith’s exercise, the more success you’ll experience – and the better you’ll be able to focus attention on truly listening to another person.

Check back tomorrow for Part 4: 9 Keys to Better Listening


Be a Better Listener (Part 2)

Listening, but Not Hearing

Consider this: We retain only 25 percent of what we hear. Why?

The average person speaks at about 130 words per minute. Our thinking speed is about 500 words per minute. Consequently, we jump ahead of what is actually being said. This causes our minds to wander, and we think about other things (such as what we’re going to say next).

Four common listening errors occur in our daily communications:

  • We don’t clear our minds before entering into a conversation or listening to a person’s presentation. Many of us multitask, especially when we’re on the phone. Even in a face-to-face exchange, some of us multitask in our heads, solving problems and making lists while the other person gets to the point (which we have decided we already know).
  • We experience emotions that distract us from listening. It doesn’t take much of a trigger for our feelings to pop up. A look, a phrase, and we’re off and running with anxiety, fear or anger. Our ability to listen is impaired when we’re distracted by feelings.
  • When someone is speaking, we’re already thinking about our reply. We’re concentrating on our rebuttal or desire to share a similar experience, which means we cease listening to the speaker. As a result, we sometimes miss important information that will make our response inconsequential or inappropriate. We also miss opportunities to build and strengthen relationships.
  • We think about the subject from our own perspective, rather than trying to understand it from the speaker’s point of view. We may therefore misinterpret or misunderstand the information being presented.
Check back tomorrow for Part 3: Why Don’t We Listen?