This past May, while delivering the commencement address at Harvard University, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, offered some thoughts on the importance of understanding one's purpose. "...Finding your purpose isn't enough, the challenge for our generation is to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose," Zuckerberg said. "Let's do big things not to just create progress but to create purpose."
Understanding purpose is core to our understanding of our vision and who we are as leaders--no matter what we do in the world. For me, it is a data point often overlooked in our society. In order to bring it into view for my clients, I take them through a meditative intuition practice I call "heart-centered thinking." The big idea is, you must own the data of your heart in the same way you own and measure the data at your organization.
I have met and spoken to many c-suite executives but have yet to hear another CEO of Zuckerberg's stature so directly communicate the importance of, not just identifying our own purpose, but of fostering a world consciousness where we encourage and guide one another to do the same. He seems to honor the information he knows about himself as data in the same way he intellectually honors traditional business data points used to make decisions. Essentially, he is telling us that it is ok to acknowledge "heart centered" data.
Zuckerberg is certainly not without his critics, but setting that aside, the sentiment he expressed at Harvard is notable. This eye-opening vision is something we might expect from the Dalai Lama, Brene Brown, or Deepak Chopra, but to hear it from a corporate CEO sends a message I don't think has truly been embraced or understood by corporate America.
It's one thing to understand the data in a financial statement or to build a business plan. It takes an entirely different muscle to identify and understand your own purpose--the data your mind receives directly from your innermost self. Whether you are a janitor--Zuckerberg references President Kennedy's famous acknowledgement of the janitor who said "Mr. President, I am helping put a man on the moon"--or a CEO, you can tether your purpose to your life's work and vocation no matter what you do in the world.
Zuckerberg is sending a powerful message that sets a high bar. It's our job to not just think about ourselves, but also to think about the world, our place in it and impact on it. Unfortunately, these concepts are largely absent from the classrooms of business school, medical school, and university programs in general. And that is a loss for eager and ambitions students who would be well served to learn the importance of empowering each and every member of their team to building a company that truly brings value and success to its customers and shareholders.
I often relay the parable of three brick layers on the side of the road. You ask one brick layer what he does for a living and he says, "I am a brick layer." You ask the second what he does, and he says, "I am the best brick layer in the entire country." You ask the third what she does for a living and her response is "I am building a cathedral." The first brick layer is simply doing his job--without purpose or vision. The second may have a sense of confidence in what he does for a living, but not a true sense of purpose and how it affects the larger organization. It is the third brick layer that not only loves her job, but understands how her own purpose is connected to the greater whole. With this understanding, come increased productivity and employee engagement, along with heightened morale, retention and countless tangible benefits to a group, company or community.
A strong manager can take a brick layer and turn him or her into a cathedral builder. And a weak manager can take a cathedral builder and make that person into a brick layer. Zuckerberg has built the level of success he has thus far because he understands that he wants cathedral builders, but not just ones that work with him inside of Facebook at every level of his organization; he wants to use his power and influence to empower the world to feel like we are all building cathedrals.
Understanding your purpose in and of itself is neither an altruistic nor selfish endeavor. Rather it is a path that brings clarity and power to what we choose to do.