Five Steps To Purpose Driven Leadership – Step 1: Find Your Purpose


Find your purpose and values with the help of the Ikigai Model.

Reading time: 11 minutes

Welcome to the First Step To Purpose Driven Leadership.

The first step is all about, who wonders, finding your purpose and how to apply that in your work and your life.

Are you making a life instead a living?

On average, people spend 90,000 hours on the job during their lives. Therefore, valid questions are, why are we working, does our work really matter to us, do we want it to do for the rest of our life? 

Work is and will remain an essential part of our life. It can bring a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction into it. However, if our job does not make any sense for us, we become slaves to our jobs. We cannot feel success and satisfaction, which might loop back to our private life in a negative sense then. We might find ourselves in a place where we are “existing rather than living’.  Living a boring life without fulfillment, happiness, joy, and success. Work is not our enemy. It only becomes the enemy when we do meaningless work. If we see a clear connection between our work and values, we can find meaning in it, which gives us infinite energy. As a matter of course, we will be successful then. 

What is your understanding of a good life?

Everyone wants to live a good life. Who defines what a good life is? Are we trapped in traditional role models, the breadwinner, or the stay-at-home parent? Have we taken over unconsciously our parents’ definition, work is to make a living and not for fun? A good life must be useful, honorable, compassionate but not necessarily happy.

Are you aware of our own dreams? Or is there already a debris layer on top? A good method to figure out your dreams is to ask ourselves the question: 

What would you like to achieve in life, assuming everything you do goes well?

Plan your life backwards. Start with your own death. Who should do the eulogy? What should she/he say about you, about your life? What should be the legacy you want to leave? Write it down, add pictures to it and review it once a month. Adjust it when necessary. 

Does purpose equals obsession?

Many people mixing up purpose with obsession. The difference between purpose and obsession is that purpose releases energy. The higher the purpose, the greater the energy. Obsession in opposite drains our energy and binds us to the activity itself. Less joy, less energy and less freedom are the results.  

If we feel empty, tired or lost even doing our work with the greatest passion, we do not probably follow our purpose.

Often is purpose intricately linked to connection and serving others. We wired to connect, and the main part of purpose is serving a greater good, something outside of us, something bigger than ourselves that allows us to feel even more connected. When we recognize the impact you have to another person, another community, to the world, this can satisfy us very deeply. It is not always about us. 

How to find your purpose

Three steps will help to find your purpose:

  1. The past and the presence – self-reflection and mindfulness
  2. Recognize your values
  3. Understand your purpose

Are you able to reflect?

Many times, we are not cognitive aware what happened and if we do not notice what happened and why, we cannot learn from these experiences, giving away a huge opportunity to grow ourselves. 

Thinking and reflecting about our own actions, behavior, and feelings to understand what inner reasons may lie behind them, enables us to understand ourselves, our values, our thinking, and the reasons why. This is particularly important for our growth and development, especially for leaders. It further helps us to improve our skill set such as feedback, positive thinking, creativity, motivation, and communication. 

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”  

Steve Jobs

We can do self-reflection in many ways, while walking around, sitting quietly with eyes closed, or journaling. 

Explore your preferred style, practice self-reflection and start learning form the past: 

  • Find a quiet place where you do not could be disturbed. Disconnect, from phone, messengers, people. 
  • Recognize how you are feeling now. Relaxed, stressed, angry, etc.? It is important that you understand in what mental state you are in, this influences your thoughts, your judgements 
  • Remember and focus on a specific situation in the past. What happened? Who were involved? How was the environment? How did you act or react? How did you feel? What triggered your feelings? Did you tried something to avoid? Why? How did it end? 
  • Think and feel through this situation again. Just observe, do not judge, neither someone is judging you. 
  • If it helps you speak loud to yourself or write it down. 
  • Return to the presence 
  • What did you learn from the past? What would you do different and why? How do you feel about it? 

Self-reflection means learning from the past. The more we practice, the more we can get out of it. Reflecting what happened and understanding the reasons why gives us more (self) confidence and help us to succeed in similar situations in the future. 

Mindfulness helps us to apply learnings from the past. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing all our attention to the current moment and accepting it without judgment. Simply said, we need to be aware and present in our current situation. 

