Leadership lessons


Successful business leaders are often the envy of others. Maybe you started a business and hit your initial income goals. Or perhaps you climbed the ladder of success in your field to a very high level. Either way, others might look at your life and think you have it made.

But often even successful businesspeople feel that something is missing. They may not know what, they feel like things aren’t quite perfect.

Maybe you know what that feels like. Does any of this sound familiar?

  • You put on your “success face” during the day, but your nights are filled with restlessness.
  • You go through the motions of your work and daily life but secretly have a sense of apathy, boredom or dread.
  • The work you used to love now feels uninspiring.
  • You feel like your career success has impacted other areas of your life — and not in a good way. Your health, relationships or sense of personal fulfillment might have suffered.

You read books like “The Purpose Driven Life,” and while the messages are good and sound, you still have that gnawing sense that something is missing.

That “something missing” might actually be purpose.

Purpose is the driving factor in our lives. We are either living our purpose or searching for it, and it seems elusive. In a sense, purpose is our highest potential — it is the ultimate reason we exist. Even those who are living their purpose will plateau at times and experience a sense of rudderless-ness.

Here are signs you are struggling with purpose:

  • Boredom.
  • Apathy.
  • Dread.
  • Lack of fulfillment, even though you have everything you need and more.
  • Resentment toward those who are living their purpose.
  • Fear that you may never find your purpose.
  • Issues in other areas of life beyond work — relationships, spiritual, health, or personal finances, for example.
  • Restlessness and feelings that something is missing.
  • Frustration or anger.

The key is to not get discouraged — these feelings are a normal part of being human.

We were all designed for purpose. Each of us comes equipped with innate strengths, and we each have a unique blend of skills and life experiences. We seek to use these tools to fulfill our purpose. But we are human. We don’t have it all figured out yet. And that is okay. The act of seeking, striving, plateauing, and then resuming our pursuit is life. The key is to expect the ups and downs of fulfilling purpose, and work with it.

But how should you deal with feelings of purposelessness? Here are a few ideas.

GET SOME REST. It is hard to bring your fullest potential in your work when you are exhausted. As a leader, managing your energy is critical. You must be at your best in order to lead your team to be their best. Stephen Covey’s Habit No. 7, “Sharpening the Saw,” is a critical habit for long-term success. More is expected of leaders than ever before. Competition is fierce. Margins are tight. Challenges are many. Sharpening the saw is not only a good suggestion; it is an essential life practice.

LOOK FOR A NEW CHALLENGE. Some leaders are blindsided when they are suddenly successful; sometimes, they find they are not satisfied with that success. This is because there is still more potential. The cure? Rest, then pursue a new and higher challenge. You may not “feel” like pursuing a new challenge, but once you begin, you will once again resume your path to purpose.

FACE YOUR FEARS: Fulfilling your purpose and reaching your highest potential can be fear-inducing. What if you miss the mark? What if you pursue the wrong purpose? What if your ladder of success is pinned to the wrong wall? These are fears of failure. What if you do succeed? This is the fear of success, and it has the same effect as the fear of failure — stagnation.

Give yourself permission to experiment, fail, and even succeed. Everything you learn along the path of life and work is of value to you in your pursuit of purpose. Don’t wait until you know your purpose – start from where you are, and purpose will reveal itself with more clarity as you go.

FOCUS ON LEGACY: We often confuse accomplishments with purpose. Purpose is bigger than accomplishments. It is the core of who you are as a person, and what you leave behind for those who follow. In this sense, you lay a path to purpose day by day, but you may never fully realize that purpose in your lifetime.

Think of famous authors, architects, artists, and leaders. Many died penniless, perhaps with a sense of purposelessness. But their legacy lived on, well beyond their lives. They had done what they were gifted to do, and that was their purpose. They may not have realized it, but their lives served great purpose.

Leaders would do well to seek to serve with the gifts they have been given, and let purpose unfold in its own time.

Dave Ferguson2Dave Ferguson is an international executive leadership coach, speaker, facilitator and author. Contact him at 704-907-0171 or at Dave@AskCoachDave.com. Ferguson lives on Hilton Head Island.