 To practice mindfulness:

  1. Make a conscious decision to focus on the present moment, allow yourself to do nothing and just be, look and listen.
  2. Do not think about the past, avoid getting caught up in the future, concentrate on this single moment you are in.
  3. Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, actions and motivations.
  4. Notice your judgments, in a negative, but also in a positive manner, but let them just pass.
  5. Once you then recognize that this situation feels similar to one in the past, you can start to apply your learnings form the past.

A good practice to learn to focus on the moment is meditation. For beginners to start with meditation I suggest the Body-Scan Technique. You either sit or lie down in a convenient position and start to bring your attention to your breath. Breathing in, breathing out, regular and calm, moving your attention then to your body. Focus onto your parts of your body, recognize how they feel, up from toes to your head. 

Do you know your values?

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.


Working backwards from Gandhi’s quote, makes us understand that our values drive our habits, actions, words, thoughts and can even trigger our beliefs. 

What is a ‘value’?

According to psychologist Barb Markway and Celia Ampel in The Self-Confidence Workbook, values are the principles that give our lives meaning and allow us to persevere through adversity. 

Different people react differently in the same situation. Simply because they have different values.

One of my major projects failed and I was blamed for that, although I did everything right. The root cause was that my organizational leader has decided to remove key resources from my project for the benefit to get his own project done successfully. One of my colleagues felt bad for me and angry with the organizational leader. He helped argue me to convince the organizational leader that this was not my fault. Another colleague who was in the meeting, seems obviously uninterested and did not say a word. 

We can understand this different reaction better if have a look at the values of my two colleagues. The values of my supporting colleague were associated to empathy and justice, whereby the values of my other colleague might be comfort and career.

Same situation, different reactions. Everyone behaves according to his/her own values. Different people act in a different way. Nothing wrong with that.

Here are a few ways to help you find out your values

  1. Choose your top fifteen values out of a list of values. You can find good lists in the internet. I like to suggest the one from Scott Jeffrey. Narrow the fifteen chosen values down to ten. In the next step down to three. Those are your top three values. Observe your daily actions, habits and thoughts. Are they aligned with your values?
  2. Identify and write down five persons who are important role models or valuable connections for you. What values do they share? What makes drive them?
  3. Determine your most difficult choices or the most difficult people you ever have dealt with. They can give you also some indication what is important for you.
  4. Rethink the best and worst moments in your life. These memories could lead you what you care about most.
  5. Work with a personal coach.

What is your purpose?

The Japanese Ikigai model has guided me best to find my purpose. Author Dan Buettner researched regions in the world where people live longer – on average- than the rest of the world. He found out that Japan and particularly the island Okinawa are such regions. The most crucial factor for the health and vitality of the people there is to have a goal in their live: Ikigai. 

Ikigai makes it possible to keep looking towards the future, especially when we are going through a difficult time.

Dan Buettner talks about this in his inspiring TEDtalk ‘How to Live to 100+’

Ikigai is a Japanese concept, a combination of the words ‘iki’ which means life or living and the word ‘kai’ which represents value, effect, result or usefulness.

The four circles represent

  • What you love
  • What you are good at
  • What the world needs
  • What you are/could be paid for

The Ikigai Model

A Japanese Concept Meaning ‘A Reason For Being’.

You can find your purpose in the area where the four circles overlap.

Do the ‘Ikigai’ exercise and fill the four circles with words and pictures

  1. Think: What makes you stand up every morning?; What touches you?; What are you good at?; Which unique talents do you have and which can you further develop?; What can you do that is of use to others?; Is there something you can contribute to the world?; What change would you like to bring about in the world?
  2. Search for the natural overlap of the various circles. Find connections between the circles

It can be very helpful if you include your partners or your closest friends in this exercise, because sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. Ask them what you are good at and get their point of view what the world needs.

Another good source of inspiration to find your Ikigai, is the TedTalk from Tim Tamashiro .

Take your time for this exercise. Think, write it down, and rethink again. It could take some iterations until you can clearly articulate your Ikigai, which is o.k.

The two areas that I was long time not sure were ‘What I am good at’.

What eventually help me to figure out ‘What I am good at’ were a couple of personality test, like the Myer Briggs, Firo B, Gallup Strengths Finder, etc.

You can always argue if personality tests can deliver a valuable result. Let us assume you are looking for an information on the internet. You start your search engine and type the term you are looking for. You get 500+ results back. You will klick on the first result and read the article. Would you now rely on that information without having a look at other sources? Guess not. That is the same how I deal with personality tests. I never take everything for granted. I always reflect the outcome before I make a judgment or a decision. Each result of the tests gives you a deeper insight into another facet of your personality. It is up to you then to connect the dots. 

What you do with your purpose now?

Now you have figured out your purpose, what’s next?

Remember the previous exercise about mindfulness. Focus on the moment, do you feel that your values align with the current situation? With your work. With your private life.

You always have three choices in life:

  1. Adapt the environment to yourself
  2. Adapt yourself to the environment
  3. Leave the current environment

If you feel you need to change your current situation, resist to do it immediately. You have been a long time in this situation already, do not hurry. Moving from one environment to another has advantages for sure, but there will also come disadvantages with it. You need to leave your comfort zone. Are you ready? 

After I have done this exercise, I have recognized that my current work was not aligned with my top values, growth, and vision. Even I did my work with a lot of passion, lead my team through stormy waters and achieved reasonable results, I always felt no satisfaction and had the feeling that I can achieve even more when my values and purpose would be aligned with my work. This misalignment also affected my private life. For a long time, I was not the same positive thinking, humorous husband, and father anymore. I evaluated my options, decided, and changed. This process took me over one year and was not as easy, because other difficult circumstances occurred during this time as well. I finally made it and experience now a much more fulfilling life at work and at home. 

My suggestion for you to apply your purpose in your life:

  • Make a plan including what needs to change, why does it need to change, when does it need to change. Write it down. When obstacles get into your way, it helps you a lot when you remember why you decided for that.
  • Make a risk assessment. Define a mitigation strategy.
  • The most challenging things are not the known unknows, they are the unknown unknowns. They typically hit you most and hard when they are not expected. Prepare for that situation mentally. Meditate, all you need is already in you.
  • Give yourself time.

How can organizational leaders benefit?

Organizational leaders have to define their mission, their objectives and the deriving strategies and tactics to reach their goals.

But defining a purpose with the associated values can make an organization even more successful. This purpose must be far beyond operational profit goals. It must contribute to a bigger goal, for the society or the environment. It must give something back, not only take and use resources, i.e., raw materials and labor. 

Companies who have defined a clear purpose and operating according to that attract the right people to work for them. Those employees enjoy going the extra mile because they want to contribute to a bigger goal. The attrition rate is lower, which keeps and increases the knowledge and intellectual property in the company. 

It is a win-win-win situation, for the employees, the organizations and the society/environment.

As we all facing a serious and difficult time now with the COVID-19 virus, maybe it is the right point in time to recognize and rethink our values and purpose.

Looking forward to seeing you here in two weeks if you are interested to know more about the second step ‘Get Connected’.

More to explore

Juergen Sommer

Wassermanagement und Liquiditätsplanung

-Video The Sustainable Business Gardener
Was Unternehmen von Gärtner*innen lernen können – Episode 8: Wassermanagement und Liquiditätsplanung.

Wasser ist für jeden Garten unverzichtbar. Es nährt und stärkt die Pflanzen, lässt sie wachsen und gedeihen.

In der Geschäftswelt entspricht unser ‚Wasser‘ der Liquidität – den verfügbaren Geldmitteln. Aber genau wie im Garten kann zu viel oder zu wenig „Wasser“ problematisch sein.

Für ein nachhaltiges Wachstum ist deshalb ein effizientes Liquiditätsmanagement entscheidend.

Wie planen Sie Ihren unternehmerischen „Wasserbedarf“? Ich freue mich auf Ihre Kommentare.
Wenn Ihnen das Video gefällt, freue ich mich auf Ihr ‚Like‘.

Read More »
Juergen Sommer

Zero Waste

Aufbruch in eine grüne Zukunft – nachhaltige Geschäftsmodelle
Heute: Zero Waste unter die Lupe genommen
Was, wie, wo, wer – kurz erklärt.

Read More